Prof. Imam Soharwardy is the founder of Muslims Against Terrorism (MAT). He founded MAT in Calgary in January 1998. He is also the founder of Islamic Supreme Council of Canada (ISCC).
Imam Soharwardy is the founder of the first ever Dar-ul-Aloom in Calgary, Alberta where he teaches Islamic studies. Prof. Soharwardy is the Head Imam at the Al Madinah Calgary Islamic Centre. Imam Soharwardy is a strong advocate of Islamic Tasawuf (Sufism). and believes that the world will be a better place for everyone if we follow what the Prophet of Islam, Muhammad (Peace be upon him) has said, ” You will not have faith unless you like for others what you like for yourself.” He believes that spiritual weakness in humans causes all kinds of problems.
Scott Douglas Jacobsen: How did your family come to Islam? What was its impact on your own personal development?
Prof. Imam B. Syed Soharwardy: I was born and raised in Karachi, Pakistan. My father was a famous scholar and Imam in Pakistan. Millions of Pakistanis knew him personally. He passed away in 2001. He established a religious institution in Karachi, where he was the principal.
This is our family tradition. that we always send our children to religious schools. Once they graduate, they start the religious education. I went to this Madrassah. I learned my Islamic studies: the Quran, the Hadith, Arabic language, and so on, and the Islamic sciences and jurisprudence.
I also graduated from the University of Karachi with a bachelor of arts degree. Then I got another degree in religious studies. I started studying as the assistant imam at 17-years-old in the mosque, where my father was the head imam. I was an assistant imam for him.
I was, at that time, studying myself in grade 10. Afterwards, after I finished the religious degree, I went to my engineering education. I graduated in electrical engineering from the University of Karachi. I came to the U.S. for my education.
I got my masters degree in industrial engineering management from New Jersey. I got another masters degree in project management.
Jacobsen: You founded the Supreme Islamic Council of Canada and Muslims Against Terrorism. What was the inspiration for founding them? What tasks and responsibilities do you do with those positions?
Soharwardy: I established the Muslims Against Terrorism in 1998. I was inspired by the media about some American tourists in Malaysia. A group from the southern Philippines called themselves Muslims and kidnapped them in Malaysia.
There were already some news items about some Muslim groups saying bad things about Jews and Christians and gays in America and elsewhere. I know Islam. But when I heard the news, I don’t care if Christian, gay, atheist, or whatever.
You don’t kidnap people. So, when I heard this news, I thought, “Nope, not anymore.” So, I established it. I wanted to establish it for a long time. When I heard about the kidnapping and then asking for ransom by ‘Muslims’, I decided to found it. I did that, way before 2001.
After the tragedy on September 11, this Muslims Against Terrorism got spread out more than 23 Muslim/non-Muslim countries including Australia, UK, and so on, like wildfire it spread after the tragedy of 9/11.
The Islamic Supreme Court of Canada, I established The Islamic Supreme Court of Canada in the year 2000, before 9/11. The Muslims Against Terrorism not on religious grounds, but on humanitarian grounds. It had some flavor of Islam in it.
I wanted to reach out to non-Muslims and include them in this organization and sending the message of unity. That we human beings are together. That Muslims are leading this organization and showing we can live in peace with other human beings.
It was founded on anti-violence, anti-extremism, anti-terrorism, and with Muslims and non-Muslims working together. When all of this extremism was still rising, especially Taliban, it started creating atrocities. I saw those pictures on TV when Taliban was hitting a woman because she was wearing white socks.
That news item disturbed me, bothered me, so much. These people were committing those crimes in the name of Islam. I decided to create a channel to reach out to the Muslim community here and explain to them that what the Taliban are doing in 2000 here is absolutely horrible, criminal, un-Islamic and a sinful activity.
That was why the Islamic Supreme Council of Canada was a purely Muslim organization, to reach out to Muslims across Canada and through Canada, of course, to other parts of the world and to explain that these fanaticism and extremism and hatred towards women, Jews, and non-Muslims are not Islamic in any way, shape, or form.
It has not been endorsed by any Islamic scholar. Muslims have never done this the same as Al-Qaeda was trying to do in 2000. We are trying to focus on Muslim community with the Islamic Supreme Council of Canada while Muslims Against Terrorism had a focus on everybody together as human beings.
Jacobsen: What would be your one message for those concerned about loved ones who may be engaging in anti-social activities that could potentially lead to small tragedies such as murders from which they claim religious grounds for those murders – often these are men?
Soharwardy: My message to those people. Since 1998, almost 20 years now, my message is to those committing those crimes in the name of my faith, Islam. They are dead wrong! I invite them to talk.
I will explain to them that in Islam there is no room for violence, hate, or misogyny, and intolerance for any other group of people who disagree with Islam.
Yes, Islam disagrees with Christians, Jews, Sikhs, atheists, and Hindus, and generally, those other groups disagree with Islam. It has the beauty that we different people with different beliefs. It does not mean we should hate or hurt each other.
People misinterpret the Quran and think they shouldn’t make Jews and Christians friends. It is not a mainstream Islamic interpretation. It is a narrow misguided radicalized interpretation of Muslim scripture as in the Quran and the teachings of Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him.
I was born and raised in a very, very highly religious family in Pakistan. I am not saying these things because I am in Canada. I was taught the same beliefs. My father taught me the same beliefs. We cannot kill civilians.
We cannot be hateful to any part of society. We can have a difference of opinion. Yes, we can strongly disagree. Yes, we can go against something that is strongly against our belief system.
But we should reach out to human beings and convey the message of Islam. Islam doesn’t condone violence against any person, except when you are attacked then you have the right to defend yourself.
In defense, yes, there is not an organization or group that can call Jihad. Jihad is a noble cause. Jihad and terrorism are different beliefs or traditions, or actions. Jihad has certain ethics. You cannot kill women and children. You cannot defy places of worship of any religion.
Now, these terrorists are killing women and children, which is not the fundamental value of Islam. The fundamental value is the sanctity of life and the freedom of all humanity.
Jacobsen: Thank you for the opportunity and your time, Imam Soharwardy.