KENNEWICK — The Columbia Basin Badger Club varied from its usual spirited debate format Friday and instead offered a platform for Imam Kaleem Ullah of the Tri-Cities Islamic Center to talk about Muslims in America.
The club invited Ullah to answer the question, "Are Muslims patriotic Americans?"
"It's a very interesting question," Ullah told the audience, which overflowed the tables in a banquet room at the Kennewick Red Lion.
"The question, as it is worded is very tricky," he said. "It is a rhetorical question in nature. How can I become a patriot of America? How can a test of patriotism be engineered so we have a litmus test for everyone and say, 'Now you are patriotic and you are not patriotic?' It is a subjective question, and now I have to try to answer it objectively."
Ullah talked about his own history, and his memory of becoming an American citizen about 30 years ago. He is a native of India who also lived in Pakistan before moving to the United States at age 24.
"I took the oath, and the judge turned to us and said, 'Now you are United States citizens,' " Ullah said. "Most of you have not gone through this kind of feeling. I swore all of my allegiance. ... This is my home. This is the home of my children by birth."
When Islamic extremists turned jets into bombs on Sept. 11, 2001, Ullah said he was shocked and grief-stricken as everyone else in the country.
"Those thugs, those criminals -- they came and attacked my country," he said. "I condemned this. I condemned it before. Now you be the witness that I condemn it as the worst crime against humanity."
He said extremists do not represent Islam or the teachings of the Quran.
"These self-declared evangelists ... misused the Quran and its teachings for their own political benefit," Ullah said. "I have been teaching the Quran for years. I have never found a justification for terrorism or suicide bombings.
"The people who are doing this are misusing the scriptures. They are enemies of Islam. They don't have religion. They don't have principles. They don't have a value of life."
He said in response to an audience question that Islamic nations that oppress women also are misrepresenting the religion's tenets.
"(My wife) will be testimony to the fact that Islam gives tremendous freedom to women," Ullah said. "Probably you would be surprised. Fourteen hundred years ago, Islam made men and women equal -- socially equal, intellectually equal, in the sight of God equal. ... I really get surprised when I see the cultural treatment of women in Pakistan."
He said the only criteria God uses to judge people is the measure of their deeds, not their gender or race or ancestry.
"Who gets closer to God? ... The criteria is good deeds," he said. "Those who perform evil deeds better watch out what happens to you in the hereafter."
Ullah also was asked why American Muslims haven't been more outspoken against extremists and terrorists if they condemn their actions.
He replied that they have, but those statements are not being covered by the media.
"It's a no-win situation," he said.
w Michelle Dupler: 582-1543; firstname.lastname@example.org