« Previous  
 Next »

Delaney: Meeting The Mullah

08/30/10 5:55PM By Dennis Delaney
 MP3   Download MP3 

(HOST) With all the shouting over a possible Islamic center near Ground Zero commentator Dennis Delaney is remembering some of his own experiences in the Islamic world and offers a perspective.

(DELANEY) The white hot debate about building an Islamic mosque near Ground Zero has taken the country by storm, so it seems an apt moment for me, here in the land of the frozen chosen, to recall some intense personal experiences of that faith.

First, flash back to the late 1960s.

With a newly minted doctorate and all the enthusiasm of a young professional, I had found a faculty job at a Muslim university in Kano, northern Nigeria. No place on the planet, I think, can surpass Kano for its total and rigorous devotion to the religion of the prophet Mohammed. Since my time there Kano has even adopted "Sharia", or Islamic law, to replace civil law.

One Friday afternoon I visited the local mosque at prayer time and stood at the edge of the square surrounding the mosque. The intense fervor and piety of those Muslims overwhelmed me and left me with an unforgettable image.  After the hundreds of faithful in the square had bowed to touch foreheads to the ground, they rose in unison - and every single one of them had a   splotch of pinkish dust on the brow.

During the holy month of Ramadan fasting my university students grew steadily weaker. Some would not even swallow their own saliva between dawn and dusk to keep the fasting total. Yet the celebrations at Ramadan's end and the feasts in observance of religious holidays in general were as joyous, raucous and spectacular as a Times Square New Years Eve.

Now, fast forward to 2008 and the beginning of an unlikely friendship. I was in Pakistan, a devoutly Muslim country but also dubbed one the world's most dangerous places. I had been invited to meet a well known Muslim cleric. The Mullah Habibulah ran a "madrassa" or religious school. We met in his study, sat cross-legged on carpets and he regaled me with hot tea and cakes, traditional Muslim hospitality. Habibulah was a large man with a flowing black beard, a white turban, a large black cape and deep dark eyes.

With a boldness born of innocence, my first question, translated into his language of Urdu, was: "Mullah Habibulah, given all the recent violence, what must Islam do to earn the understanding and respect of the non-Muslim world"? He might have cleaned my cheeky American clock, but no, he answered simply, at length and in a friendly manner that Islam needed to return to its spiritual and non-violent teachings.

I had made a friend, and so had he.

We Vermonters, indeed, all Americans, are proud of our record on human rights.

Yet Muslims need to know that this is not paradise. Americans may be free but we're still fallible. We have our biases and can be intolerant, but we strive to be better.

Only time can truly mitigate the horrors of 9/11. But eventually, I hope that - like the Mullah and me - the Islamic world and the West can learn to be friends.

(TAG) You can find more commentaries by Dennis Delaney at VPR-dot-net.
comments powered by Disqus
Supported By
Become an Underwriter | Find an Underwiter