Falls Church, Asharq Al-Awsat- Johari Abdul Malik, the imam of the Dar al-Hijrah Islamic Center in Falls Church, the center that became associated with Major Nidal Hasan, the Palestinian-American military doctor who was accused of murdering 13 military personnel in the Fort Hood military base on 5 November – has condemned the hostile remarks made by Anwar al-Awlaqi, an American of Yemeni descent who now resides in Yemen and who was once the imam in the same Daral-Hijrah Islamic Center.
Last week, the US Army military prosecution filed 13 murder charges against Maj Nidal Hasan who is accused of deliberately committing 13 murders. The charges against him may lead to death penalty. Meanwhile, Chris Gray, the spokesman of the US Army Criminal Investigation Command, said that the investigation is continuing into the “attack” that took place in the largest US Army military base in the world. The FBI had said that Hasan exchanged mails with Al-Awlaqi through Al-Awlaqi’s website. The FBI also said that Hasan may have met Al-Awlaqi when the latter was in the Dar al-Hijrah Islamic Center. However, Imam Abdul-Malik said that he has no information about this. He says that he met Al-Awlaqi but does not remember meeting Hasan. At any rate, Abul-Malik believes that Hasan’s deed was an act of madness and added that he reiterated this opinion on various press conference and television interviews. The interview was conducted as follows:
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Several US television stations carried video clips of Anwar al-Awlaqi, who was the imam here in the Dar al-Hijrah Center and who is now in Yemen, supporting Nidal Hasan, the American-Palestinian doctor who is accused of killing 13 military personnel in the Fort Hood Military Base. What do you know the two, Al-Awlaqi and Hasan?
[Abdul Malik] Let me start by responding to Al-Awlaqi’s hostile statements. He supported the crime that Hasan committed and said that the US Muslims who opposed the crime have betrayed the Muslim ummah (the community of Muslims worldwide) and are hypocrites. I answer him by saying that he has thus separated himself from the Muslim community in the United States. The holy Koran teaches us that we as US Muslims should enrich the society we live in with humanitarian services, wisdom, teaching God’s beautiful verses about love, mercy, and compassion to all mankind.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Did you ever meet Al-Awlaqi?
[Abdul Malik] Al-Awlaqi left this center in April 2002 after working here for almost one year. In June the same year, I joined the center after I was a Muslim preacher in Howard University (in Washington, DC). We did not work as imams together but I have met him. The most important point that I would like to make is that when Al-Awlaqi was here, he was never like the Al-Awlaqi of today who repeats such radical viewpoints. I have heard many of his sermons here that he delivered from this pulpit. They are recorded, and we keep the recordings. He was rational and moderate. He said that the 11 September attacks were not legitimate and he defended the right of the US Government to defend itself even if it is attacked by Muslims.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Did you meet Al-Awlaqi after he left the center?
[Abdul Malik] Yes, I met him in 2002 when I went with my family to perform hajj. I had agreed with MSNBC Television to be accompanied by photographers to record our hajj. Cameras accompanied us before, during, and after the hajj. Later, the television channel aired a documentary entitled “The Beliefs of American Muslims After the 11 September Attack.” The aim of the documentary was to acquaint Americans with Islam and Muslims. Suddenly, during the hajj and in holy Mecca, I came across Al-Awlaqi. He had come with Yemeni pilgrims and was delivering religious sermons. We talked, and he was still a moderate despite some negative comments.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Why has Al-Awlaqi changed?
[Abdul Malik] I think Al-Awlaqi was angry at the way he was treated by the Yemeni and US Governments. The government of his father’s and forefathers` homeland (Yemen) arrested him three times and the government of the homeland where he was born (the United States) did not defend him. He thought that the two governments plotted against him.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Did you ever meet Nidal Hasan?
[Abdul Malik] I do not recall meeting him. I have heard that he used to come here and that he was looking for a bride. I also heard that he had become an introvert and behaved strangely after his mother’s death. But I have met some members of his family. They had a wedding and asked me to act as the marriage official. I remember that it was a good, harmonious, and strong family. It was an ordinary Muslim US family. Some of its members prayed five times a day while others did not. Some of the women in the family wore covered Muslim clothes while others wore jeans and shorts.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Did he ever meet Anwar al-Awlaqi?
[Abdul Malik] I do not know; but I do know that Al-Awlaqi was here seven years ago. I do not know where Hasan was then.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Had Hasan met him, would you say that Al-Awlaqi may have had an influence on him?
[Abdul Malik] If he had met him and influenced him seven years ago, this influence must have been positive because, as I have just said, Al-Awlaqi was moderate at that time.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Has the FBI interviewed you?
[Abdul Malik] They interviewed me yesterday. They came here and sat in this room. The center’s attorney was sitting with me.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Can you tell us what you told them?
[Abdul Malik] This should not be a secret. I told them about Al-Awlaqi and Hasan what I just told you.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] You have met with a number of US journalists and the US media aired some exciting news reports on this center, other Islamic centers, and about the Muslims in the United States. What do you think of the US media coverage?
[Abdul Malik] I summarize the coverage in three words: “Islam, madness, and terrorism.” US soldier Timothy McVeigh blew up the federal building in Oklahoma City and University Prof Theodore Kaczynski sent letter bombs through the mail that killed others. They were both judged to be insane. However, had they been Muslims, they would have been described as terrorists. I believe that Hasan is insane and he is a Muslim by accident. But the US media focused on his Islamic religion more than on his madness. A Christian can be insane but when it comes to a Muslim they want to link his religion to his madness. I say that this is wrong and dangerous. It does not serve Muslims or non-Muslims or the United States.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] What do those who come to the center say about Hasan’s deed?
[Abdul Malik] I of course respect all the brothers and sisters who come here. But I have noticed that the thinking of the immigrants is different from those who were born here or whose fathers and forefathers were born here. Many of the immigrants focused on the conspiracy theory. Some said that Hasan did not commit the crime but that it was committed by other US military personnel who then killed him and said that he was the one who did it. They are like those who said that the 11 September attacks were not committed by those who committed them and that it too was a “conspiracy.” I am one of those whose ancestors came here hundreds of years ago. I am a black American, and I know that “denial” is the explanation of those who cannot explain what they see or hear, especially if they belong to a minority group and are not used to the US way of life. But we black Americans have passed these stages. We became involved in political action and the President of the United States is now one of us. Perhaps I am saying what I am saying because I was a Christian and became Muslim. But I believe that this issue is a temporary one, and we ask God to raise us from one stage to another.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] What do you tell these Muslims?
[Abdul Malik] I tell them what the holy Koran says about those who suffer an ordeal and say we come from God and to Him we shall return. This is worldly life; it is a test and tribulation.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Did Hasan err when he tied religion to politics by criticizing the US policy toward the Arabs and Muslims?
[Abdul Malik] I do not know how he made a link between them, and I do not know what he thought. I do not know what was inside him. But I know that the US system is based on many liberties, including the freedom of expression. But the military person is excluded after he takes the oath of allegiance to the homeland and to defend it without any political considerations. Hasan gave up his political rights after he swore allegiance to the armed forces. If he is tried, he will be tried in a military court not a civilian one.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] It is said that Hasan was shouting “Allahu Akbar” (God is Great) as he was committing his crime?
[Abdul Malik] I do not know whether he said that or not, and if he did, I do not know whether he was saying that to those he was killing or to those who wanted to kill him. At any rate, God is great always. However, I cannot explain what everyone says about his relationship with God.