Sheikh Abdul-Wahab Ziad to Yemen Times:”Yemenis in America are deprived of the Yemeni government’s help unless they pay” [Archives:2004/759/Community]

August 29 2004

By Mohammed bin Sallam
Yemen Times Staff

Sands are moving under Yemeni expatriates in the United States. In the past, immigration to the US was a dream and a wish. Nowadays, those who are in America are crying over the past few days. Yet, youths inside Yemen are still longing to migrate overseas despite the narrated suffering of and control over Muslims in general and Arabs in particular, including Yemenis.
Sheikh Abdul-Wahab, whom we are interviewing, is different. He is hopeful, and soothes the pessimistic views of other people on the New World. Nevertheless, he laments the lost democratic atmosphere that used to be prevalent before the ominous Sep. 11th attacks.
May be this is because he has been almost integrated into the American society, he is well-to-do, or may be because he carries a religious message he thinks he should endure difficulties and troubles to deliver it.
Let us come closer to this person, and know projects in his life and religion:
Sheikh Abdul-Wahab Ziad is a graduate from the Islamic Studies Department, Sana'a University. He immigrated to the US, as many other Yemenis with relatives over there did. Abdul-Wahab became in a short time an imam for an Islamic center in a city of New York State called “The Islamic Center in New York”, and is a former member of the American Islamic Council, from which he moved to join a year ago the Association of North America Islamic Scholars.
He is also a member of the Council of American Islamic Relations (CAIR).
He has recently come back to Yemen to visit his family and relatives in the accompaniment of his American wife who has converted to Islam after marriage, and become an effective caller for Islam (Da'iah). She is impressed by others, and is affected by Islam and its appealing principles as well.
Abdul-Wahab got American citizenship eight years ago, besides his Yemeni citizenship, which he did not give up.
He has business in Hinat in the US.


Q: How many is the number of Yemenis present in the US, and what sorts of business do they practice?
A: The Yemeni community is one of the oldest communities in the US. They are concentrated in the State of Michigan especially in the city of Atrait, then in New York, and California. Their number is estimated between 250-300 thousand expatriates. This number is not that accurate. More families were notable after 1990, and Yemenis are known for reproduction.
Most of them work in car factories, workshops, and private business.
The Yemeni community over there does not pay attention to educating their children until they reach prestigious positions as Pakistanis and Indians do. Some may stay the course until their children are lawyers or doctors, but some Yemeni students opt out and turn to trade. Yet, many of Yemeni community's people are successful. You can find among them doctors, teachers and university professors, though they are few number.

Q: Are your married to a Yemeni?
A: My wife is a Muslim American woman. She is an Islamic caller who has guided 15 American women to Islam. She has given me three daughters.

Q: What about the Yemeni Jewish community in the US? Do you have contacts with them?
A: There is no contact with them. It is said their number is 8000, most of them reside in New York. What we know about them is that some of them yearn for Yemen, and are still preserving the Yemeni traditions such as meals and folklore like dancing and singing.

Q: Are you planning to deal with them in the future as Yemenis?
A: They have infused themselves into the Jewish community in America. Thus, communication is limited and does not occur usually only in restaurants and public places. Yet. If it will be possible to keep in touch with them in the future, that would be good.

Q: Why have you chosen to immigrate and settle down in America?
A: No doubt, the US used to enjoy laws it lacks nowadays. They are freedom, justice, peace, human rights, and fostering freedom of religion and thought. what tempted some Islamic callers and figures before the Sept 11th was the excessive liberty for which the US was praised.
Always I say, even on TV shows in America, that it is not trees, streets, or skyscrapers that beautify the US. The source of its prettiness lies in its laws, freedom, justice, peace, human rights, and supporting freedom of religion and thinking.
The US, as I think, was established on a religious basis. Those who founded the US searched for a land to worship God in. Therefore, it is no wonder to find so many religious signs in it. Churches, temples, and mosques live together peacefully.
The US can dominate the world in two ways:
Through peace and helping the needy, and taking the side of the oppressed against oppressors, and the weak against the strong; and through providing medicines and food for disaster-ravaged countries. This is the best way. Other methods such as those implemented now manifested in use of violence and occupation will take off the US glamour and will lead to its decline and may be disintegration.
We hope that US policy makers take the peaceful path and export freedom and human rights principles without resorting to force.

Q: Can you tell us about the condition of Muslims before and after Sept 11th?
A: The Muslim community in the US forms a significant minority. There are between 8-10 million Muslims and Arabs, some of them immigrants and others converted to Islam. There are also about four-five thousand mosques, and Islamic centers and schools.
Muslims are present everywhere, in universities, schools, academies, hospitals, factories, workshops and business offices.
No doubt, America before the Sept 11th is not America after that date. Before, there was an inviolable freedom. But, after, new laws have been enacted under the slogan of safeguarding the security and stability of the US, these have effected the lives of Arab and Muslim communities. There have been certain violations by those who seized the chance to harass Arab and Muslims.
We are in favor of US security and stability as we are US citizens. We are more concerned than any others to reflect a good picture of Arab and Muslims inside America for both people inside and outside the US.
Any improper doing on our part would mean a flaw in Arab and Muslims. We are very particular to represent Islam in a good manner.
Islam, if translated well, and presented well, is a religion that Americans usually embrace, and prefer to other heavenly religions.

Q: The media talks about violations committed against Muslims and Arabs in America. What are these violations, and are they spreading or diminishing?
A: The US people are good and pacifist. I will never forget that nice letter sent with a bunch of flowers from a nearby church after the Sept 11th, saying, “If you have one enemy, you have a million friends.”
This is a plausible cooperation with the Arab and Islamic community.
There are certain annoying acts at airports, during travel, at border checkpoints. Your phone, bank account, and mail are often monitored. You may find a security team investigating your personal data for ten years ago. If they find any legal breach they will snatch you away.
Yet, the American people are still attempting to preserve the US traditional value of which they are proud, that is, justice and stability.

Q: How many Yemenis were interrogated and arrested over the last years?
A: I can not remember exactly. There are some Yemenis who were interrogated. Annoyances differ from one state to another. In a state, annoyance may occur, and in another may not.

Q: Give us a brief idea about the activity of your center.
A: We, as Muslim residents of America, have guidelines and goals:
Protecting the solidarity of the Arab and Islamic community. Holding programs to preserve the religion and design educational and cultural programs that teach Muslims their religion and their Arabic tongue, and what benefit their spouses and offspring.
We have also set up programs for dialogue with other churches, and introducing the message of Islam to the American people in a mild pleasant manner, with wisdom and good advice, as prophets did.
We have other programs for seeking our rights, and participating in elections and activities.

Q: Who supports these activities?
A: Self-finance. Communities and minorities do their duty in establishing Islamic centers and schools as well as mosques.
The American law encourages donating for these projects with tax exemptions. Those who donate for religious, charitable, or social organizations will be exempted from as much taxes as the sum of his donations.

Q: Do you call for Islam among the American people? And how successful is it?
A: The constitution and law of the US gives individuals the freedom to choose the religion they want.
Islam in America, thanks God, succeeds like fire. I don't exaggerate if I tell you that any US university contains a mosque, or a prayer place for Muslim students. There is no US prison without a mosque.
All factories and big workshops in which Muslims work witness congregation prayers, and a room in every establishment may be set for prayer.
As I said earlier, there are some 5000 mosques and Islamic schools and centers, and Islam spreads mainly among prisoners.
It is a sign of God's that you find prisons a fertile land for Islam. Why? The US government has failed to reclaim these prisoners. Due to their number, they might have formed an economic burden. They want to reform the beast behind the bars. They have found that religion reclaims criminals, and do not object to Islam being a solution. Islam is recognized in the US. It is number one in terms of spreading, number two in terms of the number of followers, and number three in terms of influence over some national events.
After prisons come universities, schools, research centers, and academies. Thirdly come workshops, factories and socialization of Muslims with other people.

Q: Are there cases of relapse among Muslims?
A: Cases of relapse are not common. A person who has not understood the principles of Islam correctly may relapse, or a person who has not been brought up according to Islam, and this rarely occurs.

Q: What is the positive or negative role of the Yemeni government represented by the Ministry for Expatriates? Does it have an important role, and do they support expatriates?
A: When the late Dr. Al-Bashari was the Minster of the expatriates, the situation was better. This does not mean we belittle others, but we want to point out the positive things honestly and with transparency.
Dr. Al-Bashari, may God bless him:
Sent us curriculums –
Covered the needs of schools teaching Arabic and Quraan –
Helped some teachers financially though a little-
Was concerned about cases of Yemenis in the US-

The negative aspect we feel nowadays. The Yemeni government has not formed a legal team to defend Yemenis as is supposed to, especially those who have suffered from violations.
We hope that the responsible authorities will take care of us in the future by forming a legal team to defend Yemenis in general and provide facilities both in exchanging passports or travel procedures for US passport-bearers who are required to give fees as foreigners to have visas even if they show documents proving they are Yemenis.

Q: Do you mean that the ministry of Expatriates does not have any significant role? We hear the official media telling another story.
A: Actually, it has some activities, but we hope they will be increased and promoted especially at present.
The Yemeni community is able to collect donations to commission lawyers . there is a fund, but a real, and not media, presence of the Yemeni government beside us would contribute much to our victory.
I met ambassador Abdul-Wahab Al-Hajri and discussed with him this issue. He explained that it is a matter of finance and there is no ability on the part of the Embassy to play any active role. I suggested to him that we collect donations from the community through representatives. “They may gather a sum of money sufficient to set up a defense team for all Yemeni expatriates' cases. He appreciated the idea, and promised to report that to Sana'a.

Q: Were you able to visit Al-Mouayyad and his companion in prison?
A: Concerning Sheikh Al-Mouayyad, nobody is allowed to visit him except for the Yemeni consul and ambassador. Trials were allowed to be attended. There is an 8-hour distance separating us from his prison.

Q: What about Muslim sects in the US? Is there any conflict among them as it is common in the Arab world?
A: Muslims in the US belong to several religious schools. Our school follows the Quraan and Sunna. We believe in calling with wisdom and good advice, teaching our children with the Yemeni curriculums and make sure to maintain civilized and cultural relations with the country of origin, Yemen.

Q: Do you suffer from any security supervision or annoying acts in America?
A: Muslims in America in general have become subject to monitoring. Islamic figures, and establishments are being scrutinized, and some of them have been closed down, especially those involved in supporting Palestine or former Iraq.
We, however, attribute that to security measurements and the premonition of the US. Yet, we do not support those who take this as an opportunity to annoy Muslim minorities, which results in limiting the Islamic activities.

Q: Do you play any sort of political activity at your center?
A: The Arab and Islamic presence in the US has a good effect. They play a role in pressing the US government regarding many issues concerning Muslims like Iraq and Palestine.
The number of Muslims in the US has reached 12 million, and this by itself is a considerable figure.
Last year, we celebrated the appointment of the first Muslims secretary in the White House, receiving
Muslims' letters and settling their problems.

Q: How do you define moderation, and what does it mean?
A: The message of Islam is great. The meaning of Islam is the meaning of “Peace be upon you”. It means peace, love, mercy, justice and goodness.
If you look at pilgrims in Mecca dressed in white, you will perceive a manifestation of peace. We stress that the call for Islam based on wisdom and good advice has a great effect, but we can not deal lightly with Islamic principles.

Q: Is there contact between you and other Islamic communities?
A: Yes. Muslims visit and contact with each other in America. The Islamic community contains Yemenis. Pakistanis, Indians , Americans, etc. this means that you find mosques open to all Muslims. It is not necessary that you have an ID or membership card. Prayer is held always. And this means constant contact.
There are Islamic organizations like Kalisna which is a great Islamic organization with several centers in the US, Canada and is run by Indians, Pakistanis Kashmiris, Asians and many Arabs.
We participated in the establishment of an organization named (The Association of North America Islamic Scholars), which is the first political council in America that has been renamed as CAIR, which is an Islamic Arabic organization interested in defending the rights of Muslims and Arabs. It is concerned with rights more than with politics. There is also the North America Islamic Assembly.

Q: Are there people who call for a particular sect among Muslim communities in the US?
A: No doubt there are certain different groups such as Shiite, Sufi, Kidiani, Bahai, and others.
The Islamic presence in the US is an extension of the Islamic presence in the world. There is a variety of sects.
The majority are the Sunna followers, or the so-called moderates. There is also MYA, a group founded by Arab Muslim youth who studied in the US and it was much notable before Sept 11th.

Q: What are the last words you want to say?
A: Let me say that everything in Islam has an effect. The factor they get most affected by is the Holy Quraan and holy rites such as prayer. The view of prayer affects the American people. They get really impressed by Islam, by the view of Pilgrimage which is the symbol of peace, love and justice, and by the view of hijab which is the symbol of chastity and good manners. They get also affected by fasting and Islamic dealings also affect them when they come into contact with virtuous Muslims.