Dr. Hamdy A. Radwan, president of the Raleigh chapter of the Muslim American Society and professor of physical therapy at Winston- Salem State University, was interviewed by Carolina Journal Editor Richard Wagner. The interview was conducted Nov. 29 at MAS’s office on Western Boulevard in Raleigh.
Wagner: Could you explain the mission of MAS in Raleigh?
Radwan: The Muslim American Society, MAS, is one of the chapters of about 53 chapters nationwide in each city, and it is a charitable, religious organization, social, mainly involved with the social activity. It is not involved mainly in the mosque. It is like office space like you see here. We share activities that engage the Muslim community to serve the general community. That’s what the mission of MAS is to develop, educate, train Muslim American to be a good Muslim and at the same time to be a good citizen in all the countries that we live in. That is simply the mission of MAS.
Wagner: It sounds like a civic organization more than anything, but yet it’s religious as well.
Radwan: Yeah, you can call it civic. You can call it religious. You can call it social, societal, educational.
Wagner: Any governmental interest?
Radwan: Any governmental interest? What do you mean of this question?
Wagner: Any influence on government that you would like to have.
Radwan: You mean the local government?
Wagner: And state government….
Radwan: State or federal. Definitely. Yes. We need to have some influence, because we do have our nonprofit status and we engage the people like we do with voter registration. We mobilize the community when there is some participation needed, and we sponsor several events that increase the awareness of the general public, Muslims and non-Muslims. And we engage in interfaith dialogue many times. We have actually last Ramadan. You know what Ramadan is? The month of fasting. We host here in this office many Christian, Jewish organizations that came in here…
Wagner: You do? Here?
Radwan: Yes, we did that here. It was published in The News and Observer several times. And we are working with a Triangle Tikkun group. I don’t know if you are familiar with that?
Radwan: Tikkun is a group that is peace-oriented. And they have a Catholic, Protestant, Jewish…and we are with them. We meet like, regularly, every month or so.
Wagner: What is your long-term mission?
Radwan: The long-term mission …?
Wagner: Say, a decade, two decades, three decades, where would you like to be?
Radwan: That’s very good. When I teach my students about short-term and long-term goals because I am a physical therapist, we don’t usually exceed eight weeks. [Laughter] They won’t reimburse us if we go beyond that. So my mind is limited to eight weeks.
Wagner: But, obviously, your organization has long-term goals?
Radwan: That is a good question. Our long-term goal is definitely to develop generations that will be — as the previous conference was about “The Link.” To link the coming generation of youth, Muslim youth, to understand Islam properly and to live in this country properly. This is our long-term mission. I need to see in a decade from now a very good American citizen. That they are very familiar with all federal, state laws and they are fully involved in it. And they are at the same time good Muslims.
Wagner: Do you envision that law as being American law or do you envision the law as being Sharia Law?
Radwan: American law. The law of the land.
Wagner: How many members do you have in your organization here?
Radwan: In Raleigh, about 40, about 40 members.
Wagner: Active members?
Radwan: Because the membership that we have is several layers. We have an associate member. We have an adjunct member, and we have a full member. The associate members, we have many of them. I don’t know how many of them…you can say 100 or so. The adjunct members, those who are willing to be involved in the educational programs of the MAS. MAS has some requirements for the membership. It’s more than just filling out a form. The requirements are to go through an educational program for at least a year or two, and regularly attend classes, and participate — and these classes are not just religious classes — yes, it includes the teachings of the Quran, the explanation of it. But we also talk about — you talk about Sharia Law — how Sharia Law is applicable in this country and how you live in the country that you live in with your Islamic law.
Wagner: How is it applicable in this country?
Radwan: It is fully applicable.
Wagner: In what ways?
Radwan: I think in every way, every way, because most of the laws here that are against, if you call it against, the Sharia Law, are optional. Like, if you like to buy a house with interest, that’s your option. Right? Really, nobody’s forcing you to do it. Right?
Wagner: Yes, it’s against Sharia Law to charge interest.
Radwan: It’s against Sharia Law. Because it’s your option to obey that law or not.
Wagner: How about some of the more stringent measures, such as those that pertain to women?
Radwan: Like what?
Wagner: Wearing of the burka or wearing a veil?
Radwan: I see it as in this country freedom of religion, is not freedom from religion. It’s two different terminologies. There are some countries where you need freedom from religion completely, but this is a religious country. And we really appreciate the religious country. And it is a freedom of religion. So you can practice your religion respectfully. If you respect others, too. And we have our women, they are free, they are covered, and they are free to go anywhere. Yeah, after September 11, there are some here and there, but there are no putting of restriction on them.
Wagner: In the United States, we have a secular arrangement. We have the government, and then we have the church. But Sharia Law, there is no difference, correct?
Radwan: Yeah, if you are living in a majority country, that all elected themselves to be ruled by the Sharia Law, that’s their option. Right?
Wagner: Such as up in Michigan, where the Muslim community would like to be ruled under Sharia Law?
Radwan: I’m not familiar with that.
Wagner: There’s a community in Dearborn that would like to have that. Do you think that they should be allowed to live within their own community only under Sharia Law?
Radwan: The Sharia Law is a completely wide term. What is the Sharia Law that we are talking about? The interest we just talked about is Sharia Law. It is optional to them whether to pay it or not. It is their option. But it is the Sharia Law when contradicting with the law of the land, this is where we have to stop it. Is it mandatory to do it or not? Can you live without it? Like some people they hear, and this actually you hear this mainly from indigenous Muslims in this country, not from the immigrants — they say voting is nonsense, don’t get involved in it. When I do the voter registration, most of the opposition comes from the indigenous population, from those who are here. They say, ‘We tried that before, and the system is not working. We are telling you. You are an immigrant.’ If you talk about Sharia Law, Sharia Law is a very wide term, and I’m not sure what they are looking for in Michigan. I am not familiar with that.
Wagner: But here in Raleigh, MAS does not believe that there should be an invoking overall of Sharia Law, in fact, the entire principles of Sharia Law, you’re not looking for that, in the long term?
Radwan: If you are asking me if I am living by the Sharia Law, then I tell you, yes I am. I’m living with the Sharia Law. The Sharia Law means not to eat pork, and the law of the land is not going to force me to eat pork…
Wagner: That is more of a personal Sharia Law that you’re talking about. I’m talking about a societal Sharia Law, such as invoking penalties, like the Department of Justice in the United States — such as stoning.
Radwan: I’ll give you an example. One of the examples is to marry more than one. This is a Sharia Law. It is allowed, this is Sharia, Islamic Law, it is allowed. Now, I elected to live in this country where the law of the land is not allowing you to marry more than one. If I need to practice that way, I should not be here. I should practice that somewhere else. We have to abide by the law of the land.
Wagner: Are you an American citizen?
Radwan: Yes, I am.
Wagner: Where are you from originally?
Radwan: From Egypt.
Wagner: And whereabouts in Egypt?
Radwan: In Cairo.
Wagner: When did you come to the U.S.?
Radwan: I came in 1990.
Wagner: Let me ask you a little about the organization here. When was this chapter established?
Radwan: We were here, but we did not open this office until 2003.
Wagner: When did you actually invoke your charter?
Radwan: I was not here before then, because I actually moved to Raleigh in 2001. So, I’ve been here for about five years. But it started like in 1999.
Wagner: Could you tell me what your annual budget is?
Radwan: Our annual budget…that’s a good question. Because we’re just getting a little of the budget when we just did our annual conference. I would say like in the vicinity of $50,000.
Wagner: And how many staff members does that include?
Radwan: We’re looking to hire staff right now. All that we have are volunteers. We don’t have employed members yet.
Wagner: So, basically, you’re a staff of one, which is you, the president?
Radwan: No, no, no. Are you talking about the volunteers, or paid employees?
Wagner: Paid employees.
Radwan: No, we don’t have paid employees. I’m not paid for that job.
Wagner: Who are your primary donors?
Radwan: Our primary donors are two things. One is our membership. We are participating ourselves in that. I believe in that work. And the Muslim community, we participate from our own budgets as individuals and this is one of the requirements of the membership is to participate in the activities of the society. So we participate in membership dues and we do an annual fund-raiser. We didn’t do it this year. And we do this annual dinner, fund-raising.
Wagner: That’s separate from the conference?
Radwan: We didn’t do a fund-raiser at the conference. The conference is usually an educational setup and entertainment at the end. But we didn’t do any fund raising.
Wagner: Any other exterior funds?
Radwan: Exterior? What do you mean by exterior?
Wagner: From outside groups, outside the United States.
Wagner: Saudi Arabia is a huge contributor to a lot of Muslim organizations, but you are not one of those?
Radwan: The local Raleigh chapter did not receive any funds from any country. I hope we can, because we’re looking to build a youth center and we need some funds. If you find a way, let me know about it. [Laughter]
Wagner: I understand that quite a few mosques in the United States have been built with Saudi money.
Radwan: I’m sure that the one here in Raleigh at the university was built with Saudi money. That was about 20 years ago.
Wagner: What do you like about America, since you’ve been here?
Radwan: That’s a good question. I moved here because I need to practice my freedoms, so I’m free to do whatever I need to do. Whether that’s religious or unreligious, you’re free to do whatever you want to.
Wagner: You couldn’t do that in Egypt?
Radwan: Yeah, I can, but to the extent of the limited resources there. I’m here getting more involved in the community. In Egypt I have to work days and nights to get the support, that’s what the difference is. Here you can work and also donate your time and efforts. There, you can just work and work and work. There’s no more than that.
Wagner: What is it that you dislike about America?
Radwan: Dislike about America. [Laughter]. That’s another good question. I really lived a lot of really good years. The change of society after September 11 is kind of a little bit of concern. It is not a dislike, but a concern. And that urged me to do more to raise the awareness of the general public, of the American community. And this is my biggest worry. I am a teacher, I am a professor, and I have graduate students. The graduate students, when I have friendly discussions with them, they are very, very shallow-minded. They are not educated. They are not involved within the general affairs of the immigrants I have interaction with. They know more about world affairs, 100 percent, many, many, many more things than the general public. And that’s really a worry.
Wagner: Which is why I’m writing these stories, to educate the public. That’s why I want to see where you’re coming from. Let me ask you some tough questions.
Radwan: Yeah, go for it.
Wagner: It’s been widely reported by others and even by Muslim groups that MAS is related to, and you’ve heard this before, the Muslim Brotherhood. Is this true?
Radwan: We’ve never denied that. There’s never been any denial that MAS was started by interested people that carried this kind of thinking and ideology of the Brotherhoods. But when they came here, and that was many years ago, that was completely changed and now we are an independent organization that has no relation with any other organization outside.
Wagner: Well, the Brotherhood also has some notorious offspring. Such as Hamas, PIJ, and Hezbollah.
Radwan: Is Hezbollah also from the Brotherhood?
Wagner: From what I understand. But any way, the other two are well known. How do you reconcile your difference as an offspring of the Brotherhood from these other two groups?
Radwan: It’s really every independent organization that takes a turn in life that puts you to the proper place and environment, and this is the thing I like about my religion. It is very adaptable to the place and to the time, for any time. Islam is very adaptable to the place that you live in and to the time that you live in. There is no contradiction at all. So I am here as a Muslim American organization, not related to any other organizations. And my vision and mission are in line with this country. So for example the Brotherhood in Egypt, they are not public. They do not know who are the members.
Wagner: They have a bad reputation there.
Radwan: There is not a bad reputation. I disagree with that. Actually, if you go to the general public, they will tell you different than what the government will tell you about them.
Wagner: They’ve attempted a couple of assassinations in Egypt.
Radwan: Which ones are that? I don’t know.
Wagner: I didn’t write it down, but from the research that I did there were a couple of assassination attempts. In fact, they were outlawed in Egypt.
Radwan: Yeah, they are. But outlaw, that’s not really the law. I would love to establish the law of the Lord. You can go outlaw, but the Egyptian government is not the law of the land. They are of different worlds. That is completely different. Do you know what the Divine Revolution is? What is revolution?
Wagner: What is revolution? It’s a change of the government.
Radwan: No, the change of the status quo. Of the status quo. Now, I can give you revolutionist…
Wagner: There are different types of revolutions, Sure, I’ll grant you that.
Radwan: Sure. So I can make changes in the … Democratic or the Republican to the Democrat by revolution. I can mobilize the community and get voter registration. Use the same laws that we can change here, yes, I can do that.
Wagner: So you’re saying that what your role is is to revolutionize the thinking of the individual, perhaps first, then the family, and later society?
Radwan: Yeah. To the extent that that’s acceptable. But if you tie revolution with violence, that’s not my act. My act is revolution with the law of the land. To utilize it. To get to the proper situation that you need to be in.
Wagner: As determined by Sharia Law?
Radwan: As determined by the law of the land. I see that you are alluding about the Sharia Law several times and I’m telling you that now, because I need that to be clear, if you publish that … We are here as a nonprofit organization, a legal organization that we established by the law of the land and we follow the law of the land.
Wagner: OK. But the revolution that you’re talking about is the revolution that I mentioned. Of the individual, then the family, and perhaps the society after that. In other words, a peaceful type of a revolution vs. a violent revolution?
Radwan: Of change, yeah.
Wagner: That seems to be the same goal that some of the more radical groups have, except their means are violent means. Is that not true?
Radwan: And isn’t that true of any religious organizations: Catholic, the Baptist, the Protestant, that they all would like to change the individual, the family, and the society? Isn’t that the same?
Wagner: Perhaps. Perhaps. I think the concern, though, is that around the world Muslim nations have shown a proclivity for launching violence when the peaceful means have failed. Such as the Sudan, and the Philippines, just about any trouble spot that you’d like to look at, where we have the clash between civilizations. This is not true?
Radwan: I don’t see a clash of civilizations. I only see a clash of ignorance. I don’t see a clash of civilizations. Those are the people who act ignorant, who act in an ignorant manner, whether they are Muslims or non-Muslims, or that they are radical or nonradical if they act in an improper way, away from the way that is peaceful change, resistance, consistence. We are in a society, we like to do things abruptly, without patience. We have no patience to accomplish our goals.
Wagner: You mean in America?
Radwan: Globally. Like Sadat in Egypt. Since that time. I was in college. He was such an ignorant man. Because he would do more harm than he would do benefits. Because he was looking for fast change. And guess what we have? We have another president for 30 years. So, they didn’t do anything. They didn’t do any change.
Wagner: Well, you’re talking about ideology. Ideology doesn’t change overnight.
Wagner: It’s a long period of persuasion. And that’s what your mission here is all about. Is that not true?
Radwan: My mission is to persuade who?
Wagner: As you told me, you’re trying to bring your philosophy to the United States and converts in the process. It’s a long-term thing, is that not true?
Radwan: To raise the Muslim-American good citizens? Yes, that’s my mission. Does that mean we need the Muslim-American to change society? Definitely yes, we need them to change the society. We need to come to a common ground, all of us. If you are supporting a good cause, I will support you. And that’s what we do in here. We come in together as Christians, as Jews, and we talk about social issues, educational issues, about family issues, and we agree and we disagree.
Wagner: So, accomplishing that together?
Wagner: What were the attendance figures at your “Missing Link” conference?
Radwan: It was not well-attended. We did not do a good job in publicity. We had about 100 people.
Wagner: It was open to the public at large?
Wagner: What does MAS do with the money from its fund-raisers?
Radwan: We actually don’t have much money. But we run a weekend school, a Sunday school for the children. We do activities like outreach. We did the gift programs. We give gifts to the teachers in public schools to promote good communication, to teach them about Ramadan and other materials, we do communication with the ACLU sometimes. Activities, that’s what we do with all the money.
Wagner: A couple of the speakers that you had at your conference showed up in some of the research that I did. Troubling reports that had been written. Specifically, The Times Union of Albany, N.Y., reported that their, and I quote, “investigation reveals a complex history of association by Al-Hanooti with convicted terrorists and organizations that U.S. authorities believe to be fund-raising fronts for terrorist groups. And a 1995 memorandum filed in federal court by former U.S. Attorney Mary Jo White names Al-Hanooti — along with scores of others, including Osama bin Laden — as an unindicted co-conspirator in the 1993 bombing of the WTC that killed six people and injured thousands.” Al-Hanooti himself conceded to the newspapers that he was interviewed by the FBI in the bombing. How do you respond to this?
Radwan: I am not Al-Hanooti. I don’t know about that rumor. When the name was introduced to the conference, there was some dispute to get him off, but not for this reason, but because of his old age and not able to travel that much. And they said exactly what he did. “He’s going to cancel on you at the last minute,” and this is what he did, he was not here. He did not come.
Wagner: But you invited him, knowing his background?
Radwan: Yeah, we invited him. But I don’t know about that background that you’re telling me about.
Wagner: Laura Ingraham and Michelle Malkin, I guess you know are well-known conservatives. They’re on the Fox News Channel frequently. But in the Independent Conservative they reported that Dr. Esam Omeish, the president of MAS, is a “cover man” (this is what they said) to turn America into an Islamic state. How do you respond to that?
Radwan: You’ll have to ask Dr. Esam to respond to that.
Wagner: You’re the president of his chapter here.
Radwan: Yeah, I’m the president of this chapter, and I’m not aware of what you’re talking about: He wanted to change America into an Islamic state? Is America a Christian state?
Wagner: No, but it’s founded on Christian principles.
Radwan: We are in the freedom of religion country, so you need to practice your religion the way that you want to practice it. And we understand that, the law of the land, we go with the law of the land. To change America … ruling by Sharia, that never came to anyone’s mind, not even Dr. Esam. I have known him for a very short period when I saw him the last two years and I met him about 10 years ago when I was working in Washington, D.C. And he was the MSA president, the Muslim Student Association, so he was fully involved with the American society. He’s a well-respected surgeon. He’s a good man, a good American citizen. For two conservative people to go on the Fox News, that really does not concern me at all.
Wagner: What is your view of Hamas?
Radwan: View of Hamas? They can come and express their views. I’m not concerned with any other organization outside the one I’m working with. I do feel that we have enough here to work with to get involved with any other affairs at this time.
Wagner: So you don’t feel any affiliation or any sentiment with Hamas?
Radwan: We are not affiliated with any outside groups, period.
Wagner: Do you consider Hamas a terrorist organization?
Radwan: Myself, I don’t.
Wagner: You do not?
Radwan: No, I do not. Not as a MAS member, but as myself.
Wagner: How do you see them, how do you see Hamas?
Radwan: Freedom fighters, in other countries.
Wagner: Are you aware that there’s a presence of Hamas in North Carolina?
Radwan: Presence of Hamas in North Carolina…if there is, I don’t know them.
Wagner: How about Palestinian Islamic Jihad?
Radwan: They are here?
Wagner: It’s been reported by various authors, several books.
Radwan: Same names like you mentioned, the conservative people?
Wagner: No, no. Many different authors. One of those would be Harvey Kushner, professor at Long Island University. He mentioned that in one of his books. And at least two or three other books I’ve read on that subject.
Radwan: If there is, we do have the FBI office, and it is right outside my door down the street. They are my friends, and we can ask them about that.
Wagner: You are friends with the FBI?
Radwan: Yeah. We always come together and invite them to our office here and to all our activities. It’s a very open relationship.