Fighting a holy war is not one of the guiding principles of Islam.
The Koran teaches faithful Muslims to respect other religions.
The American Muslim Mission, once known in this country as the Black Muslims, is today neither anti-white nor anti-Semitic.
Thus were some current misconceptions debunked by Imam Khalil Abdel Alim, local leader of the American Muslim Mission, im candid but friendly remarks recently before the executive committee of the American Jewish Committee's Washington Chapter.
"Dialogue between Muslims and Jews is not as barren an area as some may think, especially in Washington," said Alim, an increasingly familiar figure in interfaith and intergroup affairs in the nation's capital. For the better part of an hour, Alim recounted for the Jewish leaders the history of his own movement in this country in its struggle to adapt the principles of the Muslim faith to the black experience in America.
rabbi Andrew Baker, local executive of the Jewish organization, said that Alim had been invited to the committee's monthly session to widen the efforts toward interfaith understanding that have been taking place locally, largely at the level of professional religious leaders.
"We've [he and Alim] had some personal encounters through the Interfaith Conference," Baker said. "But we both felt there is a large gap in the understanding of the changes that have taken place in the American Muslim Mission in recent years."
Alim told how the movement's founder in the despair generated by the Depression, "took the myth of white supremacy and reversed it and elevated it to another level of confusion," teaching that "black people were not just related to God but were gods and that white people were the devil incarnate and could not be reformed."
He told how the movement grew under Elijah Muhammad, who won the respect of national leaders for his efforts for prison reform and won thousands of converts to the movement during his own incarceration for resisting the draft; of how Malcolm X helped catapult the Nation of Islam into the national spotlight. He told how Elijah's son, who now calls himself Warith Deen Muhammed, "eliminated the philosophy of racism" more than five years ago and the movement, now called the American Muslim Mission, was nudged firmly into the mainstream of American life. Then he held up a blue-and-white booklet, published by the national office of the American Jewish Committee about American black Muslims. "Some of it is right," Alim said, but added the booklet contained so many misconceptions that "if these ideas persist in the mind of the American Jewish Committee, there could never be any cooperation," he said.
"Fortunately," he added with a grin, "I don't think too many of you have read it."
alim proceeded to correct the errors he said the Jewish publication carried: that the American Muslim Mission is a "black nationalist" movement, "That's totally wrong," he said. "We are unashamedly patriotic Americans . . . . All our shcools open with the pledge of Allegiance."
Alim also challenged assertions in the committee booklet that the American Muslim Mission "shunned" Muslims in other parts of the world, that it received large amounts of money from some Middle Eastern countries, or that it was "anti-Jewish."
"We are not in a posture of being anti-anything," he said. He added that he would not dignify charges of anti-Semitism with a rebutal. "I am pefectly willing to let our relationships be the judge of our attitude toward Jews."
Dr. Lawrence Goldmuntz, president of the local chapter of the American Jewish Committee, thanked Alim for his corrections and promised to send them to New York headquarters.
In a question-and-answer period, Alim was asked about the concept of Jihad, popularly translated as holy war. That interpretation said Alim, is wrong. "Jihad does not mean fighting a war; it means to struggle for what is required of one in obedience to God."
Faithful Muslims are admonished to pray five times a day, with the first prayer falling before daybreak, Alim said. Therefore, he continued, "one of the greatest aspects of Jihad is to get out of bed" for the early morning prayer.