An In-Depth Look at Islam: The Realities and the Rhetoric
Aired October 13, 2001 - 23:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
ANNOUNCER: It is America's fastest-growing religion.
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UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: My understanding of my world, my understanding of myself and my relationship with God is formatted by Islam.
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UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Islam is unique, because really, it's not a religion. It's a way of life.
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ANNOUNCER: But how can Islam be used to justify both peace and war?
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UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So what he does, then, is hijack Islamic teaching to legitimate a jihad.
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ANNOUNCER: For Muslims worldwide, a struggle to defend their faith from fanatics and ignorance.
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UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Being stopped in airports because of our look, because of our names, because of the way that we dress, I think speaks volumes.
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ANNOUNCER: An in-depth look at Islam -- the realities and the rhetoric.
CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Welcome to CNN PRESENTS. I'm Christiane Amanpour. They are images that will probably forever be etched in our minds -- the World Trade Center, the Pentagon, thousands of people buried in the wreckage.
The suspected mastermind behind those grotesque acts, Osama bin Laden, is an extremist who thinks he can rid the Muslim world of America's presence, American influence.
The magnitude of this hatred and fanaticism now has most of the world, especially the West, asking what kind of Islam is this? How can a religion of peace have been so distorted?
For despite the militants' claims, nothing in the Koran, the Islamic holy book, justifies this kind of crime against humanity.
AMANPOUR (voice-over): It's 2 o'clock, and the faithful heed the call to Friday prayers. This is the oldest mosque in the city of Atlanta. Among the hundreds attending prayers here is Nadira Sabiya (ph).
NADIRA SABIYA, JOURNALIST: I have always been a Muslim. My understanding of my world, my understanding of myself and my relationship with God is formatted by Islam.
AMANPOUR: Plemon El-Amin is the mosque's religious leader.
IMAM PLEMON EL-AMIN, AL-FAROOQ MASJID MOSQUE, ATLANTA, GEORGIA: Islam is unique, because really it's not a religion. It's a way of life.
We pray five times a day. We have fasting going for 30 days during the daylight hours of Ramadan. It's a faith that involves our whole waking hours.
And even when we go to sleep, we go to sleep with the name of God. When we wake up, we are thinking on God, or we should be.
SABIYA: What I'm thinking when I first go to Jumuah, to prayers, is I need to relax. I may write in my journal if I get there early enough, so then I can concentrate on the people around me and on what the imam is saying.
IMAM HATIEM: The world will never be the same again, brothers and sisters.
AMANPOUR: Today, Imam Hatiem (ph) condemns the terrorist attacks on America.
HATIEM: I can't even use my imagination to do anything like this. To get inside of the cockpit, just ground the plane inside of a building. Can you imagine what kind of mind that is?
This cannot be a human being.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Right, right.
HATIEM: It was not Islam. I want to mention that to you. And is no way, no form or fashion identified with Islam.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No...
HATIEM: That, that happened in New York was not Islam!
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Right...
AMANPOUR: This is Islam. Fair, dark and every color in between. Different nationalities, different cultures -- Asian, Arab, African, Americans, Europeans -- all Muslims.
SABIYA: The face of Islam is so multi-faceted, so multi- cultural, so multi-ethnic. There is no one face.
AMANPOUR: There are more than one billion Muslims in the world, seven million of them in the United States.
SABIYA: I'm a journalist. This story is happening in my country, in my home town and my community.
You want this to go in terrorism or metro?
AMANPOUR: Sabiya (ph) is a writer for Atlanta's newspaper.
SABIYA: The images that we see of Muslims tend to be extremely aggressive. And you have, like, this Klingon image going.
The only thing we've heard are women are oppressed and, you know, their men beat them and, you know, they all have like 100 wives, and all this other stuff.
And they're all suicide bombers.
AMANPOUR: There are many stereotypes that tarnish all Moslems -- for women, wearing traditional scarves.
SABIYA: One of the misconceptions is that women who do dress in hijab are itching to take it off, or itching to put on the stiletto heels and the miniskirt and tease their hair out to wherever.
One, you can do that in your house as much as you want with your husband, or your friend -- or your family.
Two -- everybody really doesn't define their femininity by stiletto heels and miniskirts.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You think this here works?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Madji (ph) said they also have...
SABIYA: It looks cute. UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: ... that black...
AMANPOUR: For some, modest dress is part of a code of personal behavior, a code that includes no sex before marriage, no alcohol, no drugs, no gambling.
These are hard choices in a free society like America.
EL-AMIN: But that's the challenge of faith. There is no morality if there's not choice. If there's no choice, if there's no choice between right and wrong, then you can't say I'm a model person.
AMANPOUR: The month after the terrorists struck New York and Washington, Muslims all over the world say that it's time, now, to set the record straight.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It is an opportunity where Americans, I think, can seize this moment to learn the truth about Islam.
We'll have to change the mindset of America. We have to change the mindset where they understand what Islam is. I mean, what Islam teaches.
AMANPOUR: Islam first took root in the arid soil of ancient Arabia. The very word Islam is related to the Arabic word for peace. It means surrender -- the act of submitting one's entire being to God in order to achieve peace.
EL-AMIN: If people could just hear the meanings behind these words, then they would see that this is not very different from being a good Christian. This is not very different from being a good, a good Jew.
AMANPOUR: Trade was flourishing on the Arabian Peninsula in the early seventh century. While the Jews and Christians they bartered with worshipped one God, Arabs at the time honored an array of tribal gods.
Around the year 610, a merchant from Mecca named Mohammed Ibn Abdullah, had an experience that would change his life, and change the world.
JOHN ESPOSITO, GEORGETOWN UNIVERSITY: He was a man who had a prosperous life as a businessman and -- but was a man who was questioning, and the tradition tells us, was a man who was going through a bit of a kind of personal crisis, as many do in terms of, you know, what's life about? You know, what am I doing?
And Mohammed, in one of these moments, heard a voice. And the voice said, recite.
AMANPOUR: The result, according to Islam, a message from God dictated in Arabic that would eventually become their holy scripture -- the Koran, literally, the recitation.
ESPOSITO: That Muslims do believe that this is the literal word of God, that every word in this book comes directly, as it were, from God.
But, because it's the literal word of God does not mean that it is a literalist interpretation all of the time.
AMANPOUR: That word, and the religion that sprung from it, spread across three continents over the centuries that followed.
At the time, the Islamic world was an oasis of civilization and learning.
ESPOSITO: During the Dark Ages, they became the builders and the purveyors of civilization and culture. And after that, passed that on to the West, whether it was philosophy, algebra, geometry, medicine, the sciences, the arts, architecture.
And this is part of the kind of memory, politically and culturally, of many Muslims.
AMANPOUR: But in the early years, the spread of Islam was also violent and bloody.
KAREN ARMSTRONG, AUTHOR, "ISLAM: A SHORT HISTORY": The Prophet, himself, he had to fight wars, because he was himself, was under attack by the very powerful city of Mecca, who threatened to exterminate him.
But the moment he realized the time, the tide had changed in his favor, he abandoned violence completely and achieved final victory by an ingenious policy of nonviolence.
AMANPOUR: And what does the Koran itself say about violence? Like the Bible, it's a book of both compassion and vengeance.
For example, one verse says, slay the idolaters wherever you find them, and take them captive and besiege them, and lie in wait for them in every ambush.
ARMSTRONG: Since the Koran was coming into being during a period of deadly, dangerous, frightening war, occasionally the Koran does have to give directives about how this war is go be conducted.
The Koran makes it clear that war is always evil, and awesome evil. And killing is always wrong.
AMANPOUR: The Koran also teaches tolerance of other religions. It includes some of the same teachings as Abraham, Moses and Jesus, a belief in one God, the creator -- in this case, Allah.
ESPOSITO: For example, Jesus is seen as a great prophet. The Virgin Mary is mentioned more in the Koran than in the New Testament.
AMANPOUR: The Koran also says there should be no coercion of religion.
ESPOSITO: Islam, officially from the beginning, both the Koran and Islamic law, accepted that Jews and Christians, for example, were people of God, that they had prophets and revelation.
AMANPOUR: Some Islamic countries today force women to wear the veil, and treat them like second-class citizens. But that was never intended in the verses of the Koran.
ARMSTRONG: There is nothing in the Koran about all women having to be veiled or secluded in harems in separate parts of the house. And that came in two or three generations after the Prophet.
The Koran actually has a very positive message for women. The Koran gives women rights of inheritance and divorce that we in the West wouldn't have until the nineteenth century.
AMANPOUR: The Islamic tradition is upheld by five pillars of faith, the essential religious practices established by the Prophet Mohammed.
ESPOSITO: The first pillar of Islam -- and in fact, it is the very confession or profession of faith. If you are a Muslim, you say it to profess your faith. There is no god but God, and Mohammed is the Messenger of God.
AMANPOUR: The other pillars of faith -- fasting during the month of Ramadan, a charitable tax to provide for the needy, and praying five times a day.
Communal prayers are led by a person who knows the Koran, chosen by the congregation.
ESPOSITO: In Islam, you have religious leaders and you have religious scholars. And they're all entitled to their interpretation. And so, there is no single, official person.
AMANPOUR: The fifth pillar asks all Muslims who are able to make a pilgrimage to the holy city of Mecca at least once in their lives.
Every year, about two million people from every corner of the globe converge there for the annual pilgrimage known as the Hajj. They dress in a toga-like cloth that strips away class distinctions.
The huge crowd circles around an ancient shrine, as a sign of being part of a community with God at its center.
To these five pillars of Islam, some Muslims add their own -- jihad. But the primary meaning of that word is not holy war, but struggle.
ESPOSITO: Its basic and primary meaning means the struggle to lead a good, moral life as a believer. You know, just as in Christianity and Judaism, there is a notion that to follow God's will is difficult. That's the primary meaning Islam.
And the obligation of a Muslim is in fact to strive to realize God's will.
(END VIDEOTAPE) AMANPOUR: When we come back, the internal struggle in Islam, how a vocal minority have turned it into a powerful political tool.
AMANPOUR (voice-over): For a vast majority of Muslims, the terrorist attacks against the United States were an offense against the teachings of Islam.
Muslim experts and religious leaders are quick to point out, the Koran is filled with verses denouncing aggression.
And yet militants prefer to manipulate the holy book's more fiery references -- a conflict of purpose that's apparent in the interpretation of just one word.
When terrorists struck at the heart of America on September 11th, the word jihad entered our everyday conversation. Yet it's a term that is poorly understood.
ARMSTRONG: The word jihad does not mean holy war. It means to struggle. It means effort.
And Muslims are very concerned that it is always going to be a struggle to put God's will into practice in a flawed and tragic world.
AMANPOUR: But militants have defined that struggle their own way, misusing it to justify acts of terror.
ESPOSITO: Yes, you as an individual or your community, the Muslim community, or Islam itself is under attack, under siege, is threatened.
Then, your struggle now, is not simply the moral or the intellectual struggle to understand the faith and follow it. It becomes a struggle to defend the faith.
And it's not just that it is an option. It is that it is your duty. In that context, then, jihad becomes the legitimate use of violence. It becomes the legitimating of armed struggle.
AMANPOUR: But in the Koran, the only permissible war is one of self-defense.
ARMSTRONG: There is no sense in which a Muslim can ever initiate hostilities. But, sometimes, if -- it is necessary to fight, if you feel that decent values are being threatened.
AMANPOUR: But the militant, some would even say, the fanatical reading of jihad resonates with a radical minority of Muslims whose ranks include Osama bin Laden.
And it's spreading to a new generation at religious schools, like this madrassa in Pakistan. Mullanah Wajihudeen (ph) is headmaster.
MULLANAH WAJIHUDEEN, HEADMASTER (through translator): The use of force is permitted where there is oppression, like in countries where Muslims begin to lose power. God almighty has created the iron. With iron we can create guns.
So when there is unimaginable oppression and wrongdoing in the world, it is permitted to take up arms.
AMANPOUR: At this school on the outskirts of the capital Islamabad, about 50 students, some as young as six years old, immerse themselves in the Koran, reciting it over and over until they have it memorized. It's the only thing they study.
WAJIHUDEEN (through translator): Our aim is to spread the message of the Koran all over the world, and to make Islam prime over all other religions.
AMANPOUR: Women are not allowed inside this religious school. In fact, this is an all-boys institution.
And in so many of these schools throughout Pakistan, the students have virtually no contact with women, not even in their own families. And it's in this strict environment that the students learn their rigid world view.
Although the head master calls the attacks of September 11th a sad event, militant views aren't far from the surface.
On the walls inside the mosque, a poster that said, Afghanistan equals American graveyard. Also, support for Osama bin Laden himself.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE, (through translator): Here in this mosque, as elsewhere, we pray for him around the clock.
AMANPOUR: On these walls, too, anti-Semitic messages. And soft- spoken but harsh words from the students.
Uzman Ullah (ph) is 16.
UZMAN ULLAH, STUDENT (through translator): Everyone knows it was a Jewish conspiracy, that there were no Jews in the World Trade Center on the day of the attacks.
AMANPOUR: Attitudes like these can be found at some of the thousands of madrassas in Pakistan and throughout the Islamic world.
Many of them have become breeding grounds for a political extremism that is framed in religious terms.
ARMSTRONG: The madrassas in Pakistan tend to be rather narrow, and it's from this, in fact, that many of the Taliban were trained.
AMANPOUR: Yet the sense that Islam is under siege is quite widespread, even among moderate Muslims who have condemned the recent terrorism.
Long before, many Muslims felt a sense of oppression, and they largely blame the United States. Atop their long list of grievances, the United States' close relationship with Israel.
ARMSTRONG: Muslims have no tradition of anti-Semitism, no tradition of hating Jewish people. That changed with the state of Israel, not because of a hatred of Judaism, but because the state of Israel meant that Palestinians lost their land.
AMANPOUR: Resentment over the Palestinian question has only deepened with the escalation of the Arab-Israeli conflict. And the media coverage of the Intifada in the Arab press.
ESPOSITO: They can look at al-Jazeera or something else, and every day watch scenes of violence -- violence committed by both sides, but see a disproportionate use of violence in terms of weapons, in terms of the number of people that are killed on the Palestinian side, or injured.
And they see American Apache helicopters being used. They see F- 16s, you know, going to Israel.
AMANPOUR: Viewed through that same prism, many Muslims are enraged by the suffering of Iraqi civilians under U.N. sanctions directed against Saddam Hussein's regime.
American soldiers stationed in Saudi Arabia -- trespassing on the holy land. And a long history of U.S. support for the rulers of countries like Saudi Arabia and Egypt, who they perceive as un- Islamic.
ESPOSITO: They basically say the following. Our regimes are authoritarian and corrupt. Therefore, they're part of the problem, not the solution.
And, they're propped up by the United States and the West, or they're allowed to do what they do by the U.S. and the West.
ABDULLAHI AN-NA'IM, ISLAMIC SCHOLAR: It is the rhetoric of being the beacon of freedom. But the practice of suppressing democratic regimes and supporting authoritarian, despotic regime...
AMANPOUR: That was felt most acutely in Iran in 1979, when popular anger swept aside America's long-time ally, the Shah, in the world's first Islamic revolution.
ARMSTRONG: In Iran, the shahs used to make their soldiers go round the streets with their bayonets out, taking the women's veils off and ripping them to pieces in front of them.
On one occasion, Shah Reza Pahlavi shots down hundreds of unarmed demonstrators in one of the holiest shrines of Iran, who were peacefully protesting against obligatory Western clothes.
AMANPOUR: When Ayatollah Khomeini seized power in February 1979, he sent a powerful political message to fundamentalists throughout the world.
AN-NA'IM: Khomeini's success in coming to power in '79, has been a tremendous sort of, almost like an earthquake, politically and ideologically throughout the region, because it showed that a fundamentalist agenda can succeed into seizing power and really putting the rest of the world totally helpless in confronting it.
AMANPOUR: Khomeini confronted the U.S. head-on, labeling America the Great Satan. And in November 1979, 52 Americans were taken hostage inside the U.S. embassy in Teheran.
They were held for 444 days.
ARMSTRONG: It seemed the turning of the tide, that Islam had enabled the -- a very powerful and apparently stable Western-backed regime to fall. And they -- people were taking their destiny, again, into their own hands.
AMANPOUR: And it wasn't just political. For the growing ranks of Islamic fundamentalists, the Iranian revolution had cultural implications, as well.
It emboldened those who saw Western culture as too materialistic, a dominant culture that they fear was crushing their Islamic identity.
ARMSTRONG: So that what you're seeing in many of these movements are desperate, desperate attempts to get Islamic history back on track.
Muslims seemed to be doing all right for all their history. Now, why is it against the West they can make no headway?
And their attempts, as they continue to fail, their attempts get worse and more extreme.
AMANPOUR: Extreme, like the Taliban's regime in Afghanistan. The Taliban fought their way to power in the mid-1990s. And ever since, the ruling mullahs there have imposed a medieval brand of Islam that includes a ban on television, radio and music, and effectively imprisons women in their own homes.
Today, the Taliban says that Osama bin Laden, the suspected mastermind of the September 11th terrorist attacks, is in Afghanistan. A man, who to the dismay of millions of Muslims around the world, uses the Koran to justify his call to arms against the United States.
AMANPOUR: Coming up, Islam forbids suicide. So how do some Muslim extremists justify taking their own lives?
A look at suicide missions and the willing participants who carry them out, when we return.
(COMMERCIAL BREAK) AMANPOUR: In the teachings of Islam there is no heavenly promise for those who take their own lives. In fact, the Koran forbids suicide and yet militant Islamic groups like Hezbollah have long used suicide attacks to achieve their goals. CNN's Mike Boettcher spent some time in Lebanon in July and he came back with an insight into what motivates those who are willing to die for the cause.
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ALI ASHMAR (through translator): This feeling cannot be described. It's a feeling of pain.
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MIKE BOETTCHER, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice over): Ali Ashmar (ph) is preparing himself for the last day of his life.
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ASHMAR (through translator): This exists in every person, of course, but you have to shake yourself a little bit to find it.
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BOETTCHER: Though he's barely 20 years old, he already knows how he is going to die.
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ASHMAR (through translator): Some people like us; they get what they ask for quickly. With a little patience, they get what they want.
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BOETTCHER: He was a Lebanese Hezbollah guerrilla. In 1996, he strapped his body with dynamite and blow himself up aside an Israeli military convoy. What you are watching is a Hezbollah-produced videotape montage that tells the story. Westerners would call Ali Ashmar (ph) a suicide bomber. Hezbollah calls him, Shahid (ph), a Martyr. After he died, his father Monif (ph) said, through his grief, he was proud of his son's act.
MONIF ASHMAR, ALI ASHMAR'S FATHER (through translator): I feel that I'm honored. I feel the glory. I feel pride. I am proud of the martyrdom of my son.
BOETTCHER: Monif (ph) was visited by Hezbollah dignitaries. In Ali's (ph) video taped last words, instructed his family to receive congratulations, instead of condolences.
(on camera): Although Hezbollah has not been linked to the September 11th attacks, both Western and Middle-East Intelligence Agencies believe it does have ties to Osama bin Laden's al Qaeda. Both groups have effectively used suicide attacks in the past to further their objectives. Last July, Hezbollah agreed to give us an inside look at the tactic it calls martyrdom.
BOETTCHER (voice over): The streets of Hezbollah-controlled suburbs of Beirut are decorated with the portraits of these martyrs. Face after face of young men who kill themselves for the resistance. They are considered heroes and the families they leave behind are treated with respect in their community. An encouragement for new fighters to follow in the footsteps of other suicide bombers like Sala Ghandor (ph) who left behind a wife and three small children when he too stormed an Israeli army convoy.
I talked to his family.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through translator): I knew he was a resistance man, but before his martyrdom he told me, I will carry out a martyrdom operation.
BOETTCHER (on camera): Did you tell him no, I don't want you to do that?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through translator): No, when I married him, I knew he was a resistance man and I knew his destiny that he would defend our land and our honor. I didn't prevent him from doing so.
BOETTCHER (voice-over): Sala's (ph) son, Mohammed (ph), speaks a bit of English.
BOETTCHER (on camera): When you grow up, do you want to become a martyr too just like your father?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes.
BOETTCHER: Why are you so willing to do that. You're just a little boy.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): To kill our Zionist enemy and drive them out of our land.
BOETTCHER: You think you will see your father some day?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Jana (ph).
BOETTCHER (voice over): Jana (ph) means heaven. Fighters performing suicide missions in the name of Islam believe their sacrificial act puts them on a direct path to heaven and that after they're gone, their family will be taken care of.
KASSEM ALEYK, GENERAL MANAGER, MARTYR'S ASSOCIATION: You are leaving your kids. You are leaving your family, father, mother and you're nation and we will take care of that. This is the importance of this fund. How we build up his faith.
BOETTCHER (on camera): It's a concept that very difficult for many Westerners to understand, why is that?
ALEYK: I guess that in the Western society, they went through materialism more and deeply and they left a short space for the relation with God.
BOETTCHER (voice-over): Kassem Aleyk the general manager of the Jahid or Martyr's Association. It is a network of services that provides for the families of martyrs. They're given housing, an income, subsidized health care and education. Knowing this social safety net is in place bolsters a fighter's commitment the cause. A key ingredient, Hezbollah says, in a fight waged against a superior army backed by a super power.
ALEYK: Our important army against our enemy is faith itself. We didn't have good equipment, sophisticated equipment, backed by super powers or, no. We have this human being who have this moral and faith army.
BOETTCHER: The potency of these professed acts of faith and of war is echoed over and over again on Hezbollah's Al-Manar TV. Nayef Krayem, Al-Manar's chairman of the board showed us around the machinery of the psychological battleground. Hezbollah videotapes its military operations and they are broadcast widely to the Arab world and into Israel, encouraging new recruits, they say, and discouraging their enemy.
NAYEF KRAYEM, CHAIRMAN OF THE BOARD, AL-MANAR TV (through translator): Sometimes the media is a more important weapon than the real weapon. Without the camera, without the TV, the resistance operations would not have had as great an impact and influence in the conflict.
BOETTCHER (voice over): An impact created by magnifying what is already to some an incomprehensible act.
In South Lebanon, a wartime prison has now been turned into a museum where Hezbollah tells its version of the war. It's partly devoted to Hezbollah's suicide attackers.
ABDULLAH ATIF ABDULLAH: They will hang the detainee here...
BOETTCHER: An ordinary Lebanese man, Abdullah Atif Abdullah (ph), was there for his fourth visit.
I asked him to explain to explain how a young man, barely out his teens, could kill himself like that. He'd seen decades of war against Israel's formidable army, and to him, the answer was simple.
ABDULLAH: There is nothing more human than a human who wrap itself -- himself, sorry, with bombs and go because this is the only way. There is no plane, there is no tank, there is nothing. You have nothing. You have bare hands -- OK? How can you fight those? So, you wrap yourself with bombs and you go to them and blew up yourself. BOETTCHER (on camera): You're talking about commitment -- commitment of a martyr to take your own life.
ABDULLAH: Yes, take your own...
BOETTCHER: They're walking around committing suicide with bombs strapped around them.
ABDULLAH: Well, you call it committing suicide. I won't call it committing suicide because you commit suicide because you don't value your life, but this person value his life. This person say, "if I blew up myself in a tank, that's a big message to them."
BOETTCHER (voice-over): A message delivered by human weapons. Martyrs to some, terrorist to others. Laser-focused on one object -- certain death.
AMANPOUR: When we come back, mainstream versus militant. The Muslim world's internal struggle.
AMANPOUR: Imagine your religion is your life. Your faith is your foundation. Now imagine your faith under attack. On the one hand, from a dominant, modernizing U.S. culture. On the other hand, from militants within, determined to resist that culture, even violently. CNN's Brent Sadler reports that this now is a dilemma facing the Muslim world.
BRENT SADLER, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice over): Friday, in Beirut. Far away from the United States and Muslims in Lebanon crowd into mosques for their holy day of prayer. Thirty-four year old Akmahd Salhad (ph) is married with four children. He is a Sunni Muslim and, like many Muslims in Beirut, a city once known as the terror capital of the world, he says he's deeply troubled. Troubled about terrorists attacks and international repercussions. At the Iman Ali Mosque (ph), Akmahd (ph), his sons by his side, prays.
"For safety, security, stability and an enjoyable life," he says, "everything which brings good to me, my family, my country and the people around me." Those people him around him in Lebanon make up a kaleidoscope of 18 religious groups. The majority are Muslims. Sunnite, Shiite and the Drusect (ph). It's among these groups that debate is now focused on countering the negative image of Islam in many parts of the West. Religious experts here explain that terrorists are waging war not only against the West, but also against the majority of Muslims. Practicing a non-radical, non-violent faith.
SHEIKH ABDEL AMIR QABALAN (through translator): I consider this to be an infiltration of Islam. I consider this to be defaming Islam. If he were a true Muslim, then he has sold his mind to the devil. SADLER: But the blame for evil committed in America and elsewhere say scholars should not be put on Islamic fundamentalism as a whole.
AHMAD MOUSSALLI: But I don't want to link Islamic fundamentalism necessarily to terrorism and I think the implication has been so far that Islamic fundamentalism equal Islamic terrorism. That's not true. So I think one has to make a very fine distinction between Islamic fundamentalism and between the terrorists who are, you know, aiming at the destroying the whole of the world first, the Arab world and the Islamic world and second the Western world.
SADLER: The rise of fundamentalism over the past 20 years, though, has put unprecedented pressure on the traditionalists.
RIDWAN AL-SYYID: We mustn't believe that. We have to reclaim Islam from them. They have now about 20 to 30 person sympathizers and the Muslim youth. It is an distortion of tradition and distortion Islamic theology and distortion of Islamic culture and we have to reclaim Islam from them.
SADLER: In the library of the Islamic High Institute in Beirut, students prepare for the start of a new term. America's war on terror may be aimed at Osama bin Laden, but some students question whether that mission could broaden.
JUMANA NASSER: If the U. S. goes on with its Foreign Policies the way it has been doing the past 50 years, tomorrow it could be somebody else. There's no finer label to be put on terrorism. I thinks it's a logical consequence to most probably now, U.S. policy subsidizing circle of violences around the world.
SADLER (on camera): For the Lebanese, the terror against America delivered a sobering thought. That a Lebanese student may have been one of the 19 alleged suicide hijackers.
(voice-over): 26-year-old Ziad Zarrahi was aboard the United flight, which crashed in Pennsylvania. His well-to-do open-minded family in Lebanon's Bekaa Valley is devastated by the FBI's claim their Ziad is a mass murderer.
JAMAL ZARRAHI: We have no one in the family with radical thoughts or thinking.
SADLER: But Osama bin Laden has made no secret of his radical views. On the day the U.S. lead forces launched attacks on Afghanistan, bin Laden made an openly religious appeal in a videotaped statement broadcast around the world.
OSAMA BIN LADEN (through translator): I say these events have split the whole world into two camp. Camp of belief and a camp of disbelief, so that every Muslim should come out to fight for his religion.
SADLER: Thousands of Muslim extremists responded to that call -- in Pakistan, Indonesia and the Israeli-occupied territories staging anti-American protests as U.S. bombs fell on Afghanistan. Although the streets of Beirut were quite, many Muslims there are uneasy. A reflection of the modern-day schisms within Islam.
NASSER: Because you cannot punish a whole country even though we don't agree with the Taliban's way of living the Islam, but you cannot expect anyone, not only Muslims, to accept the principal of when attacking a whole country because you're looking for one person and it's terrible.
SADLER: A dilemma, which is faced by all.
AMANPOUR: Coming up, a backlash against Islam. Can cooler heads prevail amid cries for retribution? Gauging public reaction for the call to tolerance when we return.
AMANPOUR: President Bush has said that the fight against terrorism is just that -- a fight against terrorism, not Islam. The president and other world leaders are calling for tolerance in the face of unspeakable violence, hoping to staunch a backlash against Arabs living in the United States and other Western countries. Have they been successful? Here's CNN's Frank Sesno.
FRANK SESNO, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It is an ugly, yet sadly predictable undercurrent following last month's terror and destruction. Expressions of hate directed against Arab-Americans. A Mosque in Cleveland rammed by a car. An Iraqi-owned pizzeria in Massachusetts, torched. A man wearing a turban, shot and killed at a gas station in Arizona. One watchdog group has catalogued almost 800 incidents so far. The FBI is reportedly looking into 90 specific complaints.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: There has been some women who have been attacked and many of my family members and friends have advised me to change the way I dress.
GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I also want to speak tonight directly to Muslims throughout the world. We respect your faith.
SESNO: The president has repeatedly condemned the backlash, before a joint session of congress, and during a visit to a Mosque.
BUSH: Those who feel like they can intimidate our fellow citizens to take out their anger don't represent the best of America, they represent the worst of human kind. And they should be ashamed.
NIHAD AWAD, COUNCIL ON AMERICAN-ISLAMIC RELATIONS: It was very comforting for us, and very comforting for the Muslim ladies who have not been out of their houses. For the many schools that have been shut down. For the Mosques that have not performed religious prayers. SESNO: Despite the president's reassuring words, many Arab- Americans, Muslims, and others feel they're being singled out and are under suspicion. In the days after the attack, for example, a Pakistani-American in Texas is flying first-class, when a Delta Airlines pilot approaches him before a flight departing San Antonio.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Asked me that, Chican (ph), I want you to pick up your bag and come out from this flight, because me and my crew are not safe flying with you.
SESNO: Delta, like many corporate leaders, has tried to calm passions. The airline said it took the incident seriously, but later issued a memo to employees worldwide. "Safety first," it said, "take action if a passenger behaves suspiciously. But the response should be based on the passenger's conduct, not on race or national origin."
AWAD: To see myself and my fellow Muslims and Arabs being stopped in airports because of our look -- because of our feature, because of our names, because of the way that we dress, I think speaks volumes.
SESNO: Prominent Muslims in the U.S. and around the world have condemned the terror and they've implored non-Muslims to avoid generalization.
AWAD: If a Christian -- or who professes to be Christian goes to bomb an abortion clinic, the general public, every one, will understand that this is an isolated act that has nothing to do with the Christian faith. Islam's been suffering in this society because of the popular culture, because of misinformation.
SESNO: Fair or not, in the aftermath of the attacks, attitudes hardened. A Gallup Poll found almost half of Americans favoring special IDs for Arabs, including those who are U.S. citizens, and nearly a third supporting special surveillance for Arabs in the U.S. These attitudes and so much more were forged by the events of September 11th, a day that has been seared into our consciousness. And for many Muslims, it has proved to be a heavy burden.
NADIRAH SABIR: I was at work, and we turned on the television, and one of the towers was on fire. And the first thing I think everybody thought, was, "My God, what is going on?"
PLEMON EL-AMIN: We need to call on the God of everybody, the God of all people, the God of all times, the God who has no beginning and has no ending. The Prophet Mohammed says, get to know God in prosperity so that he will know you in adversity.
DR. KHALID SIDDIQ: I think the tragedy is a tragedy for all of us whether we are Muslims, or non-Muslims. I think whether we are even Americans or non-Americans, it is a tragedy.
(COMMERCIAL BREAK) AMANPOUR: Perhaps for those trying to understand Islam, the key lies not in it's differences, but in it's similarities to the world's other major religions. Islam, Judaism and Christianity have much in common. All three hold the belief that there is only one God. All three can trace their heritage to the Biblical patriarch, Abraham. And all three are founded on the promise of peace. That's this edition of CNN PRESENTS. I'm Christiane Amanpour. Thank you for joining us.
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