Imam Omar Suleiman at Thanks-Giving Square, January 30, 2017. (Zac Crain)

Local News

Omar Suleiman is the Religious Leader Dallas Needs Right Now

The charismatic imam with a heart of oak is bringing people together.

In July, the day after the downtown ambush that killed five police officers, Imam Omar Suleiman stood in front of the crowd boiling under a lunchtime sun at Thanks-Giving Square and wondered: “Does it always have to be hatred that forces us to love?”

I’ve thought about that often since that day, because the answer — increasingly, it seems — is yes.

Maybe not hatred, exactly, or always, but something close enough. A lack of empathy, a selfishness. People don’t talk to each other; they talk past them, listening only for an opening to speak. I’m willing to admit I’ve done this — I do this — but I’m trying. What I’m saying is, right now, we need more uniters and far fewer dividers, and in Imam Omar Suleiman, we have a great one.

He wasn’t the only person to speak in July, sharing the microphone with Mayor Mike Rawlings, state Sen. Royce West, Rabbi David Stern from Temple Emanu-El, and others. But Suleiman is the one I remembered when I left, the one whose words stuck with me the longest.

Suleiman wasn’t the only one who spoke at a candlelight vigil, again at Thanks-Giving Square, on Monday night. Judge Clay Jenkins, several local preachers, the IRC of Dallas‘ director, Donna Duvin, and Nesreen Obaid, a refugee from Iraq, all took turns speaking. Obaid — who fled Baghdad, where she was an engineer, in 2012 — was particularly riveting.

“I believe in this country,” she said. “We have been searching for [peace] for a long long time and we still dream about this and dream we will live in peace against all the harm.”

But once more I was taken by Suleiman. “You might tell me to go back home,” he said early on, “and I would tell you, I’m from New Orleans, Louisiana, and I love it very much.”

Suleiman — who was at the protests at DFW Airport over the weekend brought on by President Trump’s executive order, and has visited Syrian refugees near the Jordanian border — could very well be consumed by anger. Maybe you think he should be. But he was composed, resolute in his stand against those who treat his brothers and sisters as the other, but determined not to be broken.

“The same dehumanization that allows us to neglect millions of people abroad,” he said, “allows us to discriminate against millions of people here at home.

“Dehumanization is to speak of Muslims only in the context of national security, rather than as people who have families, careers, and dreams just like you. I want you to look at me, and I don’t want you to look at me with pity. I want you to look at me with love and respect and to see me as your equal, as an American just like you. It is dehumanization that allows for Muslims to be spoken of as terrorists, Mexicans as rapists, black people as thugs.

“It is dehumanization that allows us to judge one another before we even hear a word out of one another’s mouths. Indeed, every form of racism and every phobia is deeply rooted in our inability to see each other as people, as human beings.”

Near the end, Suleiman put it more plainly: “Let me say to you that Donald Trump will never make me hate you. And I hope that no politician will ever make you hate me.”

Comments

  • Shazia Ahmad

    Far sighted, compassionate, and willing to build bridges instead of walls. May all our leaders follow suit.

  • mariya farooqi

    Thank you Zac Crain. Dallas has some brilliant minds!

  • JamieT

    Zac, you and Kathy will probably want to have a little chat about the concept of al-Taqiyya over a nice piece of pie.

    http://www.peaceandtolerance.org/wp-content/uploads/sites/4/2016/05/os2.jpg

    • DubiousBrother

      That quandary does not exist in the Islamic state since gays are executed and although that might seem strange and baseless to non-Muslims, it should be interpreted as an act of love.

      • Mavdog

        The Iman describes it this way:
        “Gay Muslims exist, and they are a part of our community. It depends on the mosque they are going to, whether the mosques are going to accept them or not. A lot of that has to do with how American those mosques are, how acclimated they are to the country they are in.

        The question of: can a person be a Muslim and be a homosexual? Yes. Because being a homosexual does not negate a person’s theological Islam.”

        Interesting that this sounds just like the situation in Christian churches. Clearly Muslims are not any different are they?

        • C Newman

          Yes, that specific question does sound rather like the situation in Christian churches. Though I haven’t heard much about Christian churches, even those not very “American” or those “acclimated” to the countries they are in executing gay Christians. Maybe there are some differences aren’t there?

          • Mavdog

            You missed the news about how gays have been attacked in Christian countries such as Uganda, Kenya and Seychelles? not really some differences are there?

          • DubiousBrother

            I’d say there is a difference between gays being attacked, which does happen even here in Dallas, and gays being executed by the government.

          • Mavdog

            Yes, there are governments in the world who use the state’s power to execute those they deem expendable. Our nation isn’t absent from that list as the US has executed those with intellectual disabilities, and even members of the current Administration advocate forcing gays into conversion therapy (which has led to suicide).

            The point however is not about nation/states but about the religious ideology of Islam and Christianity in regard to homosexuality, and the similarities which I pointed out.

          • C Newman

            There are differences; though willingly admit after reading through Kathy Wise’s linked information (and a bit more searching in that vein) there are more similarities on a global level than I was aware of or would like there to be in this area.

          • Kathy Wise
          • C Newman

            I had not seen that article, thanks for linking the information.

        • DubiousBrother

          You bring up a good question: if the jihadist suicide bomber is gay, are the 72 virgins male or female?

    • @zaccrain

      From this, maybe it’s not that he is lying now — that’s what al-taqiya means, right? I’m not being snarky, just trying to keep up — and more like his thinking has evolved on the issue since then:

      http://www.dallasnews.com/opinion/commentary/2016/06/16/qa-islamic-scholar-omar-suleiman-on-the-quran-and-homosexuality

      That seems more in line with what I’ve heard him speak about, at Thanks-Giving Square and in other forums recently.

      • JamieT

        The al-islam.org Shiite Encyclopedia

        https://www.al-islam.org/shiite-encyclopedia-ahlul-bayt-dilp-team/al-taqiyya-dissimulation-part-1

        provides us with a far more nuanced definition of al-Taqiyya than “lying”, that is, instead something more on the order of a situationally relative diplomatic dissimulation. Husbands asked by their wives whether those jeans makes their ass look huge understand al-Taqiyya intuitively.

        Whether or not Imam Suleiman’s personal beliefs have evolved, the teachings of his Quran have not, and he is either an imminently scholarly teacher of his own holy book, which unlike the Christian Testaments lacks a kinder, gentler New Quran in which he could hypothetically take refuge, or he is something else.

        Putting everything together, as a practical matter I myself am prone to imagine Imam Suleiman to be most like Christian President Obama and others, tailoring his views on homosexuality, gay marriage, or whatever else might prove problematic to the diplomatic political needs of the moment – fluidly evolutionary, if you will.

        A deeper, richer view of this man seems called for.

      • Kathy Wise

        Either way, Zac, I’m happy to discuss over pie.

  • OS

    Great article!

  • Sarwar C

    Thank you, Zac Crain! This is a time for us to unite against the bigotry

  • JoeBl

    With all due respect to the comments below, Mr Crain, and Kathy Wise…

    No religious “leader” like this can be a leader beyond a narrow group who already believe. The example given about homosexuality is just one example. The excuses given about depending on which mosque one attends just highlight the twist in the wind nature of the defensive postures he must take. Mr Suleiman has also refused to shake hands with women. The excuse is modesty but sorry folks this backwards tribal patriarchy that is not suitable for a modern society in 20th century let alone the 21st century.

    Look… Muslims believe the story about how Mohammad was spoken to by the angel Gabriel and thus we have the Quran. No skeptical thinker demanding evidence would believe this. It all springs from there. All people are allowed the freedom to practice religion and have beliefs both sound and ridiculous. Nonetheless, one shouldn’t expect us to accept “leadership” when the basis for that leadership relies on a framework some consider crazy even if we happen to share much of the same political view with the events at hand.

    • JimmyKhan007

      “No skeptical thinker demanding evidence would believe this.”

      Surely, they must have a reason to reject it though, right? Do you what that is?

      • JoeBl

        No. One must have a reason reasons to believe a claim true. The burden of proof is on the claimant and the listener can bring other evidence into the mix. No listener is under any obligation to believe any claim without sufficient evidence.

        I can claim that I am invisible and flapped my arms and went to the moon and back. It is up to me to provide evidence that this true or should be believed. You are under no obligation to automatically believe it.

        • Aqsa Ansari

          Muhammad (Peace be upon Him) provided many evidences.

          • JoeBl

            I don’t plan on getting into a discussion of historical methods and evidence on a comment to an opinion piece but… no… he doesn’t.

            I am sure Mr. Suleiman is a nice guy in many ways and I appreciate that he wants the best for lots of people. I agree with him that this Executive Order is over the top with no justification in reality.

            That aside, he holds religious views that I believe many many people would not merely disagree with but find detestable. Zac Crain is remiss to not point this out and then to hold him up as “the religious leader Dallas needs.” In many ways, some folks would detest his views the same way they would detest views of Jeffress from First Baptist.

  • Asim Ranginwala

    Zac, great article at a time when it’s much needed. Good job!

  • Elizabeth Dawson

    Zac Crain- thank you! I saw this man’s words in action. He demonstrates the best traits of all religions- love and compassion for our fellow man- without exception. This Catholic was proud to be with him and thousands others in defense of the defenseless.

  • Angelina Desousa

    Thank you Sheikh Suleiman for all of your hard work, dedication and passion! You are a pillar of our community and a beacon of light that gives us all hope that we can stand against injustice and prevail.

  • double D

    As a Christian man I support Omar Suleiman as he works to unify Dallas and help to make it a better place for all. He is a man of conscience who sets an example any person of faith could follow and be proud of. He is working with all people of faith Christians, Jews, and Muslims to build a better understanding that as people of faith we are all children of God. May God bless and keep him safe as he works to better Dallas and the lives of every single person who lives here. I think Omar’s own words are the best way to demonstrate what I have said here:

    “Serving others does not mean that you accept their beliefs. It means that your beliefs guide you to serve them. Serving them says nothing about their faith but everything about yours.”
    ~ Omar Suleiman

    • SeekTruth

      Beautiful quote there at the end of your post. Thanks for sharing.

  • zaiba jetpuri

    Thanka Zac for the great article!! Definately the inspiration we need these days.

  • Aardvark

    What are Mr. Suleiman’s thoughts on Sharia law?

    • @zaccrain

      Here he is in conversation with a Christian pastor discussing that very thing.

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QMIFeD7bbUI

    • JamieT

      The Qabeelat Zamzam Boston page

      http://www.zamzamboston.org/knowledge/about-us/our-teachers/sh-omar-suleiman/

      informs us

      “He has taught with Mishkah University (formerly Sharia Academy) since 2008”;

      and that he

      “Hails From:
      New Orleans, Louisiana

      Expertise:
      Tazkiya & Dawah

      Famous Quote:
      “If you have no Hayaa’a, you have no Hayaah. If you have no modesty, you have no life.”

      Most Likely to Say:
      “And this is my last point” – when it never really is

      Classroom Pet Peeve:
      Disrespect for the knowledge: that includes talking/sleeping in class and returning late after a break

      Known For:
      Being a die-hard fan of the New Orleans Saints NFL team.”

      Sheikh Suleiman’s bona fides in his own words, from his own Yaqeen Institute page:

      “Sh. Omar Suleiman
      Founder and President

      Imam Omar Suleiman is the Founder and President of the Yaqeen Institute for Islamic Research, and an Adjunct [non-tenure track] Professor of Islamic Studies in the Graduate Liberal Studies Program at SMU (Southern Methodist University). He is also the Resident Scholar at Valley Ranch Islamic Center and Co-Chair of Faith Forward Dallas at Thanks-Giving Square. He holds a Bachelors in Accounting [accreditation unknown], a Bachelors in Islamic Law [accreditation unknown], a Masters in Islamic Finance [accreditation unknown], a Masters in Political History [accreditation unknown], and is currently pursuing a Phd. in Islamic Thought and Civilization from the International Islamic University of Malaysia.”

      There is an Omar Suleiman Collection on YouTube including the popular “Hijabis Who Wear Tights” and “Slavery & Rape in Islamic Law Q&A with Omar Suleiman” among other discussions of Islamic religious law.

      While the DMN link Zac provided confesses “This Q&A was conducted, edited and condensed by Dallas Morning News editorial board member Dom DiFurio”, leaving us to necessarily wonder at the nature of its shaping, Sheikh Suleiman’s credentials and career path would indeed seem to dovetail nicely with Zac’s own aspirations for him, if not in Dallas, in some other megavenue where popular media culture commands premium exposure.

      Taking him as any sort of credentialled intellectual religious authority on Sharia Law or on any other aspect of Islam, though, would seem to me to be profoundly premature, if not just downright silly. Christianity has a proud tradition of the charismatic media preacher, and so now, it seems, does Islam.

      • @zaccrain

        He asked what Omar Suleiman thought about Sharia law. I linked to an interview with him discussing that topic. Maybe copy-and-pasting his résumé was the more logical play, there.

        Literally every Q&A that runs in any newspaper or magazine has been edited and condensed, the former usually for clarity, the latter for space.

        • JamieT

          Zac, I don’t believe I said anything about your response to Aardvark. I simply made my own.

          But since we are discussing my response, if I were holding forth pleasantly on Sharia on YouTube even I would want to know my credentials for being accepted solely on the basis of my own authority. Sheikh Suleiman’s credentials seem to me difficult to both ascertain and intelligently evaluate.

          I hadn’t heard of this person until you posted, but digging upon around now his multiple [accreditation unknown] degrees in accounting and Islamic finance, in addition to his expertise in Da‘wah (Islamic evangelism and public relations) makes much more sense: whatever else he might be to FrontBurnervians predisposed to his rhetoric, it turns out he is also a vigorous self-described Palestinian-American activist and prominent fundraiser (Gala for Gaza) for various factions in Palestine.

          His (perhaps since also evolved) position on Israel as of a year ago:

          http://religiondispatches.org/an-israeli-and-a-palestinian-american-imam-exchange-letters-on-viral-video-of-israelis-cursing-at-wounded-palestinian-teen/

          “Like apartheid South Africa in recent history, Israel must be held accountable for its crimes on an international setting. When that happens, we can continue to strive for peace on fair terms; Jews, Muslims, Christians, or anyone else, living side by side in a demonstration of peace and plurality in the Holy Land, as they did in Palestine for centuries.”

          So we, or at least I, now have a rather interesting, complex man on our hands here, something more than just the glib Muslim Mr. Rogers we began with.

          What the true depth of his knowledge of Islam is only someone with unimpeachable credentials in Islam themselves would be able to accurately ascertain, certainly not emotionally impressionable FrontBurnervians and their readers.

          He is without question a pleasant and glib public relations vehicle for Islam, when he is not blowing 180 degrees from clear anti-gay positions he took just a scant few years ago. But perhaps he was speaking to a different audience then, from his other specialty, Tazkiya (purity).

          He is not only a talented fundraiser for Palestine and its causes contra Israel, he is also, at least by his own account, opportunely degreed in the skills necessary to make monies go where he wants them to go within and between both Western and Islamic financial systems.

          So thank you for introducing me, at least, to this interesting person and his many different geopolitical talents.

          • @zaccrain

            You’re welcome.

      • T_S_

        piu la copypasta

        • JamieT

          Because I’m neither Christian, Muslim, Jewish or gay, I say more power to both Zac and the rhetorically gifted Palestinian-American bag man he’s chosen to champion as a response to President Trump’s recent immigration order.

          But I’ll always remain curious about what’s floating under the surface of the soup I’m being served.

          • SugarandGold

            I bet you’re a lot of fun at parties.

          • T_S_

            Thanks for sharing, often.

          • JamieT

            “Weaponized Empathy”

            http://thedeclination.com/how-to-defeat-weaponized-empathy/

            “What is Weaponized Empathy? It is the deliberate hijacking of your own moral standards, your ability to empathize with your fellow man, in order to force you to serve someone else’s narrative. It is, in essence, a highly sophisticated form of guilt-tripping designed to turn you into a slave.”

            While the disdain of many ordinary people for a passive-aggressive manipulation of this sort they clearly perceived being deployed upon them whether they could coin a term for it or not and were long beyond being fed up with was one of the primary factors which elected Donald Trump, including by former Obama voters and a substantial cohort of women, we have not seen the last of it by a long shot, precisely because those practicing it on their fellow Americans somehow inexplicably still see it as the crucial cure for the President Trump they got rather than just the opposite, one of the essential things which inflicted him upon them. This won’t be on the test, this is the test.

          • Mavdog

            cynicism and wit. quite an effective tool.

  • Sadaf

    So proud of this country . Dont listen to the voices of hate and suspicion . These trolls spend their time pulling each other down . They Never make anything except misery . Omar Suleiman and people like him are the pride of humanity because while trolls and Bannon disciples want to destroy the world , all they want to do is build it up .This is a beautifully written article . The vast majority of people want to get along and let other’s live in peace . Its such a shame that the empty vases and trolls seem so loud .

  • Nita Indri Hardjasoemantri Azh

    We can’t see God, but we all believe in God. The believe came in form of different religions; Islam, Christian,Jew,Budha and Hindu. Each is the rigth one for its believer. We should respect one another. All religion teach the same, to do the right things in this world and spread love. When some believers do wrongs, don’t blame the religion but blame the person. If we all think this way than no hatred should dehumanized us.

  • Irum

    Ma Sha Allah.. May Allah bestow his countless blessings and grant you with the best of rewards both here and in the eternal life ameen..

  • Beeman15

    Okay, this article should be amended.

    Suleiman works at the Al Maghrib Institute. A sorely bigoted Islamist organisation, whose founder & president Muhammad Alshareef has written papers with titles such as “Why the Jews are cursed”. A primer on their “scholars” here (http://hurryupharry.org/2016/06/12/a-dossier-on-the-almaghrib-institute/). Suleiman has praised all those people, and many other Islamists.

    Suleiman himself has called homosexuality “a repugnant shameless sin” and a “disease” (http://www.peaceandtolerance.org/wp-content/uploads/sites/4/2016/05/os2.jpg).

    He’s also advocates Sharia in Muslim majority nations, and has publicly stated “we ask Allah to allow us to witness a righteous khilafah (caliphate)”, and defended laws such as Islamic punishment for adultery, or cutting the hands off thieves.

    In his own Yaqeen Institute he has appointed various Islamists to his board (https://yaqeeninstitute.org/about-us/our-team/). Including people such as Hatem Al-Haj, who writes fatwas proscribing the Islamic punishment for apostasy as death (http://www.amjaonline.org/fatwa-1486/info)

    He also authored a “condemnation” of senior Al-Qaeda recruiter Anwar al-Awlaki, which claimed prior to 2007 been “our beloved Imam” who was “level headed”, “so beloved to our community”, who “very clearly denounced 9/11” (https://www.icna.org/icnas-shariah-council-responds-to-anwar-al-awlaki/). In reality Awlaki was placed on the federal terror watch list in 2002, and was publishing articles such as “Why Muslims love death” praising Palestinian terrorism, and condemned 9/11 … whilst also saying the FBI & Israel may have been behind it (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anwar_al-Awlaki#In_the_United_States.3B_1990.E2.80.932002).

    He pushes anti-Semitic conspiracy theories about “zionist” control over media and the US government etc, and compares Israel to ISIS (he in fact refers to them as Jewish ISIS).

    We do not need more people like this.

  • Keith Neil Smith

    This guy Suleiman is a fraud if I’ve ever seen one. Go look up his fb and twitter comments. He’s an islamic supremacist who has no place in the USA. He clearly wants to destroy Israel – at least he’s up front about that. Any criticism of Islam is “islamaphobic”in his book. I’d like to get his take off-record on homosexuals, the death penalty for leaving islam, islamic treatment of women, female genital mutilation, Israel, the meaning of jihad, etc etc etc. Guarantee you his answers would surprise quite a few people and showcase how islam is completely incompatible with the west.

    • طالب العلم

      I guarantee that his answers will surprise you Mr. Keith. He is a uniter not a divider. He never said he wants to destroy Israel. He wants to destroy oppression and he’s the real deal. He’s a beacon of light and hope, in the dead of the night, so grab on to his rope. He respects people of each and every faith. So please just stop with all the hate. Any claims that he’s a fraud are nothing but clearly flawed. Islam is not incompatible with the West. Islam teaches to respect and follow the law of the land. Islam is a religion which many misunderstand. I just want to clear the mist, and show people that true Muslims aren’t terrorist. The most faithful of people who contribute to society. The most generous of well wishers whom love humanity.
      Thank you for reading.
      Peace be upon all.

      • Beeman15

        Considering he compares Israel to the Nazis or ISIS etc, calls those who believe in their right to exist “enemies of humanity” and to “destroy the oppressors”. It’s fair to say he wants to destroy Israel.

        Suleiman is a vile bigot and a theocrat. Just as is his friend Yasir Qadhi and everyone else associated with the odious Al Maghrib Institute. Promoting those people as shining lights of a community is simply an insult to the good people of that community who aren’t anti-Semitic, homophobic, conspiratorial, theocratic bigots.