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'Our problem is not with Jewish religion...it's with the occupation' says imam

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Despite the massacres surrounding the Palestinian/Israeli conflict, a New Jersey imam is still calling for peace from both sides, and explains why Islam has been misunderstood, and why leaders amongst the conflict have lost sight of their religious convictions all together.

Imam Mohammad Qatanani is known for his interfaith relations amongst various faiths. As prayer leader and Islamic scholar at the Islamic Center of Passaic County in Paterson NJ, he explains why being an interfaith Muslim is an issue of importance.

God said in the Quran, 'O mankind, We created you from one father and one mother [Adam and Eve]; and We made you nations and tribes to know each other.' So knowing each other, understanding each other, working with each other, cooperating with each other for the goodness of humanity for our communities, I believe it is very important, [and] it is one of the obligations on our shoulders all."

Considered a moderate Muslim as opposed to groups who claim Islam through radicalism, Qatanani is also aware of the opposition that interfaith clergy face from those who can't seem to separate a religious view from all people being of one human race. Even still, he has observed that most people today favor interfaith dialogue in contrast to the past.

Most of the people, they believe that this is one of the obligations on all of us. We live in the same neighborhoods. We live in the same cities, counties, country; we even live in the same world. This planet is the planet of all humanity living side by side all together as one family."

Not only is Qatanani known for his leadership and Islamic scholarship, he has also made headlines concerning a controversial trial to which he was exonerated. According to NJ.COM, the imam faced deportation in 2008 from the United States government on speculations that he was aiding Hamas, who are currently part of the Palestinian government and seen as a terrorist group by the United States and Israel.

According to the NY Times, although Qatanani admitted to belonging to the Muslim Brotherhood, a group concerned with democracy, freedom and Islamic studies, he said he was never a part of Hamas nor convicted of a crime. Instead, he was detained by Israel in his native Palestinian country as part of a routine round up in order to catch terrorists before he arrivied in the United States.

His trial spawned a number of supporters including members from different religious communities. Both rabbis and priests showed their support for Qatanani to which an immigration judge found no evidence from Israeli documents that proved the imam was convicted of a crime or aligned with a terrorist group.

The idea of all Muslims being terrorists has been an issue since the acts of 9/11, however, Qatanani not only cites Islamic misunderstandings as the cause, but translations of the Quran itself have made it difficult to understand passages as well, especially for non-Muslims. "The Quran is 6,236 verses. Any Muslim that understands Islam, he has to read it as one book; not to take one verse from here or there and build on it views and thoughts."

One example is Surah 3:28 that translates in English that a Muslim should never take disbelievers of Islam as friends, and that Allah approves this. Qatanani explains, "The translation 'friends' is 100% incorrect...it is a horrible translation." He argues instead that the word means 'support' and in context with the verse, teaches Muslims not to support a disbeliever who initiates contention with them. The word Jihad was also explained by the imam as being misunderstood.

Jihad in Islam means striving or struggling...God used the word Jihad many times; and by the way, it is used also for non-Muslims...We believe that the prophet [peace be upon him] taught us that when you work to bring money for your family, you make Jihad...To stand up for the truth and for righteousness and to protest for goodness, is also Jihad."

In fact, this is what Qatanani believes his native Palestinians must do peacefully in the face of its conflict with Israel. He rejects the idea that religion should even be considered as a factor of the fighting plaguing that section of the Middle East.

We believe that our problem is not with Jewish religion; our problem is with the occupation, with the aggression and oppression against Palestinians. I ask and encourage all clergy and religious leaders to stand up for justice and righteousness...I ask every rabbi, every priest, every reverend, to stand up for justice."

He calls on all leaderships whether they be religious or secular governments to stand firm on what he calls an unacceptable situation to where many innocent people including children have been caught in the crossfire amounting to casualties. "[The] Jewish baby, is equal to [the] Palestinian baby, is equal to [the] Christian baby, is equal to [the] Buddhist baby. They are created by God and we have to protect them all."

Qatanani believes that those responsible for such acts will answer to God and that God alone can and will judge mankind, not men. The imam even takes a jab at Adolf Hitler saying that he will also stand in judgment on the last day for what he did to the Jews of Europe. The last day is when Qatanani believes that all hatred and violence will be put to an end as many Jews and Christians believe as well.

"We believe that this world is a test. We are tested for two things; for believing in one God, on the faiths, and we are tested about the actions towards each other...Men, women, even the children...Muslims and non-Muslims, Christians and Jews...We believe that here in this life we can't judge each other, this world is not for judgment...In the judgment day everything will be settled.'

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