By MELODY JAMESON
SUN CITY CENTER – Controversy frequently follows Hassan Shibly, Esq., but it does not so much as slow down this advocate for Islam on a mission.
Shibly, whose November presentation to college-bound seniors at Steinbrenner High School raised parental ires and subsequently produced a stormy Hillsborough County School Board session, spoke here last week. He was the invited guest of the Universalist Unitarians.
A U.S. trained attorney admitted to practice in both Florida and federal courts, Shibly heads the Tampa office of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR). And his mission, he told the 30 or so assembled UUs, is to acquaint non-Muslims with the facts of the faith. It is ignorance, he asserted, that leads to misunderstandings. “When we speak to each other” he added, “we build respect for each other and learn from each other.”
Seeming to separate himself and most other Muslims from those who call themselves Muslim but foment terrorism, Shibly declared “Islam teaches that human rights are often greater than God’s rights,” adding that “you (we) cannot pray to God all day and then hurt people at night.” It is Muslim practice to pray five times each day.
Speaking of God, he continued, Muslims believe that theirs is not a separate God but rather that there is only one, which is neither male nor female, a being above and beyond human comprehension who is represented by the several prophets, which include Abraham, Jesus Christ and Mohammed.
And, he added, “Islam is more tolerant of Christianity than Christianity is of Islam.”
Relating an anecdote about a mother who despaired when she believed she had lost her child, but then recovered the child and experienced unbridled joy, Shibly measured God’s love against that of the joyous mother. “God’s love for humanity is greater than that mother’s unbounded love for her child,” he said.
As part of his overview of Islam, Shibly outlined for the UUs the five pillars of the faith: testimony, prayer, fasting, alms giving and pilgrimage. And, standing before them, he practiced at least the first two.
As the day drew to a close, Shibly excused himself and left the podium for a few moments of silent prayer, joining with millions of Muslims around the world in one of the most obvious rituals that characterizes their faith. He then returned to the group to answer questions.
Asked about the Muslim position on atheism, the attorney replied that in the Islamic faith the one unforgiveable failing is to die without ever recognizing God.
And when the subject of Muslim attitudes toward and treatment of women was raised, Shibly sidestepped and countered that in the context of Islam as it is practiced in his world, in fact, his wife can have more power than he has. Because his wife, in their faith, is entitled to keep all that she earns while his earnings must be used to support her and their family, he said, she may accumulate more materially than he and therefore would have greater power if it is equated with money.
He later acknowledged that his wife does not work outside the home.
On the subject of money, Shibly also noted that in the Islamic belief, charging interest on a loan is a greater offense than adultery. To make a loan to someone is commendable because it is helpful, he explained, but to add interest to the loan when due for repayment is unacceptable because it can create a burden which is harmful.
He also acknowledged that there are extremists who distort the Qur’an to fit their agendas. “There never is justification for terrorism he asserted, “but terrorism stems from political differences, not from religious differences.”
Born in Syria but raised in the United States since the age of four, Shibly grew up in a Sunni Muslim home in Buffalo, N.Y., the son of parents who both are professionals. He earned his undergraduate degree as well as his law degree at New York University, Buffalo. Now just 25, he also is married and the father of three children.
It is his three offspring, he told The Observer in an interview following the meeting, which drive his dedication to CAIR, primarily a civil rights and anti-defamation organization headquartered in Washington, D.C. He could earn more as an attorney in private practice, he noted, but added that at the present time it is more important to uphold the U.S. Constitution and the Bill of Rights on the civil rights front. Their precepts protect everyone, he said.
Elaborating on his comments to the UUs concerning women’s rights under Islamic law, Shibly acknowledged there are abuses such as so called “honor killing” which is murder of an offending female by her male relatives who perceive themselves to be dishonored. However, he pointed out what he considers a certain “double standard.” American men, in fact, murder women for all kinds of offenses they feel dishonor them, but it simply is not known as “honor killing” he said. Another difference is American criminal law which severely punishes proven murder.
Asked about the several documentary films which have circulated in the U.S. during recent years and focus on reported training camps in several states – Georgia, North Carolina, New York, Virginia, Colorado – where young Muslim converts are taught how and where to wage war on “infidel” Americans, Shibly emphatically denied they exist. Any effort to overthrow the U.S. government would be blatantly illegal, he insisted, and if such training facilities existed they therefore would be forcefully entered and closed by U.S. law enforcement.
And when it comes to the root of conflicts in the Middle East, Shibly attributed the warfare during the last 60 plus years since Israel was established to “colonization” leading to a “cutting up” and a repopulation of the area at the expense of peoples with historic claims. This is what has given rise, he indicated, to terrorist groups such as Hasbollah and Hamas.
In Syria today, he noted, bloody battles are ongoing because its people want so badly to have the freedoms others enjoy.
Closer to home, Shibly allowed that he has been threatened from time to time and is vigilant. He and his family, he added, must take security precautions, but their determination to bridge the divide created by the misunderstandings of Islam is not diminished.
Copyright 2012 Melody Jameson