Imam Khalid Griggs of the Community Mosque of Winston-Salem shares his thoughts on being Muslim in America after the Sept. 11 attacks.
Q: What changes have you seen since the Sept. 11 attacks?
A: After the 9/11 attacks, former President Bush publicly declared that this is not a war on Islam — this is a war on terrorism. That gave people the facility to make the distinction between the acts of misguided individuals who are Muslim and the religion itself.
But what has developed since that time is that there is an all-out attack on the religion itself, with people saying that the religion itself causes people and drives people to acts of deep violence, hatred.
So I guess the biggest change that I've noticed since the attacks of 9/11 is the attack on the religion itself and not just attacking and criticizing the actions of people that did these acts.
Q: Does Islam promote peace or does it promote violence?
A: I'm really amazed at this point at that particular question, in that so many people entertain this notion that Islam promotes violence, because the Quran is very clear about the use and indiscriminate use of violence.
The prophet of Islam, Muhammad, and the development of the Islamic faith in general was one in which there was unbelievable restraint. … You could not attack innocent people. You couldn't kill women and children. You couldn't kill noncombatants. You couldn't kill old men. You couldn't kill crops. You couldn't kill animals. All of this is in the Quran.
This is the example that was set by Muhammad, the prophet of Islam. His life is a very open book. So the idea that there is something about the religion that is violent is contrary to the very openly known life of Muhammad.
Q: What do you think about terrorists using Islam as part of the attacks on the United States?
A: I think my feelings are reflective of the majority of Muslims in the country. It is a horrible development that a religion that is based on peacefulness — that it would be almost hijacked by people who are trying to use the faith in that way.
I haven't personally met anyone that does not feel the same way that I feel about this horrible historical occurrence in the history of Islam and this country.
Q: Many Muslims say they feel they are living under a cloud of suspicion. What are your thoughts on that?
A: It's very clear that after the horrible extreme acts on 9/11 that the government in its reaction set in motion a series of horrible and extreme acts that we are suffering from today.
In the aftermath of 9/11, upwards of 3,000 Muslims were almost randomly locked up. Many of them were deported, and none of these people had done anything. They had no knowledge, no involvement. I mean, they were just regular Muslims. It was horrible. It was a very frightening time for Muslims.
This went on for quite a while, a number of months. And then, I think, the next thing that happened was the infringement — in many cases the taking away — of civil liberties with the Patriot Act.
It's been well documented that not only were informants in the mosques, but agent provocateurs were sent to the mosques all around the country with the sole objective of almost entrapping individuals in these mosques who otherwise would not have thought about being involved. I think that in the attempt to respond to this horrible act, we have sort of thrown out the baby with the bathwater, the baby being the civil liberties we have enjoyed as a nation.
Q: Have there been any positive consequences of the Sept. 11 attacks?
A: The positive response by the non-Muslim community beginning on 9/11 and continuing up to this day restores my faith in humanity and my neighbor. It warms my heart so much that so many of our neighbors — even right after 9/11 — there were so many letters that were written to us asking, "What can we do?"
Another positive fallout is that I have had many, many more opportunities to inform people about the religion of Islam in non-hostile environments — churches, universities. There's been genuine academic and general interest on the part of so many people about, "Well, what is this faith all about?"
They get beyond headlines and sensationalism and scare tactics. So it really warms my heart that our neighbors have responded in the way that they have.