interview with Sheik Omar Abu-Namous, the Imam of the Islamic Cultural
Center of New York
From Arab Voice
November 16, 2002
By Saida Atiyeh
Sheik Omar Abu-Namous has been working for a year at the Islamic
Cultural Center of New York. Before that, he worked at the United
Nations as a translator and advisor. He also worked at the Kuwaiti
Ministry of Foreign Affairs for seventeen years.
Q: What is the role of Islamic Centers in giving the right image
about Islam and Muslims, especially during this cruel attack on
Islam and Muslims?
A: Currently, the role of Islamic Centers is becoming more sensitive.
All Imams, and leading Islamic figures, should act wisely to protect
the community. We are really facing attacks from the media that
we should try to reply to wisely.
First, we are trying to clarify facts about Islam for American
society: explaining what Islam is and what its principles are and
the human positions that this religion calls for. And that we are
a peaceful nation, and we dont go to war unless our beliefs
or Muslim countries are in danger. In that case the whole nation
will stand up to defend, but we dont start a fight.
This center has 15 to 20 groups visiting it every month, from
different schools, Jewish temples, and churches to be introduced
to the mosque and to the Islamic center in order to get a closer
look at Islamic society and understand Islam. We receive their questions
about Islam and they get complete answers. And we are always understanding
and full of patience.
Q: Is there continuity with these groups that represent other
A: There is continuity, and sometimes that is bigger than the
centers capacity. This continuity requires a complete team
of people fluent in Arabic and English, to be capable of transforming
the Islamic information into a clear and accurate explanation. And
visitors are sincere and kind: they want to know more about Islam,
and they ask direct questions to understand more. Sometimes some
visitors from other religions ask questions that have political
aspects and we answer logically and with patience. Some of these
questions are about jihad, multiple wives, hijab, and Muslim womens
rights. For example, 'why do women pray behind men in the mosque?'
And sometimes these questions try to point at specific percieved
ideas about Muslim women's place in Islam that minimize her rights,
and her role in the community.
We deal with these questions with patience and we try to convince
our visitors by being wise. For example, we explain why women cover
their bodies and why the multiplicity of wives is permitted
try to answer questions like, 'why is jihad the sacred war for Muslims?'
and 'why do Muslims build their lives on war and on attacking other
So we clarify that jihad must be for a right cause and for a noble
and we dont forget the media's role in our life
and we explain that we do jihad to fight hate or to build a mosque
or a hospital or a school or a house for orphans. Thats also
jihad, jihad does not only have the meaning of defending with weapons
and bombs all that is holy to us.
Q: The woman and the hijab: did Islam create it, or does it
exist in other religions?
A: Yes it exists in other religions, and nuns are an example of
that. In the case of nuns, however, it is only limited to women
working in the religious field
but in Islam, women generally
are required to wear it. And Westerners pretend that the hijab limits
womens rights, thinking that if an Islamic woman gets the
opportunity to be free, she would dress like Europeans and Americans.
Many people dont understand freedom. And one should follow
Gods word. The hijab for the Muslim woman means to be committed
to her religion so nobody can approach her. Therefore, nobody can
get to her illegally. This is also a way to protect herself, and
protect men, because when men look at women and see them half naked,
especially if hes single, he will be attracted. And half of
the Muslim men here in the United States are not married.
Translated from Arabic by Elias Saber.
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