On February 10, 2008, as part of a series of preparations for the then upcoming Summit of the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC) to be held in Senegal, the Founder and Chairman of the African American Islamic Institute (AAII) and President of the Network of African Islamic Organizations, Shaykh Hassan Cisse, accompanied the Secretary General of the OIC, Professor Ekmeledeen Ihasanoglu, to Nigeria. There, in the palace of the Emir of Kano, Shaykh Hassan Cisse was interviewed by Adamu Abuh of Guardian Newspapers. The following quotations are excerpted from the Guardian article that emerged from that interview.
On Islam and the War On Terrorism:
“Here in Africa, we have no terrorists, no terrorism. During a recent visit, an adviser to President Bush on African Affairs and member of the delegation to Senegal from the White House asked me why we don’t have terrorists and terrorism despite the fact that the majority of Senegalese are Muslims. My answer was: Our country has no terrorists because of Islam.
Islam is not a religion of terrorists. Islam is not propagating terrorism. Islam is a religion of peace, because the word ‘peace’ (salaam) and various forms of the word appear in the Qur’an 33 times, while the word for ‘war’ (al-hareb) appears only 4 times. This demonstrates that Islam is not a religion of terrorism. Muslims should come to peace and live in peace and make peace. In Suratul Ma’ida, Allah said that if you kill an innocent person without him killing or doing wrong on the earth, it is as if you have killed all mankind. If you save one life, it is as if you have saved the lives of all mankind. And we are not forcing anybody to be a Muslim. During the time of Prophet Muhammad(SAW), one of the Ansar people who hosted the Prophet (SAW) in Medina wanted to force his own son to be a Muslim, but Allah revealed to the Prophet (SAW) the ayat: There is no compulsion in religion and it was further revealed in another ayat that whoever wishes to believe is welcome and whoever wishes to deny is welcome to deny.
Further, when asked about the actions and deeds of the Prophet(SAW). I quoted one Hadith of the Prophet(SAW) in which he said,’Avoid the forbidden things, you will be the best worshiper; be satisfied with what Allah blesses you, and you will be the richest person; love for people what you love for yourself, and you will be a Muslim; be nice to your neighbor, you will be a believer; don’t laugh too much, because too much laughter will deaden your heart.’ I said that in this statement the Prophet (SAW) said to love for Muslims and non-Muslims what you love for yourself and you are a true Muslim; be nice to your neighbor who may be a Muslim, a Christian, a Jew, or whatever, and you would be a true believer. She asked, ‘Is it true that these statements are from the Prophet (SAW)?’ and I answered ‘Yes’.
Then she asked whether the terrorists have access to these statements. I said, ‘Yes, in their own language the Prophet(SAW) said it.’ She asked whether we have a radio station over which we broadcast our sermons. I said we have a community radio station and then she promised to help make it into an international radio station, so that people can realize that Islam is a religion of peace.
The enemies of Islam are the ones who are propagating all of these lies and they repeat these lies among themselves until they make their people believe them. Oswald, who killed John F. Kennedy was a Christian, but nobody blamed Christianity or the Christian people. The man who killed Yitzhak Rabin in Israel is a Jew, but nobody blamed Judaism or the Jewish people. But today, around the world, if a Muslim commits a crime, Islam and all Muslims are blamed. This is why it is so important to develop a means of informing the international community that Islam is a religion of peace, not terrorism.”
On The Lack of Religious Harmony in Nigeria
“The Prophet(SAW) says in his Hadith that all mankind are members of the family of God and the most beloved ones in the Presence of Allah is the one who is most beneficial to His Creation. He said ‘creation’, not only to Muslims. The Prophet(SAW) is for all mankind, not only for Muslims.
The former president of Nigeria, Olusegun Obasanjo, once sought my help regarding the religious crisis in Nigeria. I said to him that there should not be a problem between Muslims and Christians because in the time of the Prophet(SAW), he received the Christians inside the mosque in Medina when they wanted to say their Christian prayers. He (SAW) allowed them to do so inside the mosque. Former president Obasanjo said, ‘Today, if a Christian enters a mosque to pray, that’s a declaration of war.’ I told him that lack of knowledge and lack of information is responsible for that.
I said there is a need for a conference that would gather Christians and Muslims together and I am sure that none of them would come and say, ‘In my book, God says I should kill, burn somebody’s house, kill the cattle of another person or burn the house of worship of another person. We must live in peace with one another. Back home in Senegal, we receive the Christians in our homes, eat with them, and if it is time to go to the mosque, we go and pray. We don’t have a problem with that at all. When I was living in London, I remember a Christian lady who used to live in the same building with us. She used to hear my voice whenever I was praying. One morning, I overslept and did not wake up on time for the early morning prayer. She came knocking on my door and I thought there was a big problem in the building. I asked her, ‘what is happening?’ and she replied,’the sun is coming up and you have not said your prayers.’ I was impressed by her actions and this is the kind of relationship with one another we all need to maintain.
Those who kill in the name of propagating religion are wrong. Allah says any person who kills for no just cause has killed all mankind. Allah enjoins Muslims to deal with non-Muslims who are in their midst in peace and to live with them on the basis of justice. There can be no compulsion in religion. Religion is open to all; whoever wishes to believe is welcome; whoever wishes to join Islam is free to do join, and whoever wished to not join is free to not join.”
“We should look at Europe and America. There, despite differing views and party affiliations, you can see two brothers having dinner together and not one of them would insult or try to kill the other. They understand that political differences are normal and that there is nothing wrong in supporting different parties and ideologies. I expect Muslims in Africa to be able to look at politics in the same way and to explore the means of picking the best candidates to solve the problems of our countries.
In choosing whomever we want, we should look carefully at what kind of person he is. Is he a religious person? Is he practicing his religion or not? I remember that during my stay in London, two of my countrymen came there looking for a job in a factory owned by a Jewish man. During the interview, the factory owner asked them, ‘What is your religion?’ The first person said, ‘I am a Muslim’ The man inquired further, ‘Are you practicing, or are you one of those who has no time for your religion?’ The first man did not answer. Then the factory owner asked the second man, and he replied, ‘I pray all my prayers. I never miss my prayers.’ Then the Jewish man said, ‘ I would give my work to you, but I would not give it to this man because he does not respect what is between him and God. If he does not do that, how can I expect him to respect what is between him and me. If I give him my job, he would mess it up because if he can’t do what he agreed to do with his Creator, he cannot comply with an agreement with a lesser human being like me.’ ”
On The Need For Muslims To Love One Another
“My relationship with my people is purely because of Allah. We love them for the Sake of Allah, they love us for the Sake of Allah. They come all the way from Nigeria, from America, to Medina-Kaolack to pay us a visit because of Allah. A man planned to go from one city to another to visit one brother for the Sake of Allah and Allah sent an angel to meet him half way. The angel said, ‘Where are you heading, do you have business there or what?’ The man said, ‘No. I don’t have any business there, but I have a brother whom I love for the Sake of Allah and I am going to visit him.’ Then, the angel said, ‘I am not a human being. I am an angel. Allah sent me to you to tell you that the same way that you love your brother because of Him, He (Allah) also loves you because of it, and if Allah loves you all your problems in this life and in the Hereafter have been solved.’ The Prophet(SAW) said that if you dedicate yourself to Allah, Allah will dedicate Himself to you, which means your abilities, your life and everything about you is unlimited.”
On Our Responsibilities As Human Beings
“My grandfather, Shaykh Ibrahim Niass(RA) said that when he met with President Khruschev of Russia and President Tito of Yugoslavia in Accra, Ghana, Khruschev told Tito, ‘We cannot do anything with Muslims because we do not even believe in God.’ Shaykh Ibrahim (RA) said, ‘No. We come into this world like one who is on a farming mission. Whoever lives in this world today has a duty towards the farm. If we do our duties throughout the day and go back home, the Muslims are free to worship their way, the Christians are free to worship their own way. He who doesn’t believe in Islam or Christianity is free to enjoy his life the way he feels, but let’s make sure that everybody in the world has a duty to the farm. If all people meet their obligations, there would be no problems in the world.”
On The Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC)
“As you know, there are sixty-seven members of the OIC and it is important to realize that not all member countries are Islamic countries. For example, Cameroon has Muslims and non-Muslims, Nigeria has Muslims and non-Muslims, but the OIC programs are directly related to the quality of life of Muslims.
After Ramadan last year, I met with the Secretary General of the OIC, who asked me to travel to South Africa, Namibia, Angola and Mozambique, all of which are countries in which Muslims constitute a minority. The purpose of my visits would be to identify Muslim communities, assess the kinds of problems they face in terms of health and education and what kinds of socio-economic programs already exist to address them. Finally, I was asked to make recommendations to the OIC for initiatives that would make a difference in the lives of Muslims living in countries in which they are in the minority. Similarly, I traveled to Nigeria last year in order to campaign in the north for immunization against Polio. The program was financed by the OIC and the World Health Organization (WHO). It is clear that member countries benefit from programs that uplift the conditions of Muslim communities, whether Muslims are a majority or a minority.”
On True Success
“Today, a person may be 40 years old. Very soon, he will be over 60, with all sorts of illnesses that will attack him until death overtakes him. Today, you may have wealth, tomorrow you may lose it. The Companions of the Holy Prophet(SAW) met and prayed and recited Suratul Asr in which Allah is swearing by the Time that all mankind is in loss, except those who believe in Him, do righteous deeds and advise one another with truth and with patience. These are the things that Allah says humans must do in order to have true success.”