Interview with Safi Kaskas: Islam, Peace, and Violence

I recently sat down with Safi Kaskas to discuss Islam, Peace, and Violence. We had an inspiring conversation, which you can watch below. Safi is an American Muslim strategic management executive with a wealth of knowledge about Islam. As a co-founder of East-West University in Chicago, he’s a big proponent of education. Safi travels the globe to deliver talks about Islam in the modern world. He has spoken multiple times at the U.S. National Prayer Breakfast and serves on the board of the peacemaking organization Bridges to Common Ground.

Safi has translated the Qur’an twice. His first translation is called The Qur’an: A Contemporary Understanding. His second translation, written with a Christian friend, is called The Qur’an – with References to the Bible: A Contemporary Understanding. This is the first translation of the Qur’an that has references to the Bible. Interestingly, Safi found 3,000 biblical references in the Qur’an.

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Show Notes with Safi Kaskas

Praying the Sunset Prayer

Just before the interview began, Safi prayed the Sunset Prayer. It was 6:00 pm in Saudi Arabia. Safi describes ablution –  wash his face, arms, and neck – before the prayer.

Safi’s Mission

Safi’s mission is not to spread Islam, but to spread reconciliation. If someone wants to follow the example of Muhammad, that’s fine. But conversion is not important for Safi. That’s between individuals and the Creator. That’s the freedom we have to choose. The Qur’an forbids forced conversion. The essence of the Qur’an is freedom.

What About Islam Inspires You?

Safi is not inspired by a particular message. He’s inspired by his Creator. The message guides us to the best way to be a good servant. The Creator gives us consciousness to think, reason, and realize he is there. We will either choose to worship him, or not to worship him. The problem is that if I don’t worship him, we will worship ourselves.

The essential message of the Qur’an is the same as in the Torah and throughout the Bible and Abrahamic religions. The main theme is that either we please the Creator by serving others, or we serve our own ego by stepping upon and abusing others, not serving them. The Qur’an, Jesus, the Torah all teach that if we want to serve God we need to serve others.

How Not to Be a Victim

Serving others is how Safi chooses not to be a victim to those who hate or disparage Islam. He doesn’t let them scapegoat him because the Creator is much bigger. To know that we have a purpose on earth, which is not to be a victim, but to serve points us to a higher purpose. For Safi, that higher purpose is attempting to bring peace to conflict.

The Arabs scapegoat what they perceive as enemies. We like to blame the other. But in the US, that’s not going to solve problems. If we fall into that game, some may feel relieved by defeating a perceived enemy, but the problem will still be there. That problem is that they don’t actually believe in the Constitution of the United States. If they really want to be Americans, they have to know that citizenship is not easy. We have to live up to the Constitution.

Safi chose to be in the United States and be an American because we have what people desire. We have a great Constitution and freedom. People die throughout the world because they don’t have the freedoms we have in the United States. So many people throughout the world don’t have that freedom.

On the Election

Whether or not our candidate wins, we must accept the results. There’s no sense in crying over the results. This is democracy. If I don’t agree with a particular candidate, we need to work harder for the next election. The United States, in all of our diversity, needs to unify.

The Constitution and Sharia

Sharia is nothing we need to worry about. First, Muslims are no more than 1% of the population. That percent cannot force its will over 99%. But, more important, Sharia isn’t implemented anywhere. Sharia is how a Muslims lives their lives. Sharia is how individuals get closer to God. Sharia is not in the Qur’an, it’s not part of the Sunna. It came later on by a scholar who tried to help Muslims live their lives closer to God. Sharia is time and place sensitive. Any Muslim that doesn’t know that Sharia is time and place sensitive, doesn’t know what Sharia is. The only thing that is not time and space sensitive, the only thing that is forever, is God. Everything else changes. The teachings in the Qur’an are time and place sensitive.

Muslims in America

Muslims are doctors, lawyers, engineers, teachers, businessmen – they are in every field. When Safi came to the US, he didn’t have much money, but he worked hard and was welcomed by his neighbors. Safi became successful in business because his neighbors welcomed him. Nobody was scared of him. They opened their homes and churches to him. If it wasn’t for the love of neighbors, he wouldn’t have made it.

Questions in the Chat Room

What is the Difference Between Sunni and Shia?

Some say Islam isn’t a Religion But a Political Movement Seeking Domination…

When the Prophet Muhammad was alive, he was invited by the people in Yathrib/Medina to lead them. When Muhammad died, he did not have a successor. Some thought his son in law, Ali, should be their new leader, others thought someone else should lead. Ali wasn’t the successor until the fourth successor was named. From then on, there was a split in Islam between the Sunnis and Shia. The Shia became an underground movement and created an ideology that only a decendent of the Prophet should be the leader. From then on, Islam became an empire. They went to conquer other places. But the Qur’an insists that we aren’t allowed to fight unless in the case of self-defense.

Iran became a Shia state and is in rivalry with many other states. Both sides believe in the oneness of God, they believe in the Qur’an, and they believe Muhammad is his messenger. Their issues aren’t religious, they are political.

Adam stated that its a projection when Americans accuse Islam of trying to take over the world, since we are the ones who have military bases all over the world.

Safi said that when Muslims seek an empire, they lose their spirituality. It becomes political.

The Word “Islam”

In his translations, Safi says Islam shouldn’t be translated as a noun. It should be a verb. The Qur’an teaches that the only religion acceptable to God is Islam. It that’s a noun, then its exclusive. But if you translate it as the first Muslims hear it, it wasn’t about identifying one religion over another. It meant those who submit to God. Whatever religion you are, if you believe in one God, Safi considers you a Muslim – one who submits to God and serves others.

Islam and Violence

The Qur’an urges Muslims to fight only in self-defense. Islam even started as a nonviolent movement for 13 years. His followers were killed and excluded. At that time they did not have permission to fight back. They were called to be patient. Muhammad sent many Muslims to a Christian king to live peacefully in his kingdom.

Muhammad was asked to go to Yathrib/Medina to lead the state. The Meccans continue to chase him in Medina. Muhammad had to run a state. This is when fighting was allowed, but only in defense. Permission to fight is granted only to the oppressed. Whenever people criticize the Qur’an for being violent, they take the verses out of context. They omit the ending of those verses, which always end with a phrase “If they cease hostilities, you must cease hostilities” and “If they ask for peace, you must give them peace.”

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