Kamran Pasha is a Pakistani-born screenwriter and author. He was co-producer and writer on the 2005-06 Showtime Network series Sleeper Cell. He has published two novels on Islamic themes, Mother of the Believers (2009) and Shadow of the Swords (2010). He worked on two NBC series, Bionic Woman and Kings.
I read your travelogue to Medina. Readers welcomed it with great zeal when it was translated in The Risala, the most popular Islamic weekly in India. How did Medina come to attract you so much?
I went on Hajj in 2008 with my mother. It was a very special experience. I found my time in Medina to be especially uplifting. There is genuine sense of peace there. And visiting the grave of the Holy Prophet (peace be upon him) was very emotionally moving. Even today, whenever I am stressed, I remember my experience in Medina at the Prophet's Mosque and feel myself becoming calmer, more at peace. The continuing baraka [blessings] of our Holy Prophet (pbuh) are very much in evidence there, and I hope to return again in the near future.
You have mentioned that there were people opposing the visit to Prophet's tomb. They are Wahhabis, (originating with Ibn Abd Al-Wahhab in Najd). What are the defects that Wahhabism cast on the spirit of Islam?
I reject any form of religious extremism or fundamentalism, whether it be labeled Wahhabism, Salafism or anything else. Islam is a beautiful religion that is founded on compassion and gentleness. There is a hadith where the Prophet (pbuh) said "Islam is like water." Water is pure, clean and gives life. It refreshes the body and the heart. And it is not rigid – it flows and adapts to the world, always cleansing as it passes through. That is what true Islam is like. These fundamentalist groups want to turn Islam into a stone – a dead rock that they can use to hit people over the head. The only way they can make Islam a rigid and harsh religion is to erase from the Muslims the memory of what our Holy Prophet (pbuh) was like – a gentle, compassionate man who did not raise his voice and smiled warmly. They want to erase our love for him, so that we do not become like him.
They want Islam to be a religion of angry rules. That is why they don't like Muslims visiting the grave of the Prophet (pbuh), his family and Sahaba [Companions] (may Allah be pleased with all of them). That is why they destroyed the cemetery of Medina, Jannat al-Baqi and turned it into a barren waste. The fundamentalists hate what Islam really is, and they want us to stop loving our Prophet (pbuh), to forget his character and simply follow rules they make up and project onto Islam. But insha'allah they will fail. The true Islam of love and beauty is what mankind wants and needs. Nobody wants the fake Islam of the fanatics, except people who themselves are angry and miserable, and want everybody else to be miserable alongside them. I pray that Allah protect our beautiful deen [faith] from the fundamentalists.
Cultural denial is the official seal of Wahhabism. It is for that reason that these people destroyed all the cultural monuments of Islam especially in Mecca and Medina. How do you see the cultural destruction by Wahhabism?
The destruction of the cultural and archaeological sites of Islam is part of the fundamentalists' evil plot to destroy all memory of the origins of Islam, and to remove from our hearts the love for our Holy Prophet (pbuh). The Muslims always raise a huge outcry whenever non-Muslims damage Muslim sites or graveyards – but they remain silent when the Muslim fanatics destroy the Prophet's house! It is a terrible tragedy and I can only pray that Allah will remove the foolish from power over the holy sites and return people of wisdom who will protect the Muslim cultural and archaeological legacy.
The roots of terror groups like the Taliban and Al-Qaida are found in Wahhabism. For that reason, the Taliban destroyed the Bamiyan statues in Afganistan. How is Wahhabism connected to Islamic terrorism?
The modern terrorist movement is a product of the extremist fundamentalist groups that have spent the past century lying to the Muslims and brainwashing them to believe that Islam is a religion of arrogance and brutality. Islam is the exact opposite. If you went to the early Muslim community, the Sahaba and the Rightly Guided Caliphs, and told them that one day Islam would stand for murdering innocent people, for subjugating women, for destroying the religious and archaeological heritage of the world, they would have been shocked and horrified. Mainstream Muslims must reclaim the discourse from the fanatics who are speaking in the name of Islam and destroying everything about our religion that is beautiful – its tradition of honor, wisdom and tolerance.
You are a Sayyid [lineal descendant of Prophet Muhammad (pbuh)]. The Islamic spirit has been nurtured by the families of Sayyids. Please describe some aspects of the relations between the Sayyids and ordinary people.
What I love most about Islam is that it is an egalitarian religion. Every man and woman is equal in the sight of Allah, regardless of their race or ancestry. Allah only cares for what a person does, not who they are descended from. There is a hadith where the Holy Prophet (pbuh) said: "If a man slows himself down with bad deeds, his lineage will not speed him up." Yes, I am a Sayyid, descended from the Holy Prophet (pbuh) through Imam Ali, Sayyida Fatima, and Imam Husayn (may Allah be pleased with all of them), but I am no better on that account than any other person on this earth. In Muslim cultures, Sayyids are often given special courtesies, but I am always uncomfortable with that myself. I am a flawed Muslim with many sins, and my ancestry should not raise my social standing in the eyes of the people. In fact, my sins are worse because I dishonor my ancestors by failing to be a good example like they were. I believe that all Muslims should act as if they are descendants of the Prophet (pbuh) because in a spiritual sense we all are one family as an Ummah, with the Prophet (pbuh) as our father, and with Allah as our Lord. We should all act with the same dignity and ethical conduct of the Holy Prophet (pbuh), his family and his Sahaba (may Allah be pleased with all of them).
Wahhabism has alway been allied with imperialist powers. While traditional scholars were contending with the British, Wahhabis were trying to work under the British, during the war of independence in India. What is the relationship of Wahhabism with imperialism?
The relationship between the imperialist powers and the religious fanatic movements has been heavily documented by historians. The British colonialists supported these fundamentalists against the Ottoman Empire, which was the house of the Caliphate and the champion of mainstream Islam. With the help of the British, these fanatics defeated the Caliphate and then took our holy cities of Mecca and Medina, and have been using the holy sites as a platform for spreading their false vision of Islam. A look at the news today reveals that such fanatic groups remain political allies of the enemies of Islam, despite their outward rhetoric. I pray that Allah removes them from power and replaces them with wiser people with clean hearts.
Do you celebrate the birthday of the Prophet in America? In what ways has it been celebrated?
Yes, we celebrate the birthday of our Holy Prophet (pbuh) in America in most Muslim communities, except for the few that are being influenced by the fundamentalists. People tend to gather at mosques where they will hear talks about our beloved Prophet's life, and in some communities you will have poetry readings and other forms of art to inspire love for the Messenger of God (pbuh).
Your novels are historical fiction. Why did you follow this method?
I write historical fiction because I am trying to reach the younger generation which rarely reads dry history books. Most Muslims I know have a biography of the Holy Prophet (pbuh) on their bookshelf, but have never bothered to actually read it, because they think scholarly books are dry and boring. They don't know what an amazing life he had. So I chose to tell the Prophet's story in Mother of the Believers as an exciting and fast-paced novel. I did a similar thing for the great Muslim leader Salahuddin Ayyubi who freed Jerusalem from the Crusaders. I wrote about him in my novel Shadow of the Swords. By presenting these great stories of Muslim heroes through the lens of novels, I am hoping to not only entertain but to educate my readers about the great men and women of Islamic history.
How did readers in America welcome the novels Mother of the Believers and Shadow of the Swords?
By Allah's mercy, both books continue to do well in the United States and all over the world. The greatest thing is that my books spread through word-of-mouth. People read my novels and then recommend them to others. That speaks to their popularity.
You are the most famous screenwriter in Hollywood. What are the cultural virtues spreading through Hollywood films?
I am by no means the most famous screenwriter in Hollywood! I am one of a few Muslims that has begun to have some success in Hollywood, and I thank Allah for whatever progress I have made. Hollywood movies have tremendous ability to influence how the world sees things. I had grown tired of all the Muslim terrorists in the movies and on television, because these images were spreading a false idea of Islam to millions of people all over the world. That is why I came to Hollywood, to change that image and show the true Islam of love, beauty and friendship.
How is Muslim life presented in Hollywood films?
Hollywood is slowly beginning to change the predominant image of Muslims from angry terrorists to more real characters, people who have families, people who love others and struggle to make their loves work. It is a long process that has only just begun…
But there is a lot of work still to be done.
The Muslims have been presented as terrorists in many films. Have you tried to create an alternative to this?
I am working on many projects to show Muslims in a more accurate light. I produced a TV series in America called Sleeper Cell which showed a Muslim FBI agent fighting terrorists. I sold a script to Warner Brothers on the Taj Mahal and the love story of Shah Jahan and Mumtaz Mahal. I am currently writing a movie on Ibn Battuta, the great Muslim traveler, and his adventures as he journeyed from Morocco to China in the 14th century, A significant portion of that movie is actually set in India, where Ibn Battuta worked as a judge for the Muslim leader Sultan Tughluq.
What are the main concepts that your films and television series are presenting?
My movies are trying to show Muslims as they are – real, living people. Not perfect or flawless people, but real human beings who are just like everyone else and have feelings, hopes and dreams like everyone else. Those kind of characters will insha'Allah build bridges when non-Muslims see that Muslims are human beings just like them, not a bunch of crazy fanatics.
What identity crises did American Muslims face after the World Trade Centre attack?
Muslims have been fighting an uphill battle to present a positive image of Islam for many decades. Long before September 11, 2001, Muslims were seen in America as angry and violent people. The only image that Americans had of Islam was Palestinian suicide bombers and angry Iranians holding the American Embassy hostage. That became even worse after 9/11. Muslims have a long road ahead of them in changing those perceptions. But the fact is that Muslims in America are highly educated and prosperous. They are a successful community with many doctors, lawyers and engineers (and even a few filmmakers!).
Americans who have a negative view of Islam have that view challenged when they meet normal Muslims who are peace-loving and patriotic citizens. Muslims will change the perception of Islam most effectively be continuing to be successful and productive members of their communities.
How successful is leftism in America such as that represented by individuals like Noam Chomsky?
To be honest, leftist intellectuals like Noam Chomsky have no influence whatsoever over American policy. I have great respect for Chomsky, but the media ignores him and his ideas are largely unknown to the average American.
What are the means of Islamic propagation in America?
Islam spreads in America like it does everywhere else – through human interaction. People meet Muslims and become impressed by how their religion shapes their character. That leads people to learn more about Islam, and if Allah wills it, their hearts embrace our beautiful religion. The best way for Muslims to propagate Islam is to actually live it in their lives rather than preaching. Nobody wants to be preached at by someone trying to convert them. But when people see a Muslim of good and noble character, they become drawn to Islam out of their own spiritual longing.
Wasn't Malcolm X a propagator? Who are the leaders of propagation in America comparable to Malcolm X?
Malcolm X was a great American Muslim leader and one of my personal heroes. There are many who are continuing his role as leaders of the American Muslim community, too many to name. That is the great thing about Islam – it is a religion that is not about celebrities or personalities. It is a religion of normal people who lives normal lives and work to make the world a better place. Every Muslim who tries to live a good life is a leader and is propagating the religion by his or her example.
How do Christians and Jews behave towards Muslims?
Most Christians and Jews are friendly toward Muslims. They may have some misconceptions about Islam based on the bad image in the media, but the great thing about Americans is that they are an open-hearted people that are always eager to learn about others.
What are the propagating methods of Christian missionaries?
Some fundamentalist Christian groups believe in trying to convert others, and there are a few that are dedicated to trying to convert Muslims in particular. As I said, most people don't like being preached to, and any group – Christian, Muslim or otherwise – that annoys people [because] preaching at them is rarely effective. I believe in open dialogue between people of all religions, and per the command of the Holy Qur'an, I believe that there is no compulsion in religion. Everyone should be be free to choose whatever religion they want.
While it is very rare, I have heard of some Muslims that left Islam for Christianity. When that happens, many Muslims are shocked and outraged. In many Muslim countries, an apostate (murtadd) faces the death penalty. But I believe Muslims should not get upset about someone who loses their faith. Islam only grows larger every year.
If someone does not understand what a beautiful and perfect religion Islam is, and thinks they will find something better somewhere else, let them go. There will be dozens of new converts to Islam insha'Allah to replace the murtadd, and the murtadd will have lost out. Islam has nothing to fear from Christian missionaries or anyone else, because Allah is guiding and protecting this Ummah. It is Allah who is propagating Islam. Why should any Muslim be afraid that Islam will become eclipsed by any other religion?
Sufism is a trend in the New World. How does Sufism spread in America?
I am a Sufi and have great love for the Sufi path. Sufism spreads in America like it spreads everywhere – by the grassroots efforts of Sufi teachers who approach people of other religions with patience and love. In America, the great Sufi poet Rumi has become the bestselling poet in the country! Many Muslims no longer read Rumi, and yet I have met many Americans who converted to Islam after first being introduced to the religion through Rumi's poetry. Sufism is the heart of Islam, and without the heart, the body becomes dead and lifeless. That is the greatest danger posed by the Wahhabis and other Muslim fundamentalists. By attacking Sufism, they are like the cancerous cells that eat away at the healthy cells until the body itself dies.
Sufism is about love for God and seeing His beauty in all creation.
The fundamentalists have no love in their hearts – they seek only power. That is why the Wahhabis hate Sufism so much – it is a mirror that reveals their own ugliness.
What about the crisis of the family in America? I have read a book about fatherless children in America.
America is going through many social changes due to the breakdown of the family and the disappearance of fathers from households. This is a devastating social problem that threatens the fabric of American culture. Muslims have an important role to play in healing America's social ills. We are a community that deeply values the family and the important role that both fathers and mothers play in raising children.
By making our own families good examples for our neighbors, we can insha'Allah help Americans regain what is being lost in their culture due to these social problems.
What is your view of Indian Muslims and their leader sheikh Aboobacker Ahmed?
I have great love for the Muslims of India. Both my parents were born in India. Indian Muslims serve as an excellent example for Muslims like myself in the West who are living in predominantly non-Muslim countries. Indian Muslims show us how to live as a religious minority with dignity. Indian Muslims preserve their religious heritage while living in harmony with other religious communities around them. The entire Muslim ummah can learn from this beautiful example. I have not met Sheikh Aboobacker (may Allah grant him mercy) but I have read wonderful things about him. I am delighted to see that Indian Muslims have such a wonderful and inspiring teacher.
Related Topics: Muslim-Christian Relations, Muslim-Jewish Relations, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Sufism, Wahhabism
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