Fringes of Islam on display in Washington
By Anwar Iqbal
UPI South Asian Affairs Analyst
WASHINGTON, Nov. 30 (UPI) -- Washington's Islamic Center
had a big gathering Friday as the Muslim fasting month
of Ramadan neared its Dec. 6 conclusion. Several
thousand worshippers from the greater Washington area
got together for the Jumatul Wida, or the farewell
prayers, always a big occasion for Muslims.
But outside the mosque, on the pavement of Massachusetts
Ave., a main city thoroughfare, a smaller group of about
50 men and 10 women prayed separately.
Inside the mosque, politics was taboo. Outside, it was
The smaller congregation was responding to a call, given
by Iran's Ayatollah Khomeini almost 20 years ago: to
celebrate Ramadan's last Friday as the day of solidarity
with the Palestinians. On this day, protest meetings are
held throughout the Islamic world.
Although called to express solidarity with the
Palestinians, the imam of the smaller congregation
outside the mosque covered almost every subject
concerning the Muslims, from the Palestinian Authority
As expected, a part of his speech focused on Israel and
its actions against the Palestinians but most of his ire
was directed against Saudi Arabia, a country condemned
as a "corrupt American stooge" by this imam and other
pro-Iranian clerics across the world.
His message was clear: "unless we cleanse the holy
mosque in Mecca of corrupt Saudi influences, there can
be no peace in the Islamic world."
He also strongly condemned those Muslim governments who
favor an American military offensive against Baghdad "in
return for a few favors from Washington." Although Iran
fought a 10-year war with Iraq, it is opposed to the
U.S. military action against its Muslim neighbor.
But no sympathy was expressed for the Taliban or al
Qaida. Again because Iran never liked the Taliban or al
Qaida. Yet there was veiled criticism of the Pakistani
government for providing military bases to U.S. forces
for operations inside Afghanistan.
Inside the mosque, several thousand people listened
quietly as the imam explained to them the importance of
Ramadan "as a special month for fasting and prayers."
A large part of his speech was about the Islamic
practice of giving money to the poor during Ramadan.
During Ramadan, Muslims are also supposed to seek those
who may need help but are ashamed of asking, as they do
not want to be considered among the beggars. And then
there's fitrana, a fixed amount of money they have to
give to the poor before the Eid prayers when Ramadan
"While giving charity, make sure that you are giving it
to the right people," said the imam. "Remember, the
Koran urges you to give to those you know, so that your
money is rightly used. Your charity should be used for
helping the poor, for making life easy for the
suffering, for providing medicines for those who are ill
and for students to seek knowledge."
Although the Islamic Center is administered by the
Saudis who have forbidden politics inside the mosque,
some worshippers saw a streak of politics in the imam's
speech as well.
A recent FBI report revealed some charity given to a
woman by the wife of the Saudi ambassador in Washington
might have been used to pay the rent for two of the
hijackers responsible for the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks
in the United States.
Since then, U.S. officials have been urging the Saudis
to check before giving alms and to make sure the
donation is not used for political purposes.
"Perhaps, that's why the imam is also warning his
congregation to be careful," observed one worshipper.
Other than this veiled reference, there's no mention of
politics in the mosque. None of the issues facing the
Islamic world today was discussed. There's no reference
to the Arab-Israeli conflict, the war in Afghanistan or
the impending war against Iraq.
And this has always been the Saudi strategy: keep
politics out of the mosque. Some say this works. But
others insist it does not work. They argue that had this
been effective, the al Qaida network would not have been
led by a Saudi, most of the hijackers would not have
come from Saudi Arabia and Saudi nationals would not
have been involved in radical Islamic movements across
Instead of a total ban on politics, they urge the Muslim
governments to encourage imams to approach issues
bothering the Muslims in the right way. For instance,
they argue, instead of ignoring the Arab-Israeli
conflict, the Imams could speak on the need to resolve
the issue peacefully, showing their congregation how
suicide bombings and terrorist attacks were harming
Muslim causes across the globe.