When one thinks of Muslim clerics or ‘Imams’, usually an image of someone old with obscurantist ideas and moustache-less beard gets formed in our minds, thanks to the kind of clerics we usually see outraging on different issues in the media. But Imam Tawhidi is different. He is just 35 years old, sports a moustache and trimmed beard, has a clam demeanour, supports progressive ideas, and calls himself “The Imam of Peace”.
His website describes him as an Australian Muslim Scholar, Thinker, Educator, Speaker, and one of the main leading voices in the global movement of Islamic reform who has dedicated his life to ideologically tackling the spread of Islamic Extremism. He was born in the Holy City of Qum, Iran, into a spiritual family with a history of decades in the Islamic Seminary.
He is also very active and vocal on the social media and he has attracted attention of many, including those in India, due to his outspoken views that are often different from what a normal Muslim cleric would profess. For example, he believes that those who die for the country they are born in are martyrs who deserve paradise, not those who kill non-Muslims or blow themselves up in the name of Islam.
OpIndia.com reached out to Imam Tawhidi for an interview to understand his views better, especially in context of India, to which he kindly agreed. Following are the responses by Imam (in bold) to the questions put in by OpIndia (in italics):
Even though you’re Iran born, Australia based, and mostly active in the West, you’ve attracted attention in India too, especially on the social media. How do you see your relationship with India? Does it go beyond the social media?
Indeed, I enjoy a very healthy relationship with numerous Indian officials, activists, professors and people of other professional backgrounds. I consider myself a friend of India.
Some messages by you on Twitter hinted that you plan to visit India. Will it be a first for you?
This will not be my first trip to India. My first trip to India was in 2014, and it was for tourism.
What kind of reactions you were met with when you talked about visiting India, possibly now as a speaker and not a tourist?
The reactions were phenomenal and I received a lot of support. However, there will always be those who wish to slow us down, but fail. These hate mongers are usually influenced by Pakistan’s corruption in the region.
You don’t seem to like Pakistan. What are your views about Pakistan in general?
In my respected opinion, Pakistan is an illegitimate country founded upon hate and blood. Its constitution claims to maintain the rights of all citizens yet the government fails to recognise the rights of minorities. It has been a “terrorist haven” for many years, harbouring terrorists. It is also guilty of taking tens of billions of dollars from the West to fight terrorism, yet has made little to no efforts in fighting any extremist ideology.
On international platforms, Pakistan raises Kashmir issue and tries to draw parallels with the Palestine problem. You’re reported to have views on the Palestine issue that is not popular in the Muslim world, with you even referring to Palestine as ‘Jewish land’. What are your views on the Kashmir issue? Would you call Kashmir a ‘Hindu land’ for instance?
Kashmir is Hindu land. Pakistan has no right to claim Kashmir. Kashmir belonged to India before Pakistan was “created”.
You clearly support India. Do you also support the current Prime Minister of India, Narendra Modi? Given that on occasions, you’ve tweeted phrases like “MODI-FIED” with presumed reference to the Indian Prime Minister in positive context.
I am a supporter of Modi’s policies to keep India safe and away from the infiltration of Islamic Militias funded by Pakistan.
While you will be welcomed by many in India, you also know that there could be opposition from some quarters. Apart from Muslim fundamentalists, many on the so-called ‘liberal’ side may also not be fond of you. How do you see this?
Progressive and moderate Muslims such as myself believe in spreading the truth, as well as spreading peace. We do not call for violence, nor do we seek political a status. Those opposing us either don’t understand us or simply oppose truth and peace.
Apart from having radically different views on politics and diplomacy, you’re also someone who is not pretty popular in the Muslim world for your views on religious issues. They accuse you of distorting Islam and pandering to “Islamophobic” sentiments. How do you respond to such charges?
I am not looking to be popular, nor am I looking for followers. I am simply adding to the international discussion on matters of peace, counterterrorism and national security.
You have often talked about need for reforms and have reportedly said that Islam won’t survive without reforms. What reforms are you talking in particular? And why are they necessary?
The moderate Muslims need to unite with the rest of the world against radicals of their own faith and religion. We must drive our Wahhabi Islam from our societies, cut ties with Iran’s terrorist regime and its allies such as Hizbullah.
Wahhabis justify all their acts and beliefs by quoting from the Holy Quran or by citing the life and deeds of Prophet Muhammad. How does one argue successfully that their interpretation is wrong?
The Wahhabi ideology is deducted from highly sacred scriptures such as Sahih Bukhari and Sahih Ahmad bin Hanbal. These books were written by scholars who adhered to a terrorist ideology and interpretation of the Quran. I refuse to believe in their violent interpretations, especially when there are other peaceful Islamic scriptures such as Sahifa Sajjadiya which can be followed or The Treatise of Rights by Imam Sajjad the Grandson of Prophet Mohammad.
You are also working on a book, and you had, towards the end of last year, aired apprehensions that you could even be killed due to that book. What is the book about and when is it supposed to come out?
I will speak about the book after its release due to legal agreements with publishers.
Back in India, it’s somewhat fashionable to whitewash Islamic extremism by arguing that it’s not unique to Islam. Even in the West, many people who claim themselves as ‘liberals’ end up being apologists for Islamic extremists. You yourself have flagged the support someone like Linda Sarsour is able to attract. Why do you think that people, especially with leftist leanings and who fancy themselves as liberals, wittingly or unwittingly align with the Islamic extremists?
Yes Indeed, extremism is not limited to Islam. However, Islamism and Wahhabism are the only ideologies that promise paradise towards killing and butchering other people in the name of Islam. That is the difference.
The Far-left are the real bigots. When a peaceful Muslim like myself rises against the corruption within his faith and calls for reform, they begin to classify them as “fake”. Because they believe that a true Muslim is a fundamentalist, and has every right to be an extremist, and we should get to know the extremist rather than judge them.
Are you optimistic about the future of India amidst all this? What suggestions you would offer to the people in governance here?
India’s future is a bright one. It has a patriotic majority that is well aware of the plots introduced to weaken its society and security. It also has great leadership that isn’t interested in selling the countries future in exchange for money. Governments should do what benefits the country, not the pockets of politicians.