By Mano Bakh
The Islamic Cultural Center of New York is a Mosque in Manhattan, New York City. It is on third Ave, between East 96th and East 97th streets. The Islamic Cultural Center was the first mosque built in New York City. Shamsi Ali, a native Indonesian is the Imam of this mosque and he is known for his outreach; speaking at interfaith events with Jewish and Christian leaders, connecting mosques and synagogues and teaching classes about Islam to non-Muslims.
I traveled to the Islamic Cultural Center of New York to meet Imam Shamsi Ali. As he saw me, he came forward to the door, and took me to his office adjacent to the mosque. He was very pleasant, wearing a beige suit, and I anticipated an interesting discussion. He opened the conversation by saying that, the day before, he had had a dialogue with Donald Trump. Imam Shamsi Ali considered himself an open minded Imam.
I told him that I was doing research for a positive objective. I am looking to see how the majority of moderate Muslims can create a moderate Islam. He immediately interrupted me saying, “All Islam is for moderation.”
“With all do respect, I do not agree with you”, I replied. “You may find many moderate Muslims, but when you deal with the black and white laws of Islam, you notice Allah’s words do leave no room for moderate interpretation”. You know yourself that all Muslims around the world must pray in the Arabic language, even though Arabic is not their native language. The main reason is that in the translation from the Arabic language to any other language, a different interpretation of the original meaning could arise.
At this time Imam Shamsi Ali put both hands on his desk saying: “maybe you should give me some examples where you think Islam has no moderation”.
His question welcomed the opportunity to prove to him that the barbaric laws of 1400 years ago have no room in today’s society. I said “marrying a nine years old girl, stoning a woman and cutting hands off for petty theft are a few examples that are barbaric”.
He replied that “you find the same laws in the bible”. He added “today, even in Indonesia that has the largest population of Muslims in the world, these laws are not practiced”. “Maybe they are practices in Saudi Arabia or a few other places.”
I asked him, you “Imam Shamsi Ali”, as an individual, do you agree with these barbaric type of punishments in this internet era”?
He smiled, and said: “I agree that those laws were for the seventh century and its practice must be banned all over the world”.
At this conversation, I felt I had identified a moderate Imam who had courage. I congratulated him for being open-minded and courageous to say that in today’s societal values, there is no room for the laws that were practiced 1400 years ago. I asked: “Are you willing to write an article denouncing these laws?” He looked into my eyes and said: “Yes”.
I stood up and shook his hand; we exchanged Email addresses and agreed to continue our conversation by Email in regards to his writing on this subject with the intent of publishing his commentary.
Perhaps with this type of written expression coming from a well known Imam, there might present a beginning to separate seventh century governmental laws “Shariah” from the spiritual side of Islam. I am looking forward to having further conversation with Imam Shamsi Ali.