Muslim Scholar on MSNBC: 'Vocal Minority' Spreading Fear, 'Demonize' Islam

Hamza Yusuf Hanson, MSNBC During the 10 a.m. ET hour on MSNBC, anchor Chris Jansing spoke with Islamic scholar Hamza Yusuf Hanson about the Ground Zero Mosque controversy, who proclaimed: "I think there's a lot of fear....there has been a concerted effort by a certain segment. It's a very small minority, but their powerful and vocal, to demonize the Muslim community."
            
Yusuf was on to discuss his founding of Zaytuna College in California, the nation's first Islamic higher education school. However, Jansing introduced the segment by placing the college in this context: "...the [mosque] controversy prompted Time magazine to ask, Is America – if America is Islamophobic. A Time poll found that 46% of Americans believe Islam is more likely than other faiths to encourage violence against nonbelievers. And a small college in Berkeley, California, may become the new battleground in America's uneasy relationship with Islam."

After briefly discussing the college, Jansing turned to the mosque: "Do you understand the unease among many Americans, and we are seeing a lot of it come out with this mosque controversy?" After denouncing opponents of the project, Hanson defended the imam involved: "Feisal Abdul Rauf, who's the imam there, is an extremely gentle person and to frame him as an extremist means that the whole community is mad...these are people that have spent their life in interfaith dialogue..." Rauf claimed the United States was an "accessory" to the September 11th attacks during a September 2001 60 Minutes interview on CBS.

Jansing again cited the Time magazine poll and asked: "I wonder what your reaction is to that poll and what can be done to turn it around?" Hanson argued Islam was one the world's most peaceful religions: "I would look at, there's a paper on Google called 'Body Count,' which shows that Islam, actually, out of the seven major religions, the only religion less violent, historically, is Hinduism. And I think people tend to forget Muslims historically have lived very well with people."

The study Hanson cited, put out by the Royal Aal Al-Bayt Institute for Islamic Thought, claimed that only 5.52% of war deaths in the past 2,000 years were caused by Islamic belligerents. In conflicts such as the current war in Iraq, the United States was described as the "Christian Belligerent Civilization" and the death toll listed was between 614,000 and 1,100,100, as if American forces were solely responsible for the casualties. The report concluded that Christians were the cause of 30.73% of war deaths in the past two millennia, the single largest percentage out of the seven faiths included.  

Later in the 10AM ET hour, Jansing discussed the mosque controversy with construction worker Andy Sullivan, who was organizing a boycott of aiding in the construction of the proposed building. Jansing made sure to bring up the Time magazine argument: "And to people who say that we're sort of playing into the hands of these folks because we're displaying religious intolerance. What do you say to them?" Sullivan replied: "If it was a religious matter, September 12th, we would have went in there and stormed the place, okay? Did we? No. We didn't....We do not want this gigantic mega victory mosque – because that's what it's going to be looked at from around the world, especially our enemies – built right in that location, especially when we haven't even built the Trade Center yet."

Here is a full transcript of Jansing's August 20 interview with Hanson:
10:13 a.m. ET

CHRIS JANSING: Former DNC Chairman Howard Dean is against the plan to build an Islamic Center and mosque near Ground Zero. Dr. Dean laid out his case last night with Keith Olbermann.

HOWARD DEAN: This is a very polarized topic and I think the right place for this is to really listen to what people are saying. If people have strong feelings about this – I'm not talking about bigoted, prejudice feelings – I'm talking about strong emotional objections to this, then I think we ought to hear what they are and we ought to listen to them carefully.

JANSING: Meanwhile, the controversy prompted Time magazine to ask, Is America – if America is Islamophobic. A time poll found that 46% of Americans believe Islam is more likely than other faiths to encourage violence against nonbelievers. And a small college in Berkeley, California, may become the new battleground in America's uneasy relationship with Islam. Zaytuna College in Berkeley is the first accredited Muslim college in the U.S.. The first classes were held this summer. I'm joined by Zatuna College founder Hamza Yusuf Hanson. Thanks very much for joining us, good morning.

HAMZA YUSUF HANSON [FOUNDER, ZAYTUNA COLLEGE]: Thank you, good morning.

JANSING: Yeah, classes began this summer, I think people are just starting to hear about this. Tell us a little bit about the mission of the college, why did you find it – found it?

HANSON: Well, first of all, just to clarify, it's not actually accredited. It's – we're in the process of accreditation and that takes a considerable amount of time. But, I mean, basically the idea behind it is the Muslim religious community is quite extensive now in the United States and every religious community in America eventually develops institutions in order to train people and teach people and colleges, Harvard began as a seminary, Yale began as a seminary, so we tend to forget that actually many of our greatest colleges began as religious institutions.

JANSING: So, let me ask you why you think that there was a need for a Muslim university. As I understand it now, if you want to be an imam and you want to have a mosque in the United States, you have to leave the country to study, right?

HANSON: Well, that's the problem. I mean, we have foreign imams that often come to the country and many of then are very fine, decent people but they don't understand the nuances of the American society. They haven't studied the traditions of our own country. And it's important, I think, to have those two elements. You have to have people that are Muslim, but – here teaching. But also people that understand the culture that they're living in, understand the community itself, the young people, the immigrant children that are born here, they're Americans, they're not from Cairo, they're not from Rawal Pindi in Pakistan, so, it's really important.

JANSING: And in fact, you, yourself, grew up Christian, as I understand it. Both in Walla Walla, Washington and Northern California. Do you understand the unease among many Americans, and we are seeing a lot of it come out with this mosque controversy?

HANSON: I – know you, I think there's a lot of fear and some of it's justifiable in that over the last ten years there has been a concerted effort by a certain segment. It's a very small minority, but their powerful and vocal, to demonize the Muslim community. Abdul Rauf, who – Feisal Abdul Rauf, who's the imam there, is an extremely gentle person and to frame him as an extremist means that the whole community is mad because, you know, if you take somebody like that or Daisy Kahn, I mean these are people that have spent their life in interfaith dialogue and really trying to attack the very ideology that I think people are afraid of.

JANSING: You know, you heard that poll, 46% Of Americans see Muslims as more likely than other religions to be violent against nonbelievers. I wonder what your reaction is to that poll and what can be done to turn it around?

HANSON: Right. I would look at, there's a paper on Google called 'Body Count,' which shows that Islam, actually, out of the seven major religions, the only religion less violent, historically, is Hinduism. And I think people tend to forget Muslims historically have lived very well with people. You know, I think Muslims are not redefining America here. And there's a lot of fear that they are. I think that we're reasserting the original definition of this country, which is about religious freedom. So it's really important.

My own great, great-grandfather, Michael O'Hanson, his greeting to America coming from Ireland was the nativist, anti-Irish, Catholic, anti-Catholic Irish riots in 1844 in Philadelphia. But those riots actually led to the consolidation of the city of Philadelphia and the Irish Catholics now are fully enfranchised. One out of every four Americans has Catholic roots in this country now, even though they were 1% of the population at the founding of the country. So, I think Muslims now are new kids on the block and every community that comes to this country, you know, they have to really find their place at the table and I think that's what Muslims are negotiating now. America is a process of negotiations. And I think-

JANSING: And you, as you say, are part of that renegotiation process with this new university. We have to leave it at that. But Hamza Usef Hanson, thank you so much for being with us today.

HANSON: Okay, well, thank you very much.
Kyle Drennen
Kyle Drennen
Kyle Drennen is a News Analyst for MRC