Daisy Khan, executive director of WISE (Women’s Islamic Initiative in Spirituality and Equality), discusses community efforts to combat extremism and Islamophobia in the United States, as part of CFR’s Religion and Foreign Policy Conference Call series.
FASKIANOS: Good afternoon from New York, and welcome to the Council on Foreign Relations Religion and Foreign Policy Conference Call Series. I’m Irina Faskianos, vice president for the National Program and Outreach here at CFR. Thank you for being with us.
As a reminder, today’s call is on the record, and the audio and transcript will be available on our website at CFR.org.
We are delighted to have Daisy Khan with us to talk about community efforts to combat extremism and Islamophobia in the United States. Daisy Khan is the executive director of WISE, the Women’s Islamic Initiative in Spirituality and Equality. Ms. Khan is a regular contributor to major media outlets—including CNN, Al Jazeera, BBC News—and has served as an advisor to a variety of documentaries.
Born in Kashmir, Ms. Khan spent 25 years as an interior architect for various Fortune 500 companies. In 2005, she dedicated herself to full-time community service and building movements for positive change. In recognition of this work, she is the recipient of numerous awards, including the Interfaith Center of New York’s James Parks Morton Interfaith Award among others. She was also selected by Women’s eNews as one of the 21 Leaders for the 21st Century.
Daisy, thanks very much for being with us today to talk about your exciting project. It would be great if you would begin by giving us an overview of the “WISE Up” report, and talk us through the impetus behind the creation.
KHAN: Thank you very much, Irina. And thanks to CFR, and to all the participants who have joined in. We’re very excited to have you. And I think there has been quite a good response, which shows the eagerness and the importance of the issue that we’re discussing today.
Irina, the reason why we did this is because, you know, recently we’re seeing in the United States the overarching sort of change in consciousness and shift in attitude and shift in paradigm which is all based on fear or, you know, fear of the other. It’s almost eroding our core values or threatening to erode our core values, and it’s done by a small, very dedicated group of people. It potentially could affect our social contract that we’ve had in the United States for, you know, centuries now.
And, similarly, you know, this kind of fascism, communism, racism, and secularism, in all these cases, there is a small group of people who always paint themselves as saviors of the people, and always defending against a perceived external threat. And why I’m saying this, as a backdrop, is because, you know, these groups tend to target always the other, the minority. You know, in the United States many years ago it was anti-Semitism. And recently we’ve heard attacks on Mexicans, and especially on Muslims in every debate and every rally. And the result of that is Islam and terrorism get linked with ISIS, and Muslims are perceived as a national security threat, which then gives rise to Islamophobia and rise to hate crimes, and having all kinds of unimaginable effects on a small, vulnerable community.
And this fear narrative, we Muslims are very familiar with it because we have been witnessing it globally, throughout the world, where this narrative—the fear narrative, or the fear of the other—has also taken root and manifested into real groups who are politically-motivated groups who want to do—you know, who want to commit violence to meet political ends. And they, too, are a threat to the globe. They are a threat to the 1.6 billion Muslims because they are writing—rewriting Islamic values and history, and threatening the very core values of our religion.
And in the United States recently, the public debate on terrorism, especially since 9/11, and violent extremism, has become inevitably a highly-charged affair every time you talk about it. Anytime, you know, we—every time somebody’s trying to build a mosque, or trying to build a community center, or somebody’s running for office, the atmosphere gets very charged. And from our experience, we have—we have seen that.
So what we try to do is we try to create a task for ourself of deepening our collective understanding of not only American Muslims on what they think about extremism, but how do they also think of themselves as Americans, and how can they as a community be at the forefront of creating a change or at least creating some sort of a coherent conversation, and possibly solutions, to extremism. That was the goal.
And with that goal, we conducted a survey amongst American Muslims, and we asked them what are your concerns. And, of course, the reputation damage to Islam in the media and how it impacts public perceptions of Muslims, of the community, was rated the highest.
Secondly, when we asked them about what do we need to do to counter extremism, what methods should—you know, what should be the highest priority, at least, you know, as a collective group—as Muslims, as government employees, as, you know, think tanks—what should be the priority. And, you know, we weren’t surprised, but the respondents said that they desired more community engagement or community-led efforts—you know, tailored specifically to that community—as the highest, and second-rated was diplomacy, and followed by foreign policy. And, not surprisingly, military engagement was the lowest. And there is, of course, some skepticism surrounding the effectiveness of current responses to extremism, which are not community-based. And that is why we were pleased that the Muslim community itself thought that community-based or community engagement or community-led initiatives were the answer.
So that is, in a nutshell, why today “WISE Up” came into action, and why “WISE Up” became what it is, is it’s a community-led effort trying to address the issue of extremism, holistically. And I say this holistically because past efforts have entirely focused on the kinetics approach—military engagement, intel, homeland security—and have entirely ignored the role of ideology. And when I say ideology, I mean that which is a motivating framework for how extremist groups operate.
And so the ideology cannot be confronted or, you know, spearheaded by anybody other than Muslims because it is our religion. These are our core values, and we’re the only ones equipped and have the credibility in the community to spearhead that.
So that is why we focused our efforts in “WISE Up” to really go inside ISIS and to actually see what are they doing, how are they operating, how are they distorting our religion—which, you know, is practiced by 1.6 billion people—and how have they been so effective. You know, why are they so effective when they are clearly distorting our scriptures?
So we have, you know, in “WISE Up,” created various sections which I will speak about after I close my first opening statement.
FASKIANOS: Great. I think this would be a good point to talk about how you’ve—the strategic plan for “WISE Up,” and how you’ve divided those chapters.
KHAN: Yeah. So, first, you know, we—continuing with the survey, we asked American Muslims what was the—how did they feel—you know, the portrayal of American Muslims vis-à-vis media, and 90 percent of respondents indicated that the portrayal of Daesh in the mainstream media—“Daesh” meaning ISIS—in the mainstream media had a negative impact on popular perceptions of Muslims. And it’s no wonder that Americans think that somehow Islam itself is linked to terrorism.
And the vast majority of people did not understand or do not really know that 80 percent of terrorist-attack victims are, in fact, Muslim. And there has been an increase—80 percent increase in the number of fatalities because of terrorism, and almost entirely in Muslim-majority countries.
So these are facts that we decided to create a section where we would first give a backdrop of what ISIS is—how it’s a politically-motivated group which is willing to use violence; then, how did they actually come about, kind of the historical reference points, you know, going back to World War—World War II and the interference of Western powers and propping up, you know, authoritarian regimes; creating a sort of political climate for how these—how these groups have eventually risen up. And then we fleshed out exactly how do they take ideology—how do they actually taken religion and frame it as ideology, and why do they need religious ideology.
As you know, we found that religion is the one thing that was common to all Muslims of all socioeconomic backgrounds, as well as nationalities and ethnicities, because, really, other than our religion, nothing else binds us together, you know? And so, using religion as a veneer, as a rallying cry, it was a great mobilizer. And, of course, those people who are on this call who are religious people know that other religions have also been manipulated in past times, and even recently.
So we organized Book 1 to compare Daesh’s ideology to Islamic theology. We went into ISIS’s websites. We dug very deep into everything that they say, and we unearthed about eight core concepts of Islam that they distort. And we then began comparing them side by side. And I had sent a PowerPoint presentation in which we described briefly how they distort these terms. And, you know, they take a very common term which means—“al-wala wal bara,” translated as “loyalty and disavowal,” which is the foundation of their ideology, meaning you give your loyalty to them and nobody else, and you disavow, you know, everybody else which is not like them, which is a false interpretation of that. And we show that side by side of what is their distortion and what is the true Islam.
And then they distort terms like “ummah,” which is readily been—you know, Muslims call themselves the nation of believers, in which—in past times, when the prophet was, you know, writing his covenant for his community, he included religious minorities, Jews, Christians, and even pagans in that. He said everybody is under my protection. So that’s Islam. And yet, Daesh’s version is we are the only rightly-guided people, and we’re the only ones you have to follow because everybody else has gone astray. So now that we have all gone astray, we can be excommunicated, and we can be declared apostates. And it is no wonder, then, why people like Daesh have no difficulty killing Muslims on the streets everywhere, fellow Muslims, because they have declared everybody an apostate.
And so all of these terms, whether it’s “ummah,” “taqleed,” “baya”—meaning give your pledge and allegiance to the ultimate caliph, who is like the only rightly-guided human being right now in their eyes—then, if you do that, you have to give your allegiance to that person. Then you have to be prepared to fight for them, and they have redefined “jihad” to mean killing people, which of course is not the definition of “jihad” at all.
And they have redefined “hijrah,” which means making a migration—in case you are being persecuted, you have the right to leave that place—they, you know, rebrand that as you have to leave the comfort of your home, your families, your jobs, and everything, and join us because it’s an obligation on you.
So we—and then martyrdom, of course, is a big one. And they have redefined martyrdom to mean that in order for you to be a true martyr you have to prepare to kill yourself, which of course every Muslim that is on this call will tell you that suicide is forbidden unless you are, you know, mentally not—your mental faculties aren’t there.
And then they have declared a state, and they are neither Islamic nor are they a state. And we all know that the things that they do in that state are a complete distortion of our scripture.
So this is—they’ve taken these terms because oftentimes, you know, the people that they are speaking to are not learned, are not—don’t have enough, you know, religious knowledge, and it’s very easy to fool people. It’s why so many converts fall into the trap of being easily recruited by Daesh, because they can fool you with all these wonderful, wonderful terms.
So after—you know, so we have painstakingly, for the purposes of the general public, showed you in black and white, side by side these terms, and then we had scholars who we invited to write a lengthier piece so that you could really—we could flesh out every concept. This is our Book of Theology, and this is our answer, and this is what we hope that communities will be able to use in their—you know, whether in community centers. Christian leaders can use it because then they can understand the differences.
And this is our effort to once and for all delink the religion of Islam from the terrorists, because the link between the two gives them credibility. And once they have credibility, they can—they walk under the banner of Islam and they legitimize themselves. So delinking that is very key.
Then Book 2—we spent a fair amount of time on Book 2, which is on their recruitment tactics. And we wanted to see how they actually recruit people. And in this process, we had a wonderful contributor who came on board, Steve Huffman (sp), and he actually told us that, looking at our recruitment steps, that actually Daesh’s recruiting is very similar to cult recruitment, and ultimately their goal is to strip your old identity to the identity of the group. And it’s very clear to us when we—when we go to the recruitment process how they do it, and how much emotional appeal they use, and how equipped they are with psychological tools to really convince you that what you are doing, in fact, is the right decision for you.
So each—so they actually have 16 steps to their recruitment, and in every step—in the third or the fourth step, they start introducing religious terms, and then they start blasting you with their version. And that is why, you know, people get very easily fooled and fall into their trap.
Then we felt that it was really important that we also have a tool for parents, so that parents who are struggling with this issue should know how to at least intervene at the early stages. Because every time there has been an attack in the United States—very recently the Chelsea attack; prior to that, you know, the Chattanooga attack; prior to that, the Orlando attack—there have always been parents struggling with this issue, not knowing what to do and who to turn. And in some cases they have actually turned to the FBI and have—and have not gotten any help because the person has not committed a crime, and unless they have committed a crime—and then, of course, the FBI has been watching them, and the result is that either they kill a lot of people or they get killed themselves. This is a great tragedy. We want to prevent this tragedy. We want to provide this toolkit in the hands of families, community leaders so that they can be empowered with knowledge on what to do, what steps to take, how to speak to your child.
So we invited a wonderful parenting specialist who gave us some wonderful, wonderful insight on how to parent children so they listen in this environment, in an environment where there are many influences, outer influences on the child. And to move away from transactional parenting, which some immigrant parents tend to do—to move away from that to more transformational parenting. And there are steps in there in case your child is being recruited, how you can create community resilience and bring families together in communities, and not shun a family and not shame a family because somebody is—has followed the wrong path.
So this is—then we also felt that it was really important for parents and youth to look up to role models, because in Daesh’s push-and-pull factors, one of the factors of why people join them is this desire to either become a hero—because they tell you that, if you join us, you will be doing heroic acts. So the absence of a heroic image is—you know, they are filling the void. So we created a wonderful—you know, the end of the book, with the Inspiring Through Role Models, some ancient heroes who actually fought in revolutionary wars, but fought them with the—with the rules of engagement that one has to fight, but also current-day ordinary people who have given their lives to save other people’s lives. We wanted these to be—you know, to inspire people and inspire younger people. So that was our Book 2.
And then, you know, many Americans always ask us, where are the Muslims and why don’t they speak out? This is question I’ve heard repeatedly. And I decided that we should take the time, since this write-up is coming out and it’s going to get a fair amount of attention when we launch it, that we might as well take this opportunity to actually show all the condemnations that we know of. So we’ve collected some 200 condemnations from—since 9/11 and listed them—these are major fatwas issued by scholars, academics, organizations—and put them in one place so the American public can see this.
FASKIANOS: Daisy, let me just interrupt you there just for a minute. Are those condemnations—are they covered by the press?
KHAN: So many of these condemnations are hardly ever covered by the press. And it’s one of the reasons why everybody thinks the Muslims are silent and don’t speak out. And some of these condemnations go all the way back to, like, seven days after 9/11 when a major, major fatwa was issued by seven scholars saying that 9/11 was a terrorist attack and American Muslims who were serving in the Army had every right to go defend their nation.
This was a very big fatwa. It barely got any mention. And it would have—it was tragic, because had it got attention, the right attention, the American public would have seen that—you know, that Muslims had spoken. And of course, that’s why we are revealing these condemnations now, because we want—we want the American public to see it with their own eyes. And it’s already working, because I have—I have shown it to people when people have said to me: Where are the Muslims and why don’t they speak up? And tell here are all the condemnations. Every link is here. You can go into this.
Then it was really important, after consulting with a lot of Muslim organizations in New York, that we consulted with, and the 60 contributors who have now contributed to this project—you know, wonderful, wonderful scholars, imams, everybody so eagerly wanting to be part of this—least-deterred by any fear. You know, I was—I have to tell you, I was really, really touched by the responses that I got from everybody and how quickly people were eager to submit their articles at no cost.
So we all decided that it was also important for American Muslims to tell their own story, because our story is being written by others. And others are writing our history, and it’s a caricature of who we are, it’s not who we are. So we had book three, which is entirely devoted to American Muslims. And it’s divided into two sections.
The first section is how we are a challenged community. And by challenges we have everything from how Islamophobia impacts us and how it actually affects domestic security. You know, the impact of erosion of civil liberties on Muslims, and what it actually does, and how is it perceived, and the actual impact on Muslims. And the Islamophobia in America, and how it is really just a new incarnation of the old intolerance that has been—that has been experienced by other faith communities, particularly Jewish and Catholic communities. And we are seeing that played out—this article was submitted by ISPU—played out in Sharia legislation where there are these sort of call for—of banning Sharia as a foreign law, and how that is manifesting in mosques being closed.
And then how does it feel to be a problem, to always be perceived as a problem. There’s an article written by Moustafa Bayoumi. He’s a professor. And he talks about what it’s like to be seen as a problem. How Hollywood covers Islam, and how Hollywood is generally liberal, but when it comes to Islam they have not seen the need to really portray Muslims in their everyday lives or in their true nature, rather than, you know, just always showing them as terrorists, or burying really good stories about Muslims. We hope that after they read this article that perhaps they will maybe have a change of heart.
Then we also have an article about how defamation of Islam is actually at the root of what the bigots want you to believe, that they want to convince Americans that Islam itself is a flawed religion, and the tactics that they use to convince people that our religion is flawed.
Then we have the second section, which is the American Muslims as a—you know, a community that is deeply vested in America, from the earliest of times. We have a wonderful article First Amendment and Religious Freedom by Imam Talib Shareef of The Nation’s Mosque in D.C. And he reminds us that Thomas Jefferson actually declared Islam as an official American religion. Then we have an article on American—how Islam is actually an American religion, and how it’s taking root as an American religion, and similar to, you know, the Catholics and Jews before us.
The importance of public service by Council member Keith Ellison, of how, you know, people have to get involved with public service, but also how there is so much civic engagement in the community that hardly gets any notice. The story of refugees, a reminder to Americans that we have embraced refugees in very large numbers from some countries—from Bosnia—and how that refugee community is flourishing in the United States and doing so well, and how they are good citizens and also model Muslims. We have an article by a young person who writes about the struggle of identity, of what it’s like to be confronted from both sides, from wanting to be self-critical but also, you know, always being told by Americans that you are not a good enough citizen.
And we have an article that talks about embracing Islam in the age of extremism, the journey of a person who has become a Muslim recently, a Latina, and how difficult it is to be on that path, on that journey, because you’re confronted by these very difficult questions about ISIS and terrorism. We have an article by a Jewish—a Muslim woman who had paired up with a Jewish woman, a Salaam Shalom organization. They have decided that it’s better to hope not to hate, and to work together collaboratively to bring peace to our communities.
We took the time to show Americans how Muslims have actually contributed to America. And our contributions in science, in media, in sports, in all the different fields—engineering, law enforcement, you know, all the fields. I think we have about 30 celebrity Muslims in music, in comedy, theater, everything. And then, of course, we talk about the evolution of an American mosque, of how the very first mosque was established from the earliest times in Georgia and, you know, during the slave trade.
So we want to show Americans that Muslims have been here from the very beginning, that we’re not new arrivals. Yes, there are immigrants who come on an ongoing basis and they are here. But, you know, a large chunk—I would say 40 percent or 45 percent—of the Muslim community is African American and very much part of the American fabric. So we should not be othered as if we have just arrived recently.
FASKIANOS: Daisy, let me—if you could just maybe wrap up? We only—we have a lot of people on the call, and I know that you’re really interested in getting people’s input and involving them in the conversation. So maybe we could say a couple last words and we could open it up so we have, you know, half an hour for questions.
KHAN: Yeah, actually, I was going to wrap up. So that was the three books that we have. These are the three sections of one book. The book is currently being called “WISE Up.” We want to take this on the road. We would like to launch at the—after the inauguration, sometime in January-February. Shortly after that we’ll be going—doing a congressional briefing. So we will be meeting all the members of Congress, handing a book to them. We want to be at the forefront, but we can’t do this alone. We need the—all our partners, people of different faiths, people of conscience to step forward and work with us, because we can’t do this alone.
This is not our problem. This is a collective problem. We are all responsible for it in some way or the other. And there’s enough evidence in our book of how different people have contributed to this problem. But we’re willing to take the lead. And so shortly after the congressional briefing we would like to launch a 50-city tour around the country. And whoever’s on the call, if you are in different states, we’d love to organize a forum, bring this conversation so that—so that our national conversation about Islam and Muslims and about terrorism and about this threat and fear, we can have a more coherent conversation. So I will close with that. Thank you.
FASKIANOS: Wonderful. Thank you so much for sharing this exciting—your exciting report and project with us. I think it will be an invaluable contribution to the public sphere. So let’s open it up now to questions from the group.
OPERATOR: Yes, ma’am. At this time, we will open the floor for questions.
(Gives queuing instructions.)
And we are currently holding for questions. Our first question comes from Daniel Pincus with AJC.
PINCUS: Hello. Thank you, Daisy, for the presentation.
I had a quick question regarding warning signs or—what are the—if we did a root cause analysis on what are the—are there comment elements that draws people to extremism? Are there generational issues? Are there—are people motivated by religious or political movements? Is there a regional dynamic going on? Is it related to, you know, people who have a longstanding relationship to the community, or are they sort of speaking of converts to it? Are there trends and is there a general picture that we can help identify maybe trouble issues—you know, are there warning signs that would help us identify regions that might—or communities that need more attention than others?
KHAN: So that’s a good question. So there is no profile of a person anymore, because you will see that people who join come from very different socioeconomic backgrounds. They can be converts. They can be white people. They can be, you know, Muslims who come from immigration backgrounds. They can even be African-Americans who may have embraced Islam. They can be people, former prisoners, criminals—all kinds of people. But what we have found from our research is that the push and the pull factors are many. So there is no one factor why people join. But different regions have a slightly different one.
So one is for somebody who just desires to be a better Muslim, which might be a calling and they just fall into the trap of an ISIS website and they start engaging with these people and they get trapped. And because ISIS offers the true version, or they tell that we have the true Islam. Bleak future outlook, major of Muslim nations that are struggling with jobs, that is the common one for those people in that region, because ISIS offers a lucrative future in state building. They say, if you come here you will have a job. So for that motive—for some, that’s a motivation.
I mentioned, for example, of glory that—for those people who are, you know, looking for meaning in life and have not found that, and so they join for that reason. Sympathy in suffering for Muslims and injustices against Muslims worldwide is a big one. And that pretty much crosses everywhere because during their recruitment process they really bombard you with all kinds of images of Muslims who are being killed and, you know, with drone attacks. And so they bombard you with that stuff. So that’s a factor for almost every place you go there’s a call for justice. And so that’s a strong one.
Social marginalization, isolation, and alienation is addressed primarily to Western Muslims. And that’s something that we, in America, can void. The rise of Islamophobia, bullying, you know, the kind of rhetoric that we’ve been hearing in recent debates from one of our candidates, that’s stuff that becomes instant recruitment propaganda for ISIS. And so social marginalization. Disconnect with Western culture is another one where people don’t feel that they fit in, or they feel that somehow, you know, that modern Western culture is at odds with their faith. And once again, that’s lack of knowledge or lack of information. And so they joint because they are offered a very pristine environment where, you know, Islam is being practiced in its pure form. That’s the offer on the other side.
And the fascination of curiosity of ISIS just makes you fall into a trap of befriending a whole bunch of new friends. And that can happen to anybody who gets—who is lonely and sitting at home on a computer and just is looking for friendship. So that’s also another way to have a whole new set of friends. So there is no one thing, but all of these factors exist. And for some regions they’re more and for others less.
FASKIANOS: Thank you. Next question.
OPERATOR: Our next question comes from John de Vries from the Canadian Multifaith Federation.
DE VRIES: Thank you for the story. And to help tell the story, where can I access the “WISE Up” books? Will they be at local mosques or? Can you address that, where to get the book?
KHAN: So the book will be published. And if you send us an email we’ll put you on an email list, and we will notify you when the book will be available. But we would like to publish it and have it available on Amazon. So hopefully, you know, we should have the book at the time of the launch, but if we don’t we’ll notify you when the book comes out. But there will be a website for “WISE Up,” which we will be constructing soon. It’s not available yet. But the website itself will have enough information, but maybe not the entire toolkit.
DE VRIES: Thank you.
FASKIANOS: Daisy, what—we can also circulate the email address that you would like people to use. Would you prefer that or do you want to just give it out now?
KHAN: Sure. It’s Daisy@WISEMuslimWomen.org.
FASKIANOS: Great. And we can also follow up with folks. Next question.
OPERATOR: (Gives queuing instructions.)
Our next question comes from Philip Eubanks with Catholic Welfare Association.
EUBANKS: Hi. So my question is really about the sort of culture of—well, the way in which facts don’t really seem to matter, or they take a backseat to emotion. I’m curious, how do you combat Islamophobia in this toxic era where facts do take that backseat to emotion? Thank you.
KHAN: Yeah, that’s a very good question. And, you know, that is why we are told the stories. So it’s not so much fact-based, but really these are narratives. And we hope that these narratives will actually become podcasts, so that these stories can be told. And so our idea goal is when we’re out there on a tour that our participants or our contributors can join us and show the human face of what we’re talking about. And to humanize the problem is key.
And so telling these stories is important. And also showing that Muslims are very engaged in the American fabric is also important. As you know, when Khizr Khan spoke at the DNC, and he spoke from his heart, very few people knew that Muslims were—had been, you know, in the military or engaged or—in the form of veterans. And we have Muslims who are veterans, who have served in the Army. Those people will be brought out. And we want those people to come out and tell their stories. So there are ways to engage the American public.
I fundamentally believe the American public is generally fair. And if we tell our story, and we show that we are combatting extremism and trying to take our religion away from the terrorists, that they will be not only sympathetic to our cause, but they’ll also come along. I’ve seen this in my recent speeches, so I’m hopeful.
FASKIANOS: Thank you. Next question.
OPERATOR: Our next question comes from Susan Jalbert with Jalbert Consulting.
JALBERT: Thank you, Daisy, for an excellent presentation.
And putting a highlight on a gender perspective for a moment, we’re seeing more stories about women moving towards extremism. And I’m wondering, to promote positive female role models, what is your suggestion to show more examples of Muslim women as businesswomen, judges, and leaders?
KHAN: Yeah, that’s an excellent question. So in the case of Daesh has actually been heavily, heavily recruiting women because the caliphate is dependent on women, and they are tapping into the sentiment of women as being, you know, as being—luring them with the concept of motherhood.
And so what we have done in this book is we’ve actually shown what is the lure for women, why do they go, why do they join. They want to be birthers of a new nation, they feel that this is a huge responsibility being, you know, given to them.
And then we actually list the real heroes of Islam, or heroines of Islam, starting with the Prophet’s wife, who was a businesswoman and is a model for many women who are entrepreneurs, businesswomen, professionals, and show her life and what she endured, and the difficulty that she had with the famine and, you know, how much hardship there was when she was supporting his prophecy. And then his daughter’s life and other role models in Islam.
And so we hope that these women become exemplars for women who are contemporary women, who want to, you know, imbibe them and follow in their footsteps. At WISE we actually collected many of these women and we profiled them on our website. We have 500 women that are profiled on our website, to show and to disprove that, you know, Muslim women cannot be engaged in society, cannot be engaged in professions.
So we want to show that Islam inherently allows you to pursue your talent if you choose to.
FASKIANOS: Thank you. Next question.
OPERATOR: Our next question comes from Satpal Singh, the State University of New York.
SINGH: Hi, thanks for taking my question, and thanks for a great presentation. My question is linked to the question on root causes. Now it’s understandable that ISIS would craft a link with theology so that they can justify into more directions.
In addition to that, is there any comment on the following, that they do understand the link they are creating is not real link, but they are just motivated by the lust and the glory and other highs of being in power and terrorizing other people and dragging them around? Is there any comment on that?
KHAN: Yes, I think you have a very valid point. I mean, you know, they will tell you from their point of view they feel that their lives are stagnant. They have been part of nothing but revolutions, wars, mass migration, political and economic, you know, transformations that they have not experienced. And they believe that foreign powers who are at the hands, you know—were hand-selecting individuals actually brought this upon them.
So that’s their narrative. That’s ultimately their narrative, is that we are trying to redress the wrongs that have been done to us and that we have been pawns in this great chess game for a very long time, and we no longer want this and we are prepared to fight for it and so this is really justified. And there is no peace without justice. And of course justice is defined by them.
I do think that they are—you know, the fact that they can violate Scripture, the fact that they can take every concept of Islam and distort it leads me to believe, at least in our own research, that they see a power vacuum and they want to fill it and this is their chance to be in positions of power, and to shape their destiny, and that ultimately is the most, you know, probably a very big factor of those people who are the masterminds of this.
Unfortunately, they bring a lot of innocent people with them and promise them other things and they fall for it.
SINGH: Thank you.
FASKIANOS: Thank you. Next question.
OPERATOR: Our next question comes from John Pawlikowski, with Catholic Theological Union.
PAWLIKOWSKI: Yes. Thank you so much, Daisy, for a really exciting project. My only concern would be, do you anticipate that major Muslim organizations here in the United States, like ISNA and CAIR and so on, will give very public support to this effort?
I don’t wish in any way to demean the significance of the Muslim women’s group, but my concern is, as I often hear this from people, well, there are some fringe Muslims who are doing the kind of thing that you are promoting, but that they don’t represent the majority.
So I think in terms of visibility, it would be quite important to have positive public support from some of the major Muslim organizations.
KHAN: Yes, that’s a—thank you for asking that question. And maybe I didn’t make that clear in the very beginning. We sought the counsel of many Muslim organizations, including ISNA, and we went around and spoke to people and we invited people to be part of this project. So that’s why we have 60 contributors, and we do have major Muslim organizations involved.
We have Islamic Network Group, we have ADAMS Center, where Imam Magid is the imam. He used to be former president of ISNA. We have The Nation’s Mosque, we have Muslim Public Affairs Council. Then we have individuals like Congressman Keith Ellison and we have individuals that are highly regarded in the community who are imams in their own respective communities.
So I think that we have called together a very good, broad spectrum of the Muslim community, and they are—so far everybody that we have spoken to are looking forward to rolling this out in their own capacities, in their own communities, because it is a community-led effort.
So I do not expect any issues from ISNA. We have spoken to them, we are in conversations with them to see how they may be able to assist with the rollout.
PAWLIKOWSKI: Thank you.
FASKIANOS: Thank you. Next question.
OPERATOR: Our next question comes from Eleanor Ellsworth with Episcopal Diocese of San Diego.
ELLSWORTH: Thank you. My question actually is very similar to the one you just addressed, but it was more specifically whether or not there are any Muslim groups that are actively in opposition to your work. Or is there any groups that are—not only is not supporting but who may be for some reason on another side.
If you could just elaborate a little bit more on that, I think it would be helpful. Thank you.
KHAN: So I think that I will answer this question in a delicate way because many people think that the Muslim community is kind of a monolith community, and it’s not. It’s as diverse as—really, it’s even more diverse than any other community because we have not only different schools of thought, different approaches, we have all the ethnicities, all the nationalities.
And we have imams from, you know, like we have an imam who is the imam of the Albanian community and he is considered to be their leader.
So every mosque, because we are a very democratic religion, we don’t have a central authority, every mosque has its own leader, every community has its own leader.
So the question is how can you bring together a good sampling of these people, including in that group of people who fundamentally have issues with the Muslim community really working in conjunction with law enforcement on this issue.
So that was a very big issue, and this is why we, from the very beginning, said this was going to be a community-led effort, with no government hand in it, and the 60 contributors that we have are really contributors that are, you know, contributing to this.
So there is no agenda, there are no alternative, you know, aims. Really the aim is to empower the community and to provide information to the general public.
So we have so far succeeded, succeeded in rolling this out as a community effort. And down the road, if we have to do projects in different states and in different locales, we will be tapping into once again community groups to do specific trainings and to do rollouts.
So that’s our aim and our goal, because the 60 contributors span the United States and each one of them has its own sphere of influence as well as its own, you know, people that we can tap into.
So we’d like it to be as grassroots as possible so that it’s really, you know, being carried out in their own respective communities, with their own solutions.
ELLSWORTH: Thank you. Congratulations on this.
KHAN: Thank you.
FASKIANOS: Thank you. Next question.
OPERATOR: Our next question comes from Mehnaz Afridi from Manhattan College.
AFRIDI: Salaam alaikum, Daisy. This is Mehnaz.
KHAN: Hello, Mehnaz. Mehnaz is one of our contributors.
AFRIDI: First I want to say how exciting this project is. But you know, for me as someone who directs a center and has to fund raise and, you know, come up with all kinds of paradigms, I’m wondering, Daisy, how we can help you promote this project.
And I’m also wondering how we are going to be able to launch a book, sell it, and fund raise for it.
KHAN: Yes. Well, as you know, that’s always an issue for every nonprofit. So we would like to publish the book, and book publishing has changed a lot in recent times and many of them want to secure certain books being purchased ahead of time. So that is what we will be asking people to do to help us, you know, pre-purchase the book so that we can get the book published well ahead of time. So that’s one way that everybody can help. And get your copies, maybe, you know, five, 10, 20 copies.
Then of course be prepared to become ambassadors for the project and surrogates. We can train anybody. We are actually looking to train, you know, Christian leaders, Jewish leaders, open up your churches, open up your synagogues, open up the mosques so that we can come out and create real forums the ground level.
If people would like to be trained by us on this issue, we will be happy to bring the training either through webinar or directly at the local level, so that more and more people can be talking about this issue properly.
So you can be deployed in any state you want to be deployed that you know, within the time constraints that you have. That is how you can help us.
FASKIANOS: Thank you. Next question.
OPERATOR: Our next question comes from Judy and Steve Gilliland from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints Public Affairs. Mr. and Mrs. Gilliland, your line is live.
GILLILAND: Can you hear me now?
FASKIANOS: Yes, we can.
Now we can’t. Did you mute your line?
KHAN: I think she muted it and then unmuted it.
FASKIANOS: Let’s maybe move on to the next question—oh, she’s back.
GILLILAND: Can you hear me now?
FASKANIOS: Yes, we can hear you.
GILLILAND: I am so sorry. I was just wondering if you will be speaking in the Southern California area anytime soon.
KHAN: Well, we want to roll out in every state, so if you invite us, we will be there.
GILLILAND: Oh, good. And another resource in Southern California that would give you a group of mosques in one city is the Shura Council of Southern California. They have membership of over 80 mosques who participate as a body. I can send you the contact information for that if you would like.
We have wonderful professional Muslim women here and we have organizations like New Ground, which is a Muslim-Jewish partnership of women. We even have a women’s mosque...
KHAN: Yes, I know them.
GILLILAND: So I feel like your program would blossom here. Even though I’m a friend of Muslims, being a Mormon myself, we certainly respect and love the Muslim people and work hand-in-hand with them here. We know many here in the area. We certainly support your program being here.
KAHN: Thank you. So if you can just send me an email, we’ll be happy to stay in touch with you.
GILLILAND: All right, thank you so much.
FASKIANOS: Thank you. Next question.
OPERATOR: Our next question comes Azeem Farooki, with Islamic Center of Rockland, New York.
FAROOKI: As- salaam alaikum, Daisy. My name is Azeem, Azeem Farooki.
I am currently in Rockland County. Rockland County is one of the 62 counties of New York State, and there are four mosques. And I am a trustee of the Islamic Center of Rockland, located in Valley Cottage, New York.
I just want to inform you that we have a very strong group of people, which is known as Rockland County for Social Justice. And including 100 of Jewish and Christian clergy members. And they are very interested in holding a general meeting about Islamophobia in the next few weeks.
In fact, I am also asked by the Rockland family shelter to speak on this next month. So what you said earlier is quite germane to all the talks that we are having in the county about how to increase knowledge about Islam among the non-Muslim community. In doing so we would love to collaborate with you. Any time you want to have any help from us, please let us know.
KAHN: That would be fantastic. We’ll be in touch. Thank you so much.
FAROOKI: You’re welcome.
FASKIANOS: Thank you. I’d like to get in one or two more people if possible, so if you have a couple of minutes to go over, that would be great.
KHAN: Sure. That’s fine. Thank you.
OPERATOR: Our next question comes from Soraya Deen, from Muslim Women Speakers.
DEEN: Thank you. Thank you, Daisy, for this much-needed initiative. They say evil prevails when good people do nothing.
I was curious to know if—what plan you had to promote the book overseas, where it might also be greatly needed.
KHAN: Yes. So our plan first is to lunch in the United States, and I have been to several conferences on this issue. And wherever I go people are thrilled and excited that such a product actually exists.
What would be needed before next year, as we begin the rollout in the United States, we would like to immediately roll it out in European countries, where it’s desperately needed. And for that we would need to do translations in at least four or five languages, you know, including obviously Arabic because some people who relocate are still speaking the native language.
So that’s the next plan is when it gets kicked off in the United States, we would kick off all over the world. And too partners. We have a lot of women partners, as you know. WISE has a lot of women NGOs on the ground. We also know a lot of Muslim leaders in their own communities, young leaders. Also, you know, imams in other countries. So the goal is to roll this out.
Other than the American Islam section, which is catered primarily to American Muslims, the two books, one and two, which is on recruitment and on theology versus extremist ideology, can be translated as-is. It does not require any changes because the product is relevant to all societies.
We have the advisor to the—advisor to the grand mufti of Azhar, who wrote the opening article for us, and he reviewed all the material and he said it was just completely relevant to Muslim societies. There’s no need to change anything because it’s very mainstream, you know, interpretation of what Muslims believe.
So we think that the books are ready to go. It’s just a matter of translating them and then putting them into the hands of people and training people on the ground.
DEEN: Thank you.
FASKIANOS: Wonderful. Well, Daisy, thank you very much for sharing your—this project with us today. It was terrific to hear all the amazing work that you are doing, what you have done to put it together. We look forward to seeing it come out, and I know—people, please do email Daisy so that she can alert you to when it will be available.
And again, if you want to be involved, please let her know. And you can follow Daisy Khan on Twitter at @daisykhan, and her organization, WISE, at @wise_leaders. So you can probably get information there. We also did circulate the PowerPoint presentation in advance of this call, which I encourage you all to go back and take a look at.
So, Daisy, thank you very much.
KHAN: Irina, I just wanted to say thank you very much for pulling this together for us. And I also want to thank all the participants and want you to know that even though this is being launched in probably end of January, February, you are the first to know about it. This is the first time we have officially done this pre-launch because we want people like you to be actively involved with us.
So to the extent that you can contact us and be involved in any capacity—and that could mean literally opening the door to your congregation so we can come there and we can talk to people—that is what is going to give this legs and that’s what’s going to change the conversation at the grassroots level. And I thank you all very much.
FASKIANOS: Thank you very much, and I encourage you all to follow CFR’s Religion in Foreign Policy Initiative on Twitter at @CFR_Religion, for announcements about upcoming events and information about the latest CFR resources.
So we look forward to continuing this conversation on this important topic, as well as many others. So thank you all.
KHAN: Thank you so much. Bye, bye.