The Muslims We Never Hear About

Jerry Coffee
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Wednesday - August 24, 2005
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Hakim Ouansafi grew up in a Morocco, an open and easy society where children of various races played and attended school together with little thought of their differences, even Arabs and Jews. When he was 21, fate brought him to America to attend college in Rhode Island, meet and marry his wife, a Vermonter, and proudly become an American citizen. Then, nine years ago, he came to Hawaii.

Hakim is a striking man: bronze complexion, close-shaven hair and dark eyes — their intensity balanced by his easy, softspoken style. Now 42, he is the president and CEO of Diamond Hotels and Resorts, very much a “working CEO” I might add, as was apparent from the unpretentiousness of his “down-to-business” office on the top floor of Waikiki’s Ohana Surf Hotel. Now a father of three locally adopted siblings and traveling frequently on business, he keeps a lot of balls in the air. One of those balls is the presidency of the Muslim Association of Hawaii.

Over coffee, he told me there are 8 million Muslims in America, and around 3,500 in Hawaii. “I would say they are completely integrated into the community; certainly in business and the military. Muslims are in the Army Reserve and the National Guard, and several from Hawaii are fighting in Afghanistan or Iraq right now. American Muslims are very much aware of the sacrifices American military people have made to save other Muslims, in Kuwait and in Bosnia, and most recently in the tsunami relief mission in the Muslim countries of South Asia.

He continued, “You know, you are the first media person to have ever called me for an interview about Hawaii’s Muslim community in general. Apparently, no one else has been interested. People say moderate Muslims should speak out against terrorism more, but we do. We publicly condemn it, in the strongest possible terms, every single Satanic terrorist act as we hear of it. But people aren’t hearing us.”

I expressed surprise that no one else had requested an interview given the fact that America is at war with fundamentalist Islamic terrorists. I would have thought there would be more media interest in the Muslims among us. Hakim smiled. I had given him the perfect opportunity. “The phrase ‘Islamic terrorist’ is an oxymoron. Nothing could be farther from the true spirit of Islam than the killing of innocents. The Prophet (Muhammad) tells us that to kill one innocent is the same as killing all innocents, and to save one innocent is to save all innocents. The Qur’an, contrary to the terrorists’ interpretation, teaches there is absolutely never, not even the slightest, justification in taking innocent life.”

When asked if he equally condemns Palestinian terror against Jews, he hesitated slightly.

“The Palestinians have had great difficulties, but yes, nothing justifies the random killing of innocents by blowing up a bus.”

Hakim favors the airlines’ plan to use personal information to prescreen frequent flyers to facilitate security checks so long as it applies to everyone equally. As for racial profiling, “It’s already being done! As often as I return through Honolulu Airport, I am still singled out because of my name. Recently my U.S. passport was slipped into a little red jacket by an Immigration official and I was escorted to another room for more questions. I wasn’t even allowed to call my wife who was circling the airport to pick me up. Not until the FBI was called and I was ‘OK’d’ — as usual — was I allowed to proceed. And I am an American citizen! By choice! I am proud of my American passport. I am proud to do my civic duty. I have briefed our soldiers at Schoefield on Muslim and Middle Eastern culture to help them in their duties. I have worked with our local FBI in fighting the evil that takes innocent life. I love my country!

“You know, most American Muslims love their country,” he continued. “In fact, we could do tremendous good with 50 of us — one from each state — to tour the Middle East, telling our fellow Muslims how good America really is and why we choose to be U.S. citizens. In fact, you know the best thing about America? The Constitution! I was not in favor of going into Iraq, but now that we are there, the new Constitution is the key to success.”

I mentioned to Hakim my own trip to Guantanamo Bay two years ago. “If you had the chance, would you be willing to go to Guantanamo, survey the operation there, talk to the detained Muslim combatants to confirm the nature of their conditions and treatment, and report your observations objectively to your fellow Arabs in the Middle East?

“Absolutely, in a second!” Now I began to understand why Hakim’s and his association’s condemnations of Satanic terrorism seem futile, that “people aren’t hearing us,” as he put it. Or why in the four years following 9-11-01, no mainstream journalists had requested an interview with him, a leader of Hawaii’s Muslim community. Simple! Our media tends to focus upon conflict, violence and fear. Patriotism, doing one’s “civic duty,” and condemning evil just don’t get a lot of ink.

“Hakim, any parting thoughts?”

“Islam teaches us to enjoy what’s right and to fight what’s wrong!”

Hardly headline news, but it should be!

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