Sunday, December 18, 2005

Imam Yahya Hendi

So, here it is the Sunday before Christmas, and I'm thumbing through today's edition of the Washington Post. In the Metro section, I find " Muslim Leader Forges Interfaith Accord." Some excerpts:
"He is a devout Muslim who speaks both Arabic and Hebrew. He quotes the Torah almost as well as the Koran and once protested the threatened removal of crucifixes at Georgetown University.

"He is a Palestinian by birth who believes in Israel's right to exist.

"He wishes that the media paid more attention to his message that Islam, Christianity and Judaism share more similarities than differences, but he is not always good at returning their calls.... "
"Islam, Christianity and Judaism share more similarities than differences"? Where have I heard that before? I have my doubts as to the extent of the similarities.

According to the above-cited article,
"At a time when his adopted country is engaged in a struggle with terrorism driven by Islamic extremists, Hendi, senior imam of the Islamic Society of Frederick County, preaches interfaith understanding and calls on fellow Muslims to rescue their religion from extremists.

"That message has helped him open doors to senior government officials searching for ways to build better relationships in the Islamic world. The State Department calls on him to host visiting Islamic clergy, and news organizations dial him up for comment, usually after a terrorist attack.

"Part of the attention comes with being the first full-time Muslim chaplain at GU, which also was the first such post in the United States. Hendi teaches theology there and also serves as a chaplain at the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda. And he teaches an introduction to Islam class in Rockville for Johns Hopkins University's Evergreen Society for older adults.

"As the senior imam of the Islamic Society, Hendi also has shaped the growing Islamic presence in the outer Maryland suburbs. After years of holding services in a doctor's waiting room, a hotel ballroom and wherever else there was space, his congregation recently opened the doors of its first permanent mosque. Hendi lives with his wife and four children in Frederick.

"The Islamic Society's $2 million mosque -- along with its growing list of activities, including Arabic instruction and classes about the Koran -- opened in October. Set in a renovated farmhouse on Key Parkway, the mosque has prompted Muslims to relocate from Gaithersburg and as far away as Baltimore, said mosque members and assistant imam Reda Sallam.

"Part of the draw, there and in classes, is Hendi....

"At 1:30 p.m. on the dot, as a man intoned the Islamic call to prayer, into the mosque strode Hendi.

"'Salaam aleikum,' Hendi said, his black robes fluttering. That morning, suicide bombers had struck two Shiite mosques in Iraq, killing nearly 100 people. Make no mistake, he told the congregation: Killing is counter to any Islamic teaching. He reminded the group that the three great Western religions share more similarities than differences. Above all, he said, Judaism, Islam and Christianity demand that their followers honor the lives of others.

"'The Koran goes so far as to look after the dignity of a tree,' Hendi said. 'In other words, you must resist evil with good.'

"At the conclusion, he asked his congregation to mingle with his guests, urging Muslims to use the Hebrew greeting 'shalom'...

"'He is a fantastic teacher!' gushed Irene Schulkin, 77, a real estate broker from Bethesda. 'He travels with Karen Hughes! He says there should be peace between the Jews and the Muslims. We all thought it was the most interesting course Evergreen ever offered.'

"Actually, Hendi has not traveled with Hughes, the undersecretary of state for public diplomacy and public affairs who serves as President Bush's emissary to the Muslim world and beyond. But he has met with Hughes, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, Bush and other government officials to discuss creating interfaith dialogues with Muslim communities here and abroad. He also met with President Bill Clinton and members of Clinton's administration.

"Now a U.S. citizen, Hendi came to the United States 17 years ago. He likes to tell people that his name is the Arabic version of John the Baptist's.

"After most of his guests departed, Hendi shed his black robe, known as an abaya, for a rumpled charcoal suit. 'Now I can go back to who I am,' he said....

"One hand in his pocket, a bud microphone on his lapel, Hendi wanted to talk about Islamic ethics, but he kept getting sidetracked by politics. He found himself, again, explaining the term jihad. Terrorists, he said, have hijacked the word, which can mean any spiritual struggle.

"'I do believe that what I'm doing for you is a form of jihad, because jihad is about knowledge,' he said. 'For those who sit listening, it is also a jihad, because you're sitting here struggling to listen to me with my accent."

"People chuckled at his wisecrack. But the tone changed when a student pressed him to explain why the Koran seems able to support extremist views.

"'I feel you're whitewashing some things,' said Paula Wiseman, 61, a Potomac resident whose parents survived the Holocaust.

"Hendi said every religion has blood on its hands...."
I find some truth in Hendi's finger-pointing at all religions, particularly as I think back some centuries. But I wonder how he explains all those militant and jihadist verses in the Koran. And Hendi's definiton of jihad doesn't correspond with what I've learned. Perhaps Hendi and Esposito are friends?

Returning now to the conclusion of today's article in the Washington Post:
[Hendi said,] "'I don't want my children to die. I don't want Jewish children to die. I don't think God is a real estate agent. If we are really the children of God, I don't think He would want us to fight over anything.'

"And then Hendi got into his Toyota and put a heavy foot down on the gas pedal, late for a luncheon at the State Department celebrating the 10-year anniversary of peacemaking efforts in the Balkans."
A quick Internet search of "Yahya Hendi" yields two interesting results. First,
September 1, 1999
First Muslim chaplain at US University takes charge

"Washington DC--Georgetown University, a private Catholic institution in Washington D.C., appointed what is thought to be the first Muslim chaplain at any college in America. Imam Yahya Hendi has been serving as an official university chaplain at Georgetown since August 10. Hendi joins eight Catholic priests and two Jewish rabbis to become the eleventh full time chaplain at the college, according to an August 28 Washington Post article. This first-ever appointment highlights the long neglected exigency for university-recognized Muslim leadership on college campuses around the country.

"As chaplain at Georgetown, Hendi would serve as an Imam and religious scholar and counselor for Muslims of diverse backgrounds while also functioning as a liaison between the Muslim student body and the administration. Speaking to on August 31, Hendi emphasized that his role was not to supplant Muslim student leadership already in place at Georgetown. He said he was working closely with the Muslim Student Association (MSA) at the college...."
Second, in Hendi's own words, as quoted by Dhimmi Watch,
"I have always worked to bridge the gap between Judaism, Christianity and Islam. I have spoken against Osamah Ben laden and like wise. I have been and will continue to promote true respect of women in Muslim countries and the right of Christians to be fully equal under the law in those countries. I have traveled around the world in defence of American Jews. When ever I heard that there was an allegation accusing Jews of being behind the SEP/11 attacks, I went to just Say; 'No, stop it'; Jews suffered like every American. My statements in this regard are to be found in Arab and Muslims media. I am suffering in some circles in my community because of my views. Yet, willing to suffer for my country and my principles.

"My life was threatened many times because of my views and I was called names like 'traitor to Islam; and a 'sellout' to Americans because I spoke in attack of those who dare to attack America. I still can not travel to some of those countries out of fear for my life...."
So, it looks as though many of Hendi's fellow Muslims don't see Islam the same way. Aren't they all reading the same Koran? Hendi's message of peace doesn't seem to be well received by others who follow "the religion of peace."

Imam Yahya Hendi is a man of some celebrity in some circles and a man of some notoriety in other circles. Political watchers may recall that he was the featured imam at the 2004 Democratic National Convention.

Maybe Hendi is the kind, peace-promoting soul he appears to be in the Washington Post and in my quick Internet search this morning. But I keep coming back in my mind to Alamoudi, who seemed to be a moderate, but is now serving time in the penitentiary for his ties to terrorism.

And I also wonder what Hendi thinks of this Paul Sperry article about certain questions the Pentagon is asking about Islam?

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