By Mano Bakh
The six-story building on East 55th street was purchased by the Islamic Society in 1999. The Bank of Kuwait was the creditor of the loan. At present time they owe only $1.7 million to the bank. Two people are donating $500K each and they have cash of $200K and are asking donations to cover the $500K balance. On every floor of this building there were at least four donation boxes next to the elevator and inside the rooms.
The Islamic Society is associated with Al-Azhar University where, apparently Imam Mohammed Dewidar was scholar of Shariah law. They are planning to establish a U.S.-accredited Islamic University in Manhattan offering a full Islamic curriculum, including Shariah and Islamic studies.
In one of the brochures, it stated: “We represent Muslims from all over the world” . “Our diversity continues to grow as we are blessed to regularly witness the shahadah of many brothers and sisters.” “We are Muslims who love the Qur’an and the last prophet Mohammed” “We follow the general guidance of the Qur’an and Sunnah.” “We are dedicated to sharing this guidance with all people, for this is a message of mercy, peace, wisdom and the truth.” Our society invites everyone to a dialogue, based on tolerance, mutual respect and peaceful means”.
I was hoping to meet two brothers: Imams, Ahmed and Mohammed Dewidar. Imam Ahmed was engaged in a conference outside, so I met with Imam Mohammed Dewidar. When I first came into the door of the Islamic Society of Mid-Manhattan, I was greeted by an American gentleman named Abdul Hagh, who introduced himself as the secretary. Mr. Hagh told me that he was a Jew converted to Islam many years ago and his original name was Jeffrey Glazer.
Mr. Abdul Hagh led me to a room where Imam Mohammed, who was wearing a long white robe and sitting on a comfortable leather couch. We shook hands and he offered me tea, coffee or water. I chose a bottle of water and we began our dialogue.
I shared with him that ” we believe that in the current time, there is no room for the barbaric seventh century laws, Shariah”. He immediately became defensive and said, “Many countries have their own laws and Shariah law is not practiced’’. At that time I changed my line of questioning. “Do you agree with cutting hands off as a punishment for petty thievery” I asked.
He replied “It is in Quran, it is Allah’s words.”
I added. “I know it is in the Quran, and I know Muslims believe that it is Allah’s word”. “ Do you, Mr. Mohammad, as an individual, agree to cutting the hands off of a thief, or allowing a nine year old girl to get married?”
He said, “1400 years ago, there was no law”. “Islam made the laws”.” Today every country has its own laws”. He added that “for marriage ceremonies that he performs”,” he pays special attention to the age of the bride”. “He does not agree that any woman should marry before eighteen years of age, because their body and mind is not ready”. He defended Prophet Mohammad when he got married with Aisha when she was nine years old. He said “Arab women were built bigger and stronger at that time and they were ready for marriage.”
Imam Mohammed had a very thick Egyptian accent and I had to pay more attention to understand him. We spoke about one hour. And, I concluded that even though he does not agree with some of the Shariah Laws, because they are the words of Allah and are not practiced here in America, he feels there is no need to change or eliminate them.
He invited me to continue our discussion in the near future over lunch or dinner and that hopefully his brother, Imam Ahmed Dewidar would also participate. I told him that the goal of Concerned American Citizens is to eliminate seventh century barbaric laws “Shariah” from the spiritual side of Islam.
At the end of our discussion, we took a picture together and Mr. Abdul Hagh accompanied me to the first floor entry door.