Interview with Mansur Escudero Abdussalam
"Islam in the secular space" is the title which Abdussalam Mansur Escudero gave to the speech which resulted to be his last lecture. He gave his speech in Valladolid, last Friday, October the 1st, to a packed auditorium, within the Immigration methodological Exchange Day organized by the Valladolid Town Hall Immigrant Service Centre in cooperation with the Fundación de la Lengua Española After his presentation, the Foundation had the opportunity to interview and extend these and many other aspects of his vision of Islam. It would be his last interview, a testimony which we fully record here. Mansur passed away two days later on Sunday, October 3, at his home in Cordoba.
Mansur arrived that morning ready to present the reality of Islam which he yet believed necessary to reveal to the society. A reality, he says, which goes through, discovering that Islam and democracy are two incompatible terms, to escape from negativity stained stereotypes and clichés from some groups which brought Islam to an end otherwise completely isolated and contrary to the general feeling of its practitioners, for making a special communication effort to counteract the media false images of Islam.
Because, as Mansur explained, Islam, since its origins, has an integrationist vocation and has never been afraid of diversity, because just in that difference wealth is found. He added that Islam calls to knowledge and the use of reason and it has a message of peace as a principle. Mansur said that Muslims want pluralism, interpretation and consciousness freedom An Islam as a spiritual choice within the plurality and diversity is seen as an asset and not as a threat.
But Mansur's great work will not be lost as his contributions to the spread of his beliefs, which he professed since 1979, are many such as the integration of cultures, and working for world peace. We have here the final reflections which of, among other things, the former President of the Islamic Board, one of the 500 most influential Muslim personalities of the world according to a 2009 study by Georgetown University and the Centre for Advanced Strategic and Islamic Universal Ambassador Millennium Studies for Peace (New York, 2009).
Beatriz Hernández Bilbao.
Q. - You have started your presentation by explaining the meaning of basic terms such as "Muslim" and "Arab." Do you think there is a lack of knowledge in Spain about basic terminology to understand Islam?
A. - Absolutely. Not only in Spain but throughout the world the terms Arabs and Muslims are often used without distinction. A big mistake, because the Arabs constitute less than the 15% of the global Muslim population. There are 1,500 billion Muslims around the world and the Arabs are a minority. It is true that Islam emerged in Arabia and the revelation of the Koran is in Arabic, but identifying Muslims with the Arabs is a big mistake.
Q. - Is it just a lack of interest from the Spanish non-Muslims?
A. - Sometimes the interest lies in using this term to strengthen the non-citizenship. In societies identity linked which is considered to be identified with country itself, considering the other as a foreigner, is a way of exclusion. But it is something which can not be sustained for long. It's a stereotype linked to the history of Spain which regards the Arabs as invaders and the Reconquest as the expulsion of these invaders. It continues to maintain that stereotype of Muslims as a way to exclude Islam from the Spanish cultural identity.
Q. - This ignorance is often joined by a spreading a distorted view of Islam. Where can the cause be found?
A. - I think there are different sources of responsibility. One, the media. The broadcast usually stereotyped information, often influenced by political motivations. Using certain concepts as a form of psychological operation, of social engineering, in order to prepare the population for a particular action. This applies, for example, the invasion of Iraq. The term "Islamist terrorism" is another example of how terminology has been used to arouse fear, and thus to justify a series of steps which often limit individual freedom or justify illegal actions such as the invasion of a country. There was an entire first campaign were it was said there were weapons of mass destruction, that it was the source of Al Qaeda ... preparing the population to justify a certain action.
Q- So is the amount of power or influence do the media in this area?
A. - The media are linked to the power of large multinational companies which have that power. Those companies which have no geographical location, are linked to trans- national powers with very powerful economic interests which are really who handle world politics. Then there is another source of responsibility for this distorted view of Islam, back to the reasons I started to mention before, which is that Muslims themselves or some groups of Muslims who transmit a series of views amplified as something belonging to the Muslim community as a whole. For example, when images of vociferous, fanatic Muslims stoning or an assault women are shown. These stereotypes which are transmitted through movies or the media are amplified and displayed as something inherent to Islam and the entire community, when they are only, in fact a minority practice.
Q. - Through the media all sorts of messages can be spread, Couldn't they be used to provide that other different vision of Islam appointed by you? For example, through new technologies such as the Internet, the spread would be very fast...
A. - I think new information technologies, Internet mainly, places Muslims in the position to convey the real message for whoever wants to listen or whoever who wants to see or taking part. Since the beginning of the Internet we have seen it is a tool of enormous value, both for Muslims and for freedom loving people in general, because it makes us dependent on a controlled media allowing us to create access networks to different sources of verification, discussion of common reflection, which were unthinkable a short time ago. I believe this will allow both now and in the future, if that original freedom, which the internet has had as a means of free and open expression media for the entire world, is not limited, things will change a lot, not only for Muslims but for all the people who want to know the truth of things.
Q. - The downside is that the Internet can also amplify the wrong message...
A. - Obviously it is, but the possibilities for contrast and to verify or disprove are there. If Al Qaeda or an alleged extremist organization, issues a message only going in a direction which does not allow interaction, and the transmitter of the message is known it will diminish its credibility. It is not the same having an open environment where people know who are the people behind the faces and with an identity, someone who can managed it sometimes by the own intelligence services a country who want to manipulate reality.
Q. - Speaking of Al Qaeda, what is the Muslim point of view of this organization?
A. - Al Qaeda is a highly questioned organization by Muslims. In fact, many years ago we issued a fatwa condemning it by saying that Al Qaeda had nothing to do with Islam or with Muslims, further more, It was the main enemy of Islam, because it was broadcasting a message contradicting the principles of Islam, creating Islam phobia and justifying the political power of certain countries to attack the defenceless Muslims. It may well justify actions which had not it been for the attacks of 11-S, and all those which they wouldn't have severely hurt as much Muslims as non-Muslims and have also served to justify the global war on terrorism. I think that the means provided by the new tools of information and communication will highlight extremists but also those who advocate a moderate position, closer to what's really the essence of Islam.
Q. - Is the use of fear of Islam has been used by some countries to strengthen their power?
A. - I think that the use of fear has been a constant in history, but in recent years, with the phenomenon of Al Qaeda and terrorism, spread by the media, it has been one of the most relevant global operations we could have known, and it has been assumed not only by countries which have generated it, such as the U.S., but by Muslim-majority countries. Fear is something which has been used as a way to strengthen their power. It creates a fear and then people themselves which request the State to protect them. And to protect people what does the state do? Going through a set of measures which will limit the citizens' freedom of . Sometimes through social engineering operations which the people are not aware of.
Q. - In which real cases do we see these situations?
A. - For example, security at airports. Why can't a terrorist attack in a supermarket, in the subway, a bus, is that security really needed to protect the population or is it a way to start preparing people for an exhaustive control? For example, parents in England who are requiring their children to have a chip implanted to know where they are at all times. Or with the money, eventually paying with cash will be a crime, so that it will be know, at any time how much you spend, where you are ... in other words a total control of society's movements. Power is always interested in such a thing, no matter its sign. The nature of power is controlling and answer any dissent, so movements advocating greater individual freedom are not well regarded and are repressed.
Q. - But there are Muslim countries, for example, where stoning is practiced, when it is not a practice accepted by the Korana, and this deviation of the essence of the Koran damages the image of Islam. When this happens within the countries themselves, where lays the responsibility?
A. - In this case within the Muslims themselves. Stoning in the Koran is not there because of nothing and in fact it is in Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Somalia and Iran the only countries where it has been practiced. In the history of Al Andalus, for example, stoning was never a resort. Adultery is forbidden and punishment is applied, by applying scourges, the conditions are so strict that it is impossible to be in compliance because it would be four eyewitnesses to the adultery. It is curious that at the same time, in the U.S. a woman with a low IQ has been executed and no one has said anything at all. Why is an event in an Islamic country given such a global media broadcast and in the U.S. they are continuously executing people and nobody says anything at all? They are different standards to measure things which prove that there is a power structure that sees Islam as an enemy of the system.
Q. - The media primarily focus on these negative issues, but what do you think they should really look into?
A. - For example, Islam primarily questions the economic system and no one talks about that. Islam forbids usury. The whole system now called global is based on usury, economic powers never lose and power in the same hands. How is that power generated? With speculation, lies and usury. Usury in the Koran is worse considered than adultery, usury is spoken of as a horrible figure which corrupts society absolutely.
Q. - What are the basics of Islamic economics?
A. - The Islamic economy is based on shared risk and in the lack of speculation. And, paradoxically, that produces more profits. In Islamic economics, countries and institutions working on the basis of these criteria have not been into any crisis; by contrast, they have grown because their economy is based on speculation. If you offer a particular product, it must be very well backed up. But nothing is said about that, we talk about things which have a large influence on the collective imagination. As the burning of the Koran's by the protestant pastor, or the building of the mosque at ground zero; things are inflated and something which has no significance becomes worldwide front-page news. This means that a schedule on really important things is being made and they are being hidden and covered with anecdotes.
Q. - You came to Islam due to your work as a psychiatrist...
A. At College I received a highly materialistic academic education, very biologically orientated. I was subsequently trained in Castilla del Pino, which opened me a different dimension and then on my own, I have been researching on my own and I have had very good teachers in France, USA ... I initially did a lot of research on Tibetan Buddhism and curiously, it was what eventually led me to Islam. One of my teachers in bioenergetics referred me to the Sufi -Andalusian tradition I asked me the reason of my interest in such a far-off philosophy when there were so many wise men in Andalusia who said that and much more. When I dug deeply into the study of these philosophers I realized that western psychology when describing man, his role in the world, the vision of the universe ...is just a fraction of what these scholars said.
Q. - Are you also interested in the vision of the universe?
A. - It is amazing the hologram that the universe is. They said the atom contained the whole universe, which quantum physics is saying now. The evolution of physics has evolved regarding with of subatomic vision of reality within Newtonian physics which implies, for example the possibility of a thing being in two places at once, or that reality being matter, being a wave, that the atom is actually a wave with a lack of material reality, that the universe is contained in an atom ... And all that had been said by Sufi Muslims, based on spirituality, psychology ... but with this we are also deviating ourselves from the topic...
Q. - Going back to the universe of your profession as a psychiatrist what has Islam brought to this facet of his life?
R. - A much deeper understanding of what is human. In psychology of Sufism methods are not theoretical but they look for experience. What it contributed to my profession, is experience moving from a theoretical approach to the experiential field. It seeks having the experience of knowledge, a transcendental vision, and a so-called mystical experience. It is seeing its significance in daily life. The mystic sees beyond appearances, sees reality in everyday life. And love is the path to knowledge; the Sufi believes that without love there can be no knowledge, because love identifies the beloved one. What it contributed to my professional work is moving from of a vision of you as something separate from me, into a range of roles, I'm the doctor, you are the patient-moving into another experience of unity. Knowing that we have a common destiny, we come from the same source, what happens to you is conditioned by my own experience ... It's a different way of practicing which also transcends beyond medics or consultation and is extended to all areas of human relationships.
Q. - Your presentation focused on Islam in secular countries. We presume secular society as a symptom of modernity, but if we follow your definition of "secular", Al Andalus society was almost more secular society the current...
A. - It was a secular society. We often refer to them as three cultures, but Al Andalus was a single culture, one civilization which allowed the expression of all religious signs. We are unable to go back to the past but we can learn from it, from good and bad experiences. There were wonderful things that have not been repeated though Europe's history. We talk a lot about secular society but I in my opinion, it could be seriously improved at both, an institutional and a social level.
Q. - Do we value the profits of immigration?
A. - Intolerance, rejection, stereotypes ... The diversity represented by someone who comes from somewhere else, bringing another culture, another language, other ways of regarding life enriching a society and breaking into pieces the one-dimensional man who was spoken of by Marcuse in the 60's. In addition, due to other economic and sociological reasons, we need immigration. If not for the immigrant workforce would have a problem paying pensions in a few years. Spanish population is one of those with a lower birth rate in the world, in a few years; it will become an aging population. Due to all these reasons, we also accept the contribution of citizens from other countries... That is recognized in Islam following a Koran prescription. That is generally assumed by most of the Islamic world and Islamic societies are multicultural and they are highly tolerant in terms of ways of expression. Even at the psychiatric level, the fool, for example, in Muslim society is an integrated person who brings a dimension which people rated as normal have not.
Q. -It has had a strong effect the fact that Muslims have requested the use of the Cordoba mosque for their cult...
A. - This mosque the unique feature of always being ecumenical temple until it was conquered by the Catholic Church. As it has often been said, the Muslims did not destroy the Church of San Vicente, it was a Unitarian church and what Muslims did was enlarge it. For over a hundred years Muslims and Christians could pray together but in different areas. After their conquest an architectonical disaster was performed by attempting to change its mosque's appearance and they constantly tried to eliminate the traces considered as Islamic, building, shrines, tombs, crosses...
Q. - What do you propose to find a solution?
A. - We consider it would be good for the projection of an interfaith an Islamic - Christian dialogue to turn back that place into an ecumenical temple for all the believers, it would be a symbol and an incentive to encourage contact and cooperation among all the faiths in the world. It is very sad and unfortunate that now anyone who individually attempts to make a sign evoking an Islamic prayer is violently stopped by the security services. Many Muslims from all over the world come and when a Muslim enters a mosque is customary is to kneel that is prevented and they leave with sadness. And now that Córdoba is trying to sell an image of The City of Three Cultures, and they want it to be the European Capital of Culture in 2016, is a great hurdle.
Traducción Miguel San José
Q. - Will there come a time when they comply to this request?
A. - I think they will. We will not insist. Now, it is citizen's movements, including Catholics, who are demanding that. It's something which has already spread throughout the world, including an editorial in the New York Times saying it was the most important initiative which has been done in the religious field in recent years. Obama himself referred to the paradigm of Cordoba during his speech in Cairo; now in New York that Islamic centre they want to build at ground zero is called Casa Cordoba ... It is a landmark in history. Unfortunately it is not a landmark reference today.
Q. - What are your thoughts on the idea that sometimes Islam is incompatible with democracy?
R. - Countries such as Indonesia, Pakistan and Turkey are formally democratic countries. Democracy is not a univocal concept; it has many shades and is applied in very different ways. Europe is considered to be the champion of secularism, and in England we have the head of state which is also the head of the Anglican Church. And democracy here in Spain ... the parties are those who actually elect candidates. Yet, democracy has a long way to develop and there is always an interested usage of considering the alien as something detrimental in order to strengthen our own image. That also happens in Islam, it is considered as a whole, as if there wasn't diversity in the Islamic countries. In addition, democracy is contained in the Koran as the need for leaders to consult the decisions; the prophet himself had to consult with their own peers. And that mechanism of consultation, the Shura, is the essence of what is democracy, mutual consultation.
Q. - What are you asking for to the initiative of the Religious Freedom Act?
A. - To improve the current, and to regulate a more equal relationship in between the State and non-Catholic denominations. The Catholic Church has a privileged economic regime, the possibility to access to the teaching of religion in public schools, a special status ... I think that law tries to keep a balance with other confessions. It also tried to regulate the use of symbols in public areas relegated or institutional involvement in religious events. Our position is that the state should be neutral, should be balanced and fair and give an equal treatment to any belief.
Q. - What do you think when people say that the veil is demeaning for a woman, but did not object to the caps?
A. - It is understood that the nun wears a cap on a voluntary basis and the Muslim is imposed by her family or her husband. They should be asked. As far as I know, there are no women who wears it because she feel obligated, she has this conviction and she is entitled to do it, whether she is Muslim or not. Now precisely because of this controversy, the issue has transcended the religious to become a hallmark or a form of protest against an intolerable interference by public authorities into the field of privacy.
Q. - What are the challenges of the Islamic Community in Spain?
A. - I think there is a job facing the inner side of the community and another side which is the interaction with the rest of society. Communities must be internally democratized, the representative bodies of Muslims before the state must be democratic, including women, they should be elected from its very foundations, they should be ready and dedicated people, and they should be able to transmit to both Muslims and to the rest of society what they think, what are their programs ... it's an essential, necessary and urgent challenge.
Q. - What role does the Islamic Commission in this challenge?
A. - The Islamic Commission of Spain is completely ineffective, with leaders who do not meet the expectations of the community who democratically elected them and which means a paralysis in the development of the cooperation agreement. Right now the Commission does not include the majority of the registered communities. Surveys have been conducted in which the majority of Muslims in Spain say that the method they would prefer to elect representatives to the Islamic Commission is a vote per every Muslim. It can be difficult, it would demand a preparation time, it should be necessary to prepare some lists of candidates ... but it is the way to really bring out the reality of Muslims into Spain.
Q. - Does the Islamic Commission need something in addition to its democratization?
A. - This internal work of democracy is necessary but there is another important thing which is education. We must educate ourselves and learn how to distinguish the essence of Islam to the cultural aspects imported from their countries of origin and are considered as if they were something out of the Islamic doctrine. Enclosure within ethnical and racial aspects is a great danger to be avoided and especially getting into what belongs to the culture of the country of origin and what corresponds to the essence of Islam.