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‘Terrorists have no religion’ • Friday May 16, 2003

Cleveland imam clears up myths for area residents
Mansfield News Journal, May 15, 2003
By David Benson, News Journal

MANSFIELD — Fawaz Damra, imam of the Grand Mosque of Cleveland, had a message for several dozen people who gathered at the first Congregational Church on Wednesday night to hear him speak.

“Terrorists have no religion, only politics. Osama bin Laden is nothing but a religious cult. What he said about war against America is nonsense,” he said. “True Muslims know they cannot use the Koran against the people of the book (Jews, Christians and Muslims).

The imam was the guest of Citizens for Peace and Justice, a local group that promotes peace between the United States and Middle Eastern countries.

Damra said the idea that Christianity and Islam are in competition, and that one of the goals of Islam is to eradicate non-Muslim infidels, is a gross misconception.

“Many in the west think Muslims are radical. That is simply not true,” he said. “In fact, God said, ‘Let their be no coercion in faith. Let us not fight over who is right and who is wrong. Let us compete to see who can do the most good.’ “

Damra said in the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks it is more important than ever to build bridges between Muslims and Christians in this country, and to differentiate between ordinary believers and extremists.

“Muslims are not just in the news these days, they are in your neighborhoods. We are in an era when extremists of both faiths, Muslim and Christian, are very damaging to those faiths. We must differentiate the cults from the mainstream,” he said.

Damra said when evangelists such as Jimmy Swaggart and Franklin Graham denounce Islam as an evil or satanic religion, it is fodder for radicals in the Muslim world to work themselves into a frenzy of hatred against America, invoking God to do so.

“But no one can speak for God,” Damra said. “Anyone who says infidels must be killed is a liar.”

Damra said the main problem with unrest and instability in the Middle East is the consequence of the region trying to throw off the vestiges of colonialism. Since Napoleon invaded Egypt in the late 18th century, the Middle East has struggled to find its own identity after independence.

“They are children witnessing an identity crisis, trying to understand where they are going,” he said.

In the end, Damra said, the most important thing is there are more than 50 Muslim countries, and all of them are different. Some are highly repressive, like Iran. Some are fairly moderate, like Jordan. Others are liberal, democratic and westernized, like Malaysia.

“We must be able to distinguish between Islam and national cultures. They are not the same thing,” he said.

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