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Friday, June 2, 2006

Islamic Extremist Changed to Moderate Muslim by Words of Jesus

By Mark Ellis

ASSIST News Service

LOS ANGELES (ANS) — As a medical student in Cairo he fell under the influence of one of radical Islam’s most wanted terrorist masterminds. Yet an encounter with the words of Jesus Christ completely altered his perspective—leading him to endorse a peaceful form of Islam and call for reformation of its teachings.

“I am an ex-Islamic extremist,” says Dr. Tawfik Hamid, a former member of Jamaha Islameia (JI), which is classified as a terrorist organization. As a medical student at the University of Cairo in the late ’70s he met Dr. Ayman al-Zawahiri, currently a chief lieutenant to Osama bin Laden and alleged to be one of the foremost masterminds of al-Queda attacks around the world. The U.S. Dept. of State is offering a $25 million reward for information leading to his capture.

When Dr. Hamid was in medical school, al-Zawahiri was doing post-graduate studies at the same school. “He was highly respected as a mentor for younger members of JI, including me,” Dr. Hamid notes. “He came every week to the school and I used to see him praying and giving short lectures after the prayers,” he recalls.

“His main message is that Islam—and the Islamic Sharia system—has to dominate and control the world,” Dr. Hamid notes. “He taught that Christians and Jews throughout the world should be subdued and subjugated to Islam. This is through jihad—violent forms of jihad.”

“They accept Islam as the only religion that can be practiced,” he adds.

In his first few years at medical school, Dr. Hamid was very fanatical. Yet he also harbored a few questions about the violent nature of the message he heard. “There were some remnants of conscience that told me this was wrong,” he says.

Surprisingly, it was the words of Jesus that completely altered his view of Islam. “There was a verse from the words of Jesus Christ that affected me a lot,” Dr. Hamid recalls. The life-changing verse for Dr. Hamid is Mark 8:36: “For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?”

“This verse helped me a lot and affected my way of thinking,” Dr. Hamid says. “It helped me to start to understand some Islamic verses in a totally different manner,” he says.

In the early 1980s Dr. Hamid broke away from his radical friends. “I changed my mind and decided to leave JI based on the words of Jesus Christ,” he says. As Dr. Hamid read the Bible, he began to see the Islamic texts differently. “I was softened by the words of Jesus Christ in my life and by the words of the psalms as well. It was strange, but that’s what happened.”

After this remarkable change in his perspective, he gravitated to a small sect called the ‘Quranics.’ “They didn’t believe in violent jihad,” Dr. Hamid notes. “They had some tolerance within them.” Later, Dr. Hamid began to develop his own beliefs within Islam and formed a group called ‘The people who want to live in God’s image.’

“This was a new understanding of the Islamic texts totally different from the violent form,” Dr. Hamid says. “We could pray with anyone—it was very open and liberal.”

Dr. Hamid began to speak out in his mosque against Islamic fundamentalism. On a small scale, he began to preach to his family and community. “Many people were impressed by the way I spoke, but the effect of Islamic fundamentalism was so powerful,” he recalls.

Harsh verbal attacks and threats against his life began to intensify. On one occasion when he spoke, several men ran behind him with large rocks and attempted to stone him. “There were continuous threats,” he says.

Dr. Hamid fled Egypt to Saudi Arabia , attracted by a financial opportunity. He found the conditions in Saudi Arabia , which sees itself as the custodian of Islam, even more oppressive to his views. “I kept silent for three years,” he says. “The moment they know you have a different version of Islam you can be killed. They just cut off your head after the Friday prayers.”

But after the attacks of September 11, Dr. Hamid felt compelled to argue his case publicly. “People who believe in freedom and democracy must speak out,” he maintains. “We must band together against this barbarism.”

Dr. Hamid agrees with the assessment that a smaller percentage of Muslims are more radical in their views. “About 10-15 percent or less are extremely aggressive,” Dr. Hamid notes. The problem is the radical elements manage to influence the majority of Muslims, so the majority has sympathy for their views, according to Dr. Hamid. These sympathies create “passive terrorists,” in his opinion.

“There will be a crisis is this continues,” Dr. Hamid warns. “As they become a majority in any country they will begin to implement the sharia system,” he says. “I expect civil wars in the western world.”

To counter this threat, Dr. Hamid supports military confrontation, removal of the financing of terror organizations, and ideological engagement. “There is not enough critique in the media, which makes the majority feel there is nothing wrong with their teaching,” he maintains. “There should be a major change in the teaching of Islam.”

While he supports interfaith dialogues, he also lends certain cautions. “These dialogues can’t happen unless all parties accept the basic tenets of humanity,” Dr. Hamid says. “I can’t sit next to someone in an interfaith dialogue if this person accepts killing Muslims who convert to Christianity, beating women, slavery, or declaring war on non-Muslims.”

“There is a need for reformation and a new understanding of Islam,” Dr. Hamid says. “I’m offering another way of teaching and understanding,” he says. “I want them to learn the meaning of love I learned from Jesus Christ.”