Imam Shaikh Mohammad Tawhidi, is an Iranian-born Shia-Muslim Imam, having Australian citizenship and publicly Ordained Islamic Authority, Thinker, Educator, Speaker, and one of the main leading voices in the global movement of Islamic reform. He currently operates from the West, mainly Washington DC, and is involved in counter-terrorism, spreading peace, and establishing dialogue and harmony. Imam Tawhidi is licensed by numerous Grand Ayatollahs and leaders of Islamic Seminaries to lead and represent the Muslim community.
The Imam writes on his social media wall, “Here it is! After 4028 hours of writing and research, I present to you my latest (and most important) book: The Tragedy of Islam: Admissions of a Muslim Imam. If I’m killed, it’s because of this book”. The Imam has issued Fatwa against ISIS. He openly talks about the fight against radicalism and Sunni-Wahabi interpretation of Islam. His love and admiration for Bharat is well known. He has a message to deliver for entire humanity.
During his recent visit to New Delhi for a cultural fest, he, in a candid conversation with Organiser Chief News Coordinator Dr Pramod Kumar and Senior Correspondent Nishant Kr Azad on February 7, 2019, expressed his frank opinion on various issues pertaining to the Indian Muslims, the reforms within Islam globally, the position of intellectuals on Islamic extremism, his love for Bharat, PM Modi and his policies and much more. Excerpts:
Q. Welcome to India. Is this your first visit to India?
Thank you very much. It is my first official visit to India.
Q. What is your feeling after landing here?
I am absolutely fascinated and inspired by the hospitality, patriotism, the care that I have received and it would definitely not be my last visit to India.
Q. Your love for India is well known that one can feel it on social media. How do you see your relationship with India?
Firstly, India is one of the most important countries on this planet. My love for India is an empty love; it is a love for its culture, its arts, its people and its successful contemporary politics. By this, I mean Prime Minister Modi. I believe that India has everything to contribute to humanity and at the same time, I do believe that relationships with India will make countries better countries and make humans better humans. I am talking about the quality of the country and humanity.
Q. Can you share your journey from being an Imam to an admirer of India?
Basically, I am a third-generation Muslim Imam. I am not a convert. I was Ordained Publicly as Imam in 2010 in Iran, and I basically have been Imam for the majority of my adult life. I have travelled the world. I am also involved in government policy advice and recently delivered a speech in the European Parliament. I move all over the place basically.
Q. While tweeting about your recent book ‘The Tragedy of Islam: Admissions of a Muslim Imam’, you said if you are killed, it will be because of this book. Why did you say it and what is the book all about?
Well, the book is basically about my life, and then it moves away to discuss the theology, jurisprudence, basically presents the difficulties within my religion because of the man-made concepts. Let us be clear about this. I also criticise the extremists within my religion, and I call for social reforms. And because of that, it affects a lot of extremist radical Muslims. Therefore, I have been attacked before. You can see scars of attacks on my face even now. I know that I have exposed the problems to the extent that they could possibly attack me.
Q. You frequently talk about reforms in Islam. What reforms do you basically want and why are they necessary?
Islam, for me, is an Abrahamic religion. I wish to reform the religion because I believe that religions can be reformed. I wish to reformsociety and the individual minds of Muslims. I don’t believe in reforming the religion of text and scripture. As for the current times, things are going very well, and work is in progress. We would be successful.
Q. What are the obstacles in these reforms?
Certain things are required for reforms to take place. One is the resources, which basically means the finances, the media platform, freedom, safety, security to able to speak and preach so that message reaches everyone. Another aspect is the extremist elements and the far leftist cooperation and organisations such as universities and media that try to block our voices.
“I don’t criticise my God or the religion; I criticise the extremist elements from the religion, and I criticise the man-made within the religion. If the religion is 95 per cent man-made, it is not my problem. If the books are 90 per cent man-made, written by man, it is not my problem.”
Q. In an interview some time back you said you are labelled as a ‘fake’ Shaikh. Why?
Basically, every person who speaks against the extremists is termed as a ‘fake’. This happens in own religion. If a priest in a Church says something against the hierarchy, they call him a fake priest. This can be true for Hindus and other religions also. If you speak against the extremists, they say he is fake, because they have to establish them as the real one. My credentials are solid and concrete, and I don’t need their approval. I am happy that they don’t approve of me. When an extremist Muslim tells me that I don’t represent them, I am very happy. I would have been worried if they supported me.
Q. In India, the practices of triple talaq, halala and polygamy in the Muslim community are the critical issues? Your take.
My opinion is very concise, very short and very basic. The people who live in a country need to follow the laws of that country, not their own laws. Even if they have Imam in a mosque or whatever, the law of the land comes above the law of the mosque or the law of the Imam. It is as simple as that for me. I solve all my problems with this. Follow the law of the land.
Q. What is your opinion about Sharia law?
Sharia law is just like any other law. It is applied in Saudi Arabia, Iran, Pakistan, etc. because these are Theocracies. India is not a theocracy, India is a secular state. Sharia law does not belong here. There is a big difference between the people wanting Sharia law and the people who don’t want it. For example, in Pakistan majority love Sharia law. The minority does not want Sharia law there, but the majority want Sharia law. You cannot go against Sharia law in Pakistan, because the majority want it. The same is for Hindus; Sharia law is not applicable in India.
Q. The dreaded extremists like ISIS justify their terror acts in the name of Quran. They even defend the killings of innocent people citing Quranic verses. What do you say about it?
The Quran does not speak openly; it requires interpretation. There are seventy-two Islamic groups and schools of thought from two major denominations. Not all Muslims are the same. Not all Muslims believe in the same way. Not all Muslims see the Prophet Mohammad in the same way. Not all of them are draconian the same way, so with interpretations, it will be clear to distinguish the extremists from the moderate—how they interpret things. Most of these interoperations they speak of are to me metaphors; I don’t see them as reality. When you talk about violence by Pakistan and ISIS, this is politics right. Every government tries to use religion to justify its violence. So, the ISIS is not a mosque or the religious clergy, they are an army, which is to kill and that is what they do. They need to justify what they are doing by using the religion—to brainwash the people and to recruit the people. I am not a fan of ISIS or their interpretations of Islam. I am completely against them.
“My family members were killed in Iraq. My uncle was killed, burnt alive, in 2015 by ISIS. We have been a family that has been oppressed moving from place to place. And if I stop that means I failed and I don’t stop.”
Q. Apart from Islamic fundamentalists, many liberals also condemn your views on Islam. Even they accuse you of maligning and distorting the image of Islam. What do you say about it?
Everybody is entitled to express one’s opinion. My activism has been very consistent from day one. I also don’t know what they are talking about. I don’t criticise my God or the religion; I criticise the extremist elements from the religion, and I criticise the man-made (concepts) within the religion. If the religion is 95 per cent man-made, it is not my problem. If the books are 90 per cent man-made, written by man, it is not my problem. It is their problem. If they call themselves liberals, then their job is to defend the minorities. What do the liberals do? Liberals defend minorities. I am a minority. Why don’t they defend my right to speak?
Q. As you are in India, people would like to know your opinion about Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi?
I am in full support of Modi. Some people may not like him. I have given many interviews today, and some people tried to change my mind. I am in full support of Prime Minister Modi. I think he is a true patriot; he knows the value of his country, and I do not consider him to be a politician. I know the politicians lie, cheat and deceive people. Hence, I don’t consider Modi, to be a politician. I think he is a dynamic figure with a true vision. Look I am originally from Iraq; if we had a Prime Minister like Modi in Iraq, we would not have ISIS and similar other problems. We need a Prime Minister who understands certain things, the main issues like national security, economy and foreign policy. Modi is a master in all three. He does not depend upon the Leftists trying to seek approval from anyone. He is a very sharp man, he has a vision, he is sticking to his promises, and I respect that. I am not an Indian, and I am not going to vote in India, whether it is Modi or Rahul Gandhi that does not affect me but this is how I see it, and this is my opinion.
Q. Following the demand from Indian Muslim women, the Modi Government banned triple talaq in India. What do you feel about it?
I think the same rule applies to this issue, the law of the land and not the law of the mosque should prevail in the country.
Q. These days, in India, criticising Hindu Gods or deities is in fashion in the name of being ‘liberal’ or ‘secular’. They openly hurt the Hindu sentiments. While doing so, they keep mum on the evil practices prevailing among Muslims. Your opinion on it?
I would give you two answers, and both are different from each other. One answer that you will receive from everyone who is educated in the West, and it is their ‘freedom of speech’. The second answer is totally different, and that is those people who allow others to insult the Hindu deities, do they allow Prophet Mohammad to be drawn? They will say ‘No’. Then why do they allow insult of Hindu deities? They are mainly leftist. Do the ‘secularists’ allow the magazines to draw Prophet Mohammad or insult Jesus? They would not let them. Why do you differentiate between the two groups? Be fair and consistent. We know your position and don’t be ashamed of your position. If you are a secularist, don’t be ashamed of your position. If you believe that one can draw and insult the Hindu God, then you should allow it for other religions also. There cannot be pick and choose. That is my position on this issue.
“There is a minority of reformists among Muslims in India. I follow some Indian Muslims on Twitter who express genuine voice for Indian Muslims and talk about reforms. But they are not heard, because their faith and the media do not allow them to speak.”
Q. Pakistan is an immediate neighbour of India, the relationship between both the countries is well known. What are your views on Pakistan?
My opinion about Pakistan is very controversial because I don’t recognise Pakistan as a country. Some countries do not recognise other countries, and they don’t have their Embassies. So, if I was a Prime Minister, though I am not in politics and would not enter into politics, I would not have Embassy of Pakistan in my country as I don’t acknowledge Pakistan as a country. I think they are a gang, (not the people as people can be good, I am talking about the Government). The government there is not a real government. It is an army, and it is a failed state. It is terrorist haven. Hence, I don’t recognise them as a country. That is my opinion. I have been in trouble many times for this opinion, but I don’t recognise them.
Q. The life of minorities—Hindus, Jews, Christians, etc.—in Pakistan has been turned into a hell.
Pakistan knows very well that it is not justice. Isn’t it a part of the United Nations and the International Human Rights bodies? Does it not have a Human Rights Minister? So, they know it very well. But they are racist and are against the minorities. If you are an extremist Muslim like the Taliban, you can walk freely in Pakistan. And they all lie. That is why the Trump Administration has cut foreign funding to Pakistan. Because they are liars and they cheat.
Q. Pakistan has been supporting terrorism in Kashmir since the very beginning. Pakistan also tries to draw a parallel with the Palestine problem. What is your opinion on Kashmir?
I don’t understand why Pakistan is interfering in Kashmir, because Kashmir is a Hindu land. The same way Pakistan was also a Hindu land. Pakistan also belonged to India until 70 years ago they asked for Independence which they got. Hence, they don’t have the right to interfere in other parts of India. That is my opinion.
Q. Shri Ram Temple in Ayodhya, the birthplace of Shri Ram, is a pertinent issue. The Hindus’ claim over the place is backed by archaeological evidence, but a section of Indian Muslims still take claim over that place as a mosque. Do you have any take on this?
There may be many opinions on this issue. But my opinion is somewhat different. In Islam, there is a law that I cannot pray at your place without your permission. If I come to your house, I cannot pray in your house without your permission.
The Babri mosque in Ayodhya was built through an invasion. Even if there was a mosque there from the beginning, the Muslims could not pray there without the permission of its original owner. The prayer offered there is void, invalid and not accepted according to Islamic law. I don’t think we need any archaeological or scientific evidence for such a famous issue that the Caliphs who conquered, their style was to build a structure over a temple. It happened many times in Palestine also. The case of the Temple of Soloman was similar.
“The Babri mosque in Ayodhya was built through an invasion. Even if there was a mosque there from the beginning, the Muslims could not prayer there without the permission of its original owner. The pray offered there is void, invalid and not accepted according to Islamic law. I don’t think we need any archaeological or scientific evidence for such a famous issue that the Caliphs who conquered, their style was to build a structure over a temple.”
Q. Muslim card is often played in elections in India. But we do not see any credible face among Indian Muslims who is a genuine reformist voice.
There is a minority of reformists among Muslims in India. I follow some Indian Muslims on Twitter who express genuine voice for Indian Muslims and talk about reforms. But they are not heard, because their faith and the media do not allow them to speak.
Q. Muslims in India are considered to be backward. What are the reasons for such backwardness?
I don’t think all Muslims in India are backward. Many Muslims have advanced in various fields. I think the extremist Muslims are backward.
Q. The major problem cited among Muslims is that they concentrate on religious education and not Modern Education.
Yes, it is a major problem because even the Prime Minister of Malaysia gave a speech saying that all Muslims should focus on studying scientific subjects including English rather than religion and then fighting against each other in the future.
Q. You face severe criticism and threats from fundamentalists. Still, you continue to speak for reforms within Islam. What is the source of your strength?
My source of strength is basically my life’s experience. My family members have been killed in Iraq. My uncle was killed, burnt alive, in 2015 by ISIS. We have been a family that has been oppressed moving from place to place. And if I stop that means I failed and I don’t stop.
Q. What is your message to the moderate Muslims who despite their wish cannot stand against the extremists?
I think if moderate Muslims cannot publicly support, they should not attack us either, just stay silent until you have the opportunity to speak, do so; or unite and form organisations, and that will solve the problems in your society.
“Indian Muslims really have a chance and good opportunity to free themselves from the corruptions of Pakistani infiltrations and Pakistani style militant Islam. They have a really good chance because of PM Modi is in the office.”
Q. There is a section among Indian Muslims who is against paying respect to the motherland. Is it against Islam?
I think it is given; it is understood that someone needs to respect the Motherland. I pay respect to the motherland in Australia. I acknowledge the original owners of the land. And If I were Muslim, atheist, Christian, Hindu, I will still be loyal to my land. So I don’t understand why Indian Muslims object to paying respect to their motherland in India.
Q. What is your message to the Indian Muslims?
Indian Muslims really have a chance and good opportunity to free themselves from the corruptions of Pakistani infiltrations and Pakistani style militant Islam. They have a really good opportunity because of Prime Minister Modi is in the office. Modi is a man who loves his country, and cares about it and I think this is the best time to find solutions to these problems.