Dr. Tawfik Hamid holds a boxed lunch in one hand and offers me his book, The Roots of Jihad, with the other. A Muslim, he wears Western clothing. Still, I refrain from extending my hand. We walk back to the conference room.
No photographs of Dr. Hamid are allowed.
“For security reasons,” says the doctor, who looks younger than his 45 years.
Dr. Hamid fled his native Egypt because he espouses a peaceful interpretation of Islam based on the Koran.
Today he is one of the leading authorities on the Islamic texts (Sulafi) which are responsible for the wildfire spread of jihad in the Arab world.
As I listen to his articulate scholarship, his bitter condemnation of his own people, Icatch myself staring.
Before he embraced this new way of seeing, Dr. Hamid was an ideological extremist on the fast track to becoming a real live terrorist.
“I was eight when I first heard the teaching that says, ‘When you die a martyr, you are not dead — you are alive,’” says Dr. Hamid, who was raised in a secular Muslim family. “Dying for Allah was the only guarantee that we would not go to the grave.
“For us, the grave was frightening. Sulafi Islam teaches that only punishment awaits us in the grave. So to me, and many kids around me, the idea of dying for Allah and going to Paradise was wonderful. For me, a child, that meant eating lollipops and candy and chocolate. Believe me. This was my dream!”
Later, the dream changed.
During medical school, Dr. Hamid joined JI (Jaamma Islameia), an outlaw fundamentalist group calling for jihad against Muslims who have abandoned their faith (apostates) and non-Muslims.
He met Dr. Aiman Al-Zawaheri — now Al Qaida’s second in command under Osama bin Laden — in JI.
Asked what Al-Zawaheri was like, Dr. Hamid does not hesitate. (And any Muslim who hesitates “even for one second” when answering a question is being deceptive, he later stresses.)
“Al-Zawaheri was a very nice man on the personal level,” he says. “He was very dedicated to the concept of jihad against the US. He often came to the mosque I went to. We prayed together. We talked.”
I need to know why Dr. Hamid is no longer an extremist. What happened?
“At first I followed the teachings of Sulafi Islam. Ichanged into a person that justified the killings of innocents. I thought in a totally distorted manner. Ibecame like a beast.
“When it came time to go forward and commit certain acts — I was invited to go Afghanistan, to train for jihad, to die for Allah — I felt this struggle between my conscience and the religious teachings. I started to think.
“And this word, thinking, probably is what saved me. I began to question. You see, at the theoretical level things seemed OK. But at the practical level, when I was about to act . . .
“A friend introduced me to another form of Islamic thinking that was relatively peaceful. I say relatively peaceful, compared to the other kind.
“This sect was primarily based on the Koran. I began studying Koranic verses in a totally different manner. There are many verses in the Koran that praise B’nai Yisrael; that grant the Israelis the land. Soon I started to preach this new understanding.”
One day, he was called to preach at the mosque. “I gave a lecture, and people listened peacefully. It was good. But afterward, some fundamentalists surrounded me. They said, if you come here again we will kill you. Then they attacked me, and my friend. We ran. But soon they began stoning me.”
Dr. Hamid looks at me with pained and furious eyes.
“Unfortunately, this resistance to peaceful teaching is not limited to fundamentalists. It is now at the level of the people.”
The three dominant beliefs encouraged in the prevailing, and popular, Sulafi Islamic teachings are killing the apostate, beating women, and declaring war on non-Muslims.
“Clearly,”Dr. Hamid adds, “most adherents believe Jews are apes and pigs.”
I write his last sentence with tight fingers.
Although he won’t allow his face to be photographed and refuses to divulge where he lives, Dr. Hamid speaks throughout the US on understanding — and challenging — radical Islamic ideology.
I’m reminded of Jews trying to dialogue with Jews for Jesus and other Christian proselytizers. Either you know your Torah, or drown in their specious arguments.
The same applies to discussions with Muslims, says Dr. Hamid.
“It is vitally important to confront Islamic organizations in the US on these points. They should clarify their positions in an unambiguous manner. Of course, they will say what they say. But you must put your questions to them in a clear manner. Do not give them a chance to blame the world for their own actions. They know how to play with the words. I know, because Iwas one of them.
“For example, a Nazi can say Nazism is peaceful. But if they don’t denounce the Holocaust or the killing of Jews, what they say means nothing.” Dr. Hamid proceeds to offer his method for cracking the fundamentalist Islamic code.
“I am happy to give you the right answers to ask now,”he says, the flicker of a smile forming on his dark features.
“Ask them, ‘What do you think of killing apostates? Is it correct, or absolutely wrong?’ If they say it is absolutely wrong, take them to the next question. ‘Clarify what Saudi Arabia says about killing apostates.’ (The punishment for apostasy in Saudi Arabia is death.) Tell me whether this is wrong. If they say it is wrong, ask them to please put this up on their Website, or post it in their mosque, or have them sign a document stating that this is what they believe.
“The same is true of beating women: ‘Is is correct or absolutely unacceptable to beat women?’ Ask me. I could say to you, ‘Islam generally recommends dealing in a good manner with women.’ Or you may hear, ‘Oh, it’s only in rare instances.’ I know how they trick the world. Iwas one of them.
“Don’t let them betray you. Don’t . . .”
He struggles for an accurate English translation, his fingers jabbing the air.
Don’t leave the question open-ended, I suggest.
He leans forward on the table.
“Ask Muslim kids what they think about Jews. Kids do not lie. They will tell you what they are being taught. If they say, ‘Jews are nice people and we can live with them in harmony,’ I will be the first person to congratulate their parents. But I assure you, if you ask Muslim kids living in the US what they think of Jews, you will be shocked.”
In the US?
“Yes. In the US. You will be shocked.”
“Dr. Hamid, do you hate your own people?”
For the first time, he hesitates — briefly.
“Iam against them,” he says. “When you preach peace, and the whole community boycotts you and your wife and your children, it is painful. Just because you preach that killing apostates is absolutely wrong and is not mentioned in the Koran, and that Jews are not ‘pigs’ and ‘monkeys,’ and the community threatens you, it is painful. But forget my passion, my emotions. Follow the logic.”
Dr. Hamid says the Islamic world did not condemn bin Laden for masterminding 9/11.
“Not one single fatwah (religious ruling) was issued against bin Laden. Ihave never heard of one. Have you? Yet 24 hours after the publication of Salman Rushdie’s book The Satanic Verses, there was a fatwah to kill Rushdie.”
In the wake of 9/11, many Muslims expressed their sorrow on American TV.
Some were genuine, Dr. Hamid says.
However, the majority were sending their approval to the terrorists via the media by not mentioning bin Laden’s name.
His narrowing brow warns me I’m not going to like what I hear.
“Listen closely. Let’s imagine that I, Dr. Tawfik Hamid, commit a terrorist act. The media invites another Muslim to appear on TV and talk about what Idid. This person says, ‘Islam is against terrorism. Islam is against violence.’ But he does not say my name. Iget the message. By not mentioning my name, he is telling me to do it again. It’s like a hidden language in our culture. I know Iam being given the justification to act.”
He notices a disbelieving shadow creep across my face.
“You are very naive,” he tells me.
Dr. Hamid, who will speak at a lecture hosted by DU’s Institute for the Study of Israel in the Middle East later that day, covers fascinating, and disturbing, territory during the hour-long interview.
• A few years before 9/11, Dr. Hamid predicted tall buildings in New York would be “brought down to ground” by Islamic terrorists.
• Mohamed is “just a human being in the Koran. Nothing more than this. But the Muslims have elevated Mohamed because he can intercede on their behalf when they come before Allah for judgement.”
• While portions of the Koran can be interpreted as anti-Semitic, the vast majority of anti-Semitism arises from the Sulafi teachings. He points to several Koranic verses, first reciting in Arabic, then translating: “Children of Israel, remember the gifts I have given you and that Ihave prepared for you above all mankind”; “I have chosen the Jews above all mankind”; “I have made you guiding lights to the world”; “The land I have given you is written as a permanent contract, a permanent inheritance.”
Near the conclusion of our talk, Iraise two more questions.
If I walk past two Muslims and they notice my Star of David, should I assume they hate me because I am Jewish?
“Certainly,” he responds without the slightest pause. “I’m sorry to say this, but certainly.”
He quickly reconsiders.
“No. That was an unscientific answer. I would say, ‘Most likely.’ Ask the Muslim children here what they think of Jews. You will see, Andrea.”
With the publication of The Roots of Jihad and subsequent speaking engagements to large audiences throughout the US, does he fear for his life?
“Yes. But I feel obligated to expose the truth. Iam morally obligated to help Muslims understand the Koran in a peaceful manner. Enabling Muslims to live in harmony with the rest of the world is far more important to me than my life. I always say that in certain times in history, there are people who stand against evil. Iam honored to be among them.”
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