President Rouhani and American Muslim leaders

Graciousness disarms Muslim political parochialism
Taraneh Tabatabai

Each September when a new session of the UN General Assembly starts, leaders from member-states come to deliver their perspectives on global affairs. The fact is, most leaders play to the gallery at home. Many lack legitimacy and thus try to enhance their importance by being seen at the UN. These rulers also try to meet members of their respective expatriate communities while in New York.

There is one country — the Islamic Republic of Iran — whose leaders and officials do not confine their meetings to expatriates. They invite Muslim leaders and activists regardless of their ethnicity and origin. This year was no exception. On September 19, President Hassan Rouhani met with a wide array of Muslim leaders, among them ICIT/ Crescent International associates Imam Muhammad al-‘Asi and Dr. John Andrew Morrow.

The president, looking refreshed after having diplomatically de-nounced the incendiary diatribe of Donald Trump, addressed a group of some 30 American Muslim leaders in a private meeting that lasted for more than an hour. Evening salah and dinner followed.

President Rouhani explained that while the enemies of Islam who had occupied the Muslim world during colonial times had left the region, they had left behind their lackeys who continued to operate domestically.

The president insisted that the Islamic Revolution succeeded only because it had the support of the people and that it will continue to succeed with the support of the people. He explained, “Unfortunately, there are countries that are Muslim, but at the same time, view elections and people’s votes non-religious. If we think that Islam is against people’s opinions and votes, we would be defeated in today’s world. We need public opinion and we need people’s presence and votes to run the society.”

“In other words,” explains Dr. Morrow, “the President was emphasizing the fact that Islam is not spread by the Qur’an and the Kalashnikov, as the takfiris believe, but by the Qur’an and the ballot box.”

To obtain and maintain the support of the people, explained President Rouhani, it was imperative to present the true interpretation of Islam and the true interpretation of the Qur’an. Muslims also need to excel in science and technology.

The president stressed that Muslims are commanded to abide by their covenants so long as non-Muslims abide by them as well. Finally, he asserted that the inflammatory rhetoric of President Trump was unbefitting of his office and the diplomatic culture of the United Nations.

While leaders from virtually every major Muslim organization were represented at the private meeting, only three were invited to directly address the president. The first, who merits no mention, launched into a vicious and uncouth attack on Iran’s foreign policy, accusing the peace-loving nation of supporting mass murderers in Syria and Yemen and opposing the will of the Syrian people, to the subtle but visible displeasure of President Rouhani.

The second, Nihad Awad, Executive Director of CAIR, laced his venom with honey, praising the president for being the only politician who listens to the concerns of Muslims while also lambasting him for promoting sectarianism in the region and warning him against developing nuclear weapons.

One wonders at the wisdom of inviting such agents provocateurs to such important gatherings as the agendas they espouse and the interests they serve are manifestly not those of Muslims. Rather than rely on intermediaries, the organizers should simply have extended a direct invitation to the State Department and the CIA.

Doctor Morrow, who recognizes that the Islamic Republic of Iran plays a positive and constructive role in the region and the world, was the last of the three leaders invited to share his thoughts with the president. He made the following comments,

The Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) said, “He who does not thank people does not thank Allah.” So, let me begin by thanking people. To his excellency, President Hassan Rouhani; to the honorable Ambassador Gholamali Khoshroo; to the distinguished Manuchehr Ja-farzadeh: thank you for organizing this meeting with American Muslim leaders and thank you all for attending.

For those who know me, I need no introduction. For those who do not know me, and perhaps should know me, I am Dr. John Andrew Morrow, also known as al-Ustadh al-Duktur Ilyas Islam. I am a western academic and a full professor. I am also a traditionally trained alim.

I am the author of over 30 scholarly books, the most influential of which is The Covenants of the Prophet Muhammad with the Christians of the World, a work that follows in the scholarly footsteps of Dr. Muhammad Hamidullah’s al-Watha’iq, Ayatullah Ahmadi Miyanji’s Makatib al-Rasul, and Zafar Bangash’s Power Manifestations of the Sirah.

Many educated Muslims are familiar with the Covenant of Madinah, the Treaty of Najran, and perhaps, the Ashtinameh, the Covenant of the Prophet Muhammad with the Monks of Mount Sinai, namely, with the Monastery of St. Catherine. These documents, however, merely scratch the surface. There are dozens upon dozens of covenants that the Prophet (pbuh) concluded with the People of the Book.

The principles enshrined in the Covenants of the Prophet Muhammad and Imam ‘Ali (a) are simply astonishing. They are like a Universal Declaration of Islamic Human Rights and an Islamic Bill of Rights dating back to the 7th century. They have both theoretical and practical applications.

The Covenants of the Prophet Muhammad have inspired a movement, the Covenants Initiative, which calls upon all Muslims to respect the rights that the Messenger of Allah (pbuh) granted to the People of the Book.

The Covenants of the Prophet are backed by hundreds of Sunni, Shi‘i, and Sufi scholars. They are backed by al-Azhar. They are backed by the Grand Muftis of the Muslim world.

Imam Khamenei and Ayatullah Araki received copies of this book in 2013. They invited me to meet with them in Iran and to lecture on the Covenants of the Prophet in the Hawzah ‘Ilmiyyah. Unfortunately, due to conflicts in our schedules, I was unable to visit. Since then, I have been invited to Iran on numerous other occasions. Once again, due to my obligations, these trips did not come to pass.

Allah (swt) however, works in wonderful ways. Since 2013, The Covenants of the Prophet Muhammad with the Christians of the World has been translated into Spanish, Italian, and Arabic. The Arabic translation is being published in Beirut, Lebanon, by Dar al-Kutub al-‘Ilmiyah, under the name ‘Uhud al-Nabi li-Masihiyi al-‘Alam.

I would like to invite you, Mr. President, as head of government of the Islamic Republic of Iran, to lend your support to the Covenants Initiative, to help disseminate The Covenants of the Prophet, and to stimulate more studies on this critically important subject.

Let us be interfaith ambassadors and not warmongers. Let us extend the olive branch to others as opposed to threaten to blow them off the face of the earth as we just heard someone do.

We are the people of truth. We are the people of justice. And we are the people of love. This is the need of the hour and the issue of the age. Thank you.

President Hassan Rouhani nodded approvingly during Dr. Morrow’s comments. When responding to the three speakers, he commenced by stating, “the Islamic Republic of Iran has a long history of defending oppressed and persecuted people, the foremost of which are the Palestinians, who have been deprived of their land and sovereignty for decades.”

Aung San Suu Kyi has been standing idly by as her military is systematically committing crimes against humanity and mass atrocities against an ethnic Muslim minority; perhaps she agrees with them. Hailed as her country’s Nelson Mandela, Suu Kyi spent 15 years under military house arrest; largely locked away for chunks of time from the end of the 1990s through the early years of this century, she earned a global reputation for quiet strength in the face of a brutal military junta. That determination won her comparisons to Gandhi and Mandela. She became something of a pop culture icon as well, later winning the Nobel Peace Prize in 1991 — but receiving it in person only in 2012, after her release in 2010. Now her reputation is rapidly disintegrating and her “principles” are being tested because of her refusal to speak out about — or take meaningful steps to prevent — the military crackdown targeting the country’s Rohingya Muslim minority.

Responding to the unfounded allegations of the first two speakers, the president explained that the situation in Syria was very complex. In other words, it requires political maturity to understand what is at stake. He explained that there were both political opponents and terrorists operating in Syria. The problem, he noted, was that many of the political opponents had been infiltrated by or willingly worked with foreign terrorist outfits such as al-Nusrah and Da‘ish. To alleviate concerns expressed by the leader of CAIR, the president repeated, what is common knowledge, namely, that Imam Khamenei issued an edict in which he expressed that the production, use, and transfer of nuclear weapons was prohibited in Islam.

It is unfortunate that some Muslims have a tendency of speaking out of turn and making a lot of unnecessary noise, much to the annoyance of the hosts as well as other guests. This was also the case at the meeting with President Rouhani. It seems these Muslims need to acquire a lot more maturity to be able to make meaningful contributions at such an important gathering.

The only person to provide thoughtful, substantive, actionable, and results-orientated recommendations was Dr. John Andrew Morrow who called upon President Rouhani, and the Islamic Republic of Iran, to promote the primordial principles promulgated by the letters, treaties, and covenants of the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh). The concrete and tangible policy suggestions provided by Dr. Morrow are perfectly in line with the expressed thoughts of President Rouhani. As his excellence asked during his speech,

Where did this round of extremism start? Who was involved? What was the role of Zionism and major powers in this regard? What we are seeing in the region is that major powers want extremism and violence against people as a means of slowing down other countries and defame Islam and Muslims by the use of al-Qaeda, ISIS, al-Shabab, al-Nusrah Front, and Boko Haram…

It is a pity that many people around the world are killed in Africa, the Middle East and Asia, and the blood of innocents is shed, but there is also a higher sadness and that is, together with the slaughter of innocent people, real Islam is being slaughtered too…

Unfortunately, some have turned Islam, which is the religion of guidance, light, and mercy, to the religion of violence, extremism and terror in the world… If we want to fight terrorism, the main path is cultural steps; we must introduce real Islam to our young generation. No matter who the heads of ISIS and al-Qaeda are, the sad point is that this extreme way is still attractive for some Muslims and some uninformed young people, and terrorist groups are still absorbing power, which means that the problem is unsolved, even though many of them are destroyed and driven out of some countries.

As far as the Covenants Initiative is concerned, there is no better way to teach true Islam and oppose the anti-Islam of the takfiris than by sharing The Covenants of the Prophet Muhammad with Muslims and non-Muslims alike. The Covenants of the Prophet Muhammad represent a litmus test that distinguishes real Muslims from fake ones. No group can claim to be Muslim if it persecutes, oppresses, dispossesses, brutalizes, rapes, tortures, and massacres the non-Muslim minorities that were protected by Prophet Muhammad (pbuh).

If the Covenants of the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) were followed by Muslims, then the People of the Book living among them would be safe. However, as President Rouhani himself acknowledged, we live in a time in which Muslims are not even safe from other so-called Muslims. If we wish to show that “Islam is the religion of mercy, democracy, intellect, science, consultation, and elections,” as President Rouhani stated, then we must share the Covenants of the Prophet with the world and implement them in both theory and practice.