A popular Washington-area imam’s decision to issue the Muslim call to prayer at Trump’s inaugural prayer service on Saturday has sparked a heated debate among American Muslim community leaders and activists over the appropriate ways to engage with a president, who they say has repeatedly disparaged Islam.
Mohamed Magid, a Sudanese-American imam known for his interfaith work and presiding over the roughly 25,000 attendees of the All-Dulles Area Muslim Society, a network of 11 mosques in Northern Virginia, is the only Muslim leader listed on a lineup packed with Evangelicals and other Christian and Jewish faith leaders who are scheduled to participate in Saturday’s National Prayer Service at Washington National Cathedral.
As word of Magid’s participation spread Thursday night, Muslim community leaders and activists weighed in on social media.
Trump has repeatedly cast suspicion on the loyalties of American Muslims, and has variously called for a ban on new Muslim immigrants, screening new visa applicants for their moral values, and deeper scrutiny of Muslims within the United States. Muslim community leaders across the country have consistently blamed Trump for what they say is an ongoing spike in anti-Muslim violence and harassment.
In his inaugural address, Trump vowed to eradicate “radical Islamic terrorism” from “the face of the earth.” Trump’s Cabinet nominees and advisers have used the phrase broadly, applying it to the Islamic State group, as well as pro-democracy Islamists, and those who follow Sharia — the guiding principles of Islam.
Sajid Tarar, another American Muslim who offered a brief prayer at the Republican National Convention but has no known following or religious credentials, is also on the list of participating faith leaders at the National Prayer Service. But Magid is the only imam.
In a statement on his Facebook page Friday morning, Magid defended his decision. He said it was necessary to do so in an effort to correct misconceptions about Islam.
“It is the role of religious leaders to share the truth and the values of Islam to everyone including those in power, to advocate for the good, and to address those who misunderstand and have misconceptions about the beautiful message of Islam,” he said.
He cited a verse from the Koran: “Repel [wrong] by that [deed] which is better; and thereupon the one whom between you and him is enmity [will become] as though he was a devoted friend.” And later in the statement noted “The Qur’an commands us to speak good to people even if they speak ill towards you.”
He also reminded American Muslims that Islam’s prophet, Muhammad, “never stopped talking to the Meccans” — even during the 7th century conflict between his earliest followers and the residents of the now holy city.
Magid said leaders must take advantage of available platforms to share the community’s values, and implied that his action goes “hand in hand” with public expressions of dissent by the Muslim community toward the new administration.
“Public protests and meetings with public officials are both needed to share the truth through different avenues,” he said.
Five Muslim Girl Scouts and one adult Muslim Eagle Scout leader, who is also an Army veteran, will be marching as part of the official Girl and Boy Scouts of America contingent in today’s inaugural parade, said Rizwan Jaka, the Chairman of the Board at the ADAMS Center. All six are ADAMS members.
Some area Muslims said they supported that view, and were glad that Magid was participating.
“I think a lot of people are torn,” said Jonathan Brown, an associate professor at Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service, and the Director of its Alwaleed bin Talal Center for Muslim Christian Understanding. “It’s not just a Muslim problem,” he added; Magid’s is a question that minority groups across the country are now grappling with.
On the one hand, there is the argument that “it’s not the person that’s important, it’s the democratic process; [that] the occupant [of the presidency] is not as important as the strength of the institution,” he said. “But at the same time, it’s very clear to probably more than half the country that this soon-to-be president’s campaign was not normal, and it was run by appealing to the worst part of people’s characters and fears and hatreds, by drumming up bigotries and tensions in society.”
“A number of prominent Muslim leaders have been very active in organizing protests around the inauguration, and so those people are pretty annoyed and disappointed that other Muslims are going to look like they’re legitimizing Trump’s message instead of taking a stance against it,” Brown said.
Johari Abdul-Malik, the Director of Outreach at Dar al-Hijrah, the second largest Muslim congregation in Northern Virginia, said he respects Magid and considers him a teacher, but that he opposed the move “on principle.”
“If Donald Trump had his way, Imam Magid would not have been allowed into the country. Now [the] administration wants an imam to stand with them, [which] screams of hypocrisy at best, treachery at worst,” he said.