March 30, 2010
Before setting the record straight, I feel it is vitally important to recognize that many people may have understandably felt threatened or hurt by this swirling controversy. As an African American who grew up during America’s civil rights era and whose ancestry includes people from the Mohawk nation, I’ve certainly felt threatened and fearful by hateful talk directed toward me. It pains me to know that people from various walks of life have been hurt by something I’ve said. To all those people who have felt imperiled by what they have seen or heard I would like to offer my sincere apologies. As you will hopefully see, this is not an accurate depiction of who I am as a human being nor of the religion that I have chosen as my way of life.
On a recent visit to London, protestors denounced me as a “hate cleric” and numerous attempts were made to keep me from my speaking engagements. I learned that the protests were instigated by a group called OutRage! Based on what I have learned, this group has been accused of anti-Semitism and has a history of aggressively attacking religious leaders including the Archbishop of Canterbury (see: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/OutRage! and http://rosecottage.me.uk/OutRage-archives/carey98.htm). The group spent a great deal of time pouring over many years of my audio lectures and carefully selecting quotes that misrepresent me as homophobic and intolerant of Christians and Jews.
I have never been the target of protests and this attack left me unsure about how to deal with the situation. As I deliberated the controversy spread to Sweden. I realize now that I should have confronted my detractors immediately. I want to take this opportunity today to tell you exactly who I am.
My Track Record
I have been an Imam in Jamaica, Los Angeles, Toronto, and, Capetown.
Over the last three decades, I’ve visited over 58 countries in the east and west and spoken to tens of thousands of people. I’ve spoken at universities, stadiums, mosques, churches, TV programs and public squares. My audiences have included Muslims, non-Muslims, academics, laypersons, artists, political and religious leaders. By the Grace of Almighty God, I can say that people appreciated my talks wherever I travelled.
I have always stood against racism and ethnocentrism. I have been a lifelong advocate of women’s rights and for decades have encouraged the empowerment of young people. I pioneered the first social service agency for Muslims in Toronto, Canada whose doors were open to all – rich and poor, Muslim and non-Muslim, gay or straight. As a counselor I learned first-hand of the terrible violence inflicted upon gay people by bullies and thugs and I publicly spoke out against it.
While I was in Toronto I was the first Imam to have inclusive sermons for the hearing impaired. For years I was a regular columnist on religion for Canada’s largest newspaper, The Toronto Star. I have also been an advisor to highly respected public institutions such as the Royal Ontario Museum and the Toronto District School Board.
For the last 10 years I have worked with some of the most impoverished citizens of South Africa providing education, spiritual counseling and vocational opportunities for people living in the African townships.
Some of my closest blood relations are Christian and many well-wishers, colleagues and friends are of the Jewish faith. In no country where I have lived or any of the countries that I have visited has there ever been any confrontation between me and another faith community. It’s possible that those who have sought to malign my reputation may have missed all these things in doing their research. Or maybe furthering their own agenda at the cost of my name was a stronger incentive for them than speaking the truth.
With regard to my comments about the punishment for homosexuality, about 15 years ago I was approached by a group of gay Muslims who wanted me to re-interpret the basic principles of Islam. I refused and indicated to them the very serious condemnation in Islam toward homosexuality. My statements were a moral reprimand only. I understand now that they did give off the wrong impression. For that, I am sorry. I have never advocated violence, vigilantism or disregard for the rule of law.
Islamic scholarship is crystal clear that Muslim minorities must respect the laws of the countries in which they reside or leave to find another homeland. The overwhelming majority of Muslims living in the West are respectful of this fact and feel duty-bound to recognize the rights of others even if their views are contrary to what Islam holds as sacred.
The debate among those who support homosexuality and those who do not is an intensely polarizing one. Nevertheless, I think that this debate is essential and must continue for the common good of us all. I have always articulated my concern, both within my community and without, in a manner that has been respectful of the rights and duties of individuals in a pluralistic democracy.
A clip taken from another lecture made me appear to be intolerant of Christians and Jews. Toward the end of my talk I made a supplication for God to purify Islam’s third holiest shrine from the “filth of the Christians and the Jews.” The implicit — and obvious understanding for anyone who heard my lecture — was that I was asking God to heal the spiritual corruption that afflicts some members of religious groups which in turn leads to injustice against innocent people. Spiritual purity has been the focus of prophets, teachers and reformers for thousands of years. Students of the Jewish, Christian and Muslim faiths know this well. Prophet Jesus’ famous condemnation of the Pharisees is even known to many non-religious people. My supplication was not a blanket condemnation of all persons belonging to these two respected faith traditions. Such a statement would be in direct contradiction to Islam’s basic teachings and my own personal beliefs. Indeed, there are Christians and Jews in Israel and abroad who have been in the forefront of speaking out against racism, violence and Islamophobia. Their valour and commitment has earned my deepest respect.
No society is without disagreements. However, those disagreements should not be magnified to the point of obscuring the many universal principles upon which we do agree. This is the challenge for any society that sees all its citizens as equal. We share public space but not always opinions and ideas. We will disagree, but we must continue to live together. And we must strive to do that in peace.
May the peace and mercy of God be with you.
Dr. Abdullah Hakim Quick