Feisel Abdul Rauf on Israel and Iran
September 1, 2010
It isn't often that a 1,400-year-old treaty and letters from the 1970s tell us something about current events. But since Imam Feisel Abdul Rauf, the force behind the so-called Ground Zero Mosque, has staked a political claim as a "moderate Muslim," it's worth taking note of some of his past writings.
Much has already been made of the imam's comments on "60 Minutes" following 9/11, when he called America an "accessory to the crime" and announced that "Osama bin Laden is made in the USA." He has also refused to call Hamas a terrorist organization. We've now come across two letters to the New York Times that reveal more about the imam's worldview.
In a letter published on November 27, 1977, Mr. Rauf commented on Egyptian President Anwar Sadat's historic trip to Israel and encouraged his fellow Muslims to "give peace a chance." That John Lennon lyric sounds good. But he added: "For my fellow Arabs I have the following special message: Learn from the example of the Prophet Mohammed, your greatest historical personality. After a state of war with the Meccan unbelievers that lasted for many years, he acceded, in the Treaty of Hudaybiyah, to demands that his closest companions considered utterly humiliating. Yet peace turned out to be a most effective weapon against the unbelievers."
He's referring to a treaty in the year 628 that established a 10-year truce between the Prophet Muhammad and Meccan leaders and was viewed by Muslims at the time as a defeat. But Muhammad used that period to consolidate his ranks and re-arm, eventually leading to his conquest of Mecca. Imam Rauf seems to be saying that Muslims should understand Sadat's olive branch in the same way, as a short-term respite leading to ultimate conquest.
To drive that point home, he added in the same letter that "In a true peace it is impossible that a purely Jewish state of Palestine can endure. . . . In a true peace, Israel will, in our lifetimes, become one more Arab country, with a Jewish minority."
Two years later, the imam weighed in on the Iranian revolution. In a February 27, 1979 letter, in which he scores Americans for failing to apologize to Iran for past misdeeds, he wrote, "The revolution in Iran was inspired by the very principles of individual rights and freedom that Americans ardently believe in."
At the time, Iran's revolution hadn't revealed all of its violent, messianic character. Thirty years later it has, yet Mr. Rauf's views seem little changed. Following Iran's sham presidential election last year and the crackdown that followed, the imam urged President Obama to "say his administration respects many of the guiding principles of the 1979 revolution—to establish a government that expresses the will of the people; a just government, based on the idea of Vilayet-i-faquih, that establishes the rule of law."
That Persian phrase means Guardianship of the Jurist, which in practice means that all power resides with the mullahs. Vilayet-i-faquih is the religious justification for arresting protestors, forcing their confessions and letting them rot in jail.
Imam Rauf has said more moderate things, notably at a memorial service for our former colleague Daniel Pearl. But his calls for interfaith understanding are hard to square with his support for a strategy of "peace" in the service of Israel's long-term destruction.
We asked Imam Rauf if his views had changed since the 1970s. His complete response: "It is amusing that journalists are combing through letters-to-the-editor that I wrote more than 30 years ago, when I was a young man, for clues to my evolution. As I re-read those letters now, I see that they express the same concerns—a desire for peaceful solutions in Israel, and for a humane understanding of Iran—that I have maintained, and worked hard on, in the years since those letters were published."