Fearing peace: a conversation with Twitter’s populist imam Bribes, terrorism, and media dirt baggery down under. Vee interviews Imam Tawhidi—Twitter's 'Imam of Peace.'

Imam Tawhidi’s Twitter.

Vee: Two days ago I posted on Twitter and asked people if they would want me to ask you some questions. And a Roman Catholic messaged me and said that he had given up on Islam and thought it needed to be ended, but he saw you and the way you spoke and he got some hope back. So you managed to de-radicalize a person, basically.

Have you gotten these types of messages before?

IT: Thousands.

Vee: Really?

IT: In the form of emails, phone calls, fax messages, word of mouth, people I’ve met face to face, Twitter DMs — plenty. Plenty of people have changed from being 100% happy to see a muslim die or to see that there’s one less muslim on the planet, to taking the more intellectual approach and seeing that there is hope for change because change is what is needed. On an intellectual level, on an ideological level. You can not wash blood with blood.

Vee: I see. What about the other way around — someone from the muslim community perhaps, that was more radical — and because of you they claim that they’ve decided to be more moderate?

IT: If you’re speaking about muslims watching me and changing their opinions; much more than what I just mentioned about the non-muslims. Hundreds of thousands of emails in my inbox. I’ve shown this to police, I’ve shown this to journalists, I’ve shown this to media. Whenever we sit down and they say “when are you going to give up?” all I do is I open my email inbox on my laptop and I show them the messages. And I have in my inbox 4200 pages. And this is just the office email. [There is also] my personal email, my Twitter DM, my foundation, my website contact form. Many, my brother, many. Many muslims contact me and also in real life, in person. A woman who had been sexually abused by their school principal--a muslim private school. They come to my office. Young girls who are taken to the Middle East and then married off. She’s 13, she’s married off to her 31-year-old cousin, she comes back five years later. She’s looking for someone to help her, she comes here. The police knows, the government knows, intelligence — state intelligence. They know exactly how much effect we are having.

I’m not saying that we are de-radicalizing in the hundreds of thousands, but what I’m saying is, in the last two years, we’ve received many emails from people who have been very welcoming of my message, and also many problems have been solved in the thousands, whether it be in Australia or globally.

Vee: So what you’re saying is really strange to me, because I have not heard about this from the mainstream media at all. This is the first time I’m actually hearing this.

IT: Yeah, you can actually verify this by looking at the extent of threats and the attacks on my person. It’s very simple: if I had no influence whatsoever, and if I was a nobody, nobody would care about me at all. They wouldn’t care. You can just leave me to bark like a dog, right? But they know exactly how serious this is. The government is also aware of bribes and how much money I’ve been offered.

There’s a businessman in this very city I’m in that offered to pay off my home just for me to relocate somewhere else. Which didn’t make sense to me; why would you pay off my home and I have to live somewhere else? In any case, many foolish people oppose me. And the problem is, I’m someone who talks about everything.

Vee: I think they’re very scared that other people will follow in your footsteps, that there will be more people like you.

You are a scholar who seems to have appeared out of nowhere, calling out the extremism in Islam, and advocating for a more moderate form that is compatible with western society which is secular. Yet the first thing the mainstream media did was to slander you and try to question your credentials as an imam, claim that you’re supporters are from the far right, and pretty much poisoned the well. The first editorial from mainstream media was an ABC article called Imam Mohammad Tawhidi: The problem with the media’s favourite Muslim. Why do you think they do that? These are not islamic organizations, these are westerners, that for instance in the case of ABC I understand they’re being paid by Australian tax payer money.

IT: Firstly, the idea of me coming out of nowhere is very wrong. I have been preaching on TV, in paper, classrooms, universities since 2010. In the Middle East, Canada, and around the world. There was no media coverage because I was not a person of interest at that time.

In 2016 I publicly announced the establishment of an organization in Adelaide. And I began working on a diplomatic level internationally, building relations with influential people. I became a person of interest. There are many imams you haven’t heard of. Hundreds of imams in Australia the people don’t know because they’re not really active in that field.

And in 2017 I was — if I may use the term — discovered, by accident, by a journalist from a local TV program. And it took off from there. Once people knew I existed, the interview requests kept coming and never stopped. Now if we take a look at for example what you said about me being a scholar; I’m a third generation muslim imam. Not only am I a scholar, my father is, and not only my father; my grandfather. And before that, we have arabian legends such as [uninteligible arabic term], and Persian prominent poets in my lineage, and prophets such as Noah, and Lot. I come from a lineage that is highly prominent, and at the same time, it’s a serious responsibility resting on my shoulders. What I do in my daily life and the decisions I make, these are very serious issues.

At the same time, the ABC can be forgiven because there’s not much to expect from them. They haven’t come across such a situation before. Where a muslim imam, third generation, ordained publicly, licensed by tens of Grand Ayatollahs. I’ve put on my website a few of them, and pictures of my ceremony where I’m being publicly ordained, but I didn’t put the rest. The police and the government have copies of the rest of my licenses, and I will not put the rest up because the people who issued them are alive. The people I’ve published my licenses from, they’re people who can not be touched by the Iranian regime. Their security is 100% perfect.

The other people who issue licenses for me, Grand Ayatollahs and potent people, who I disagree with as well — no problem — but who certify that I have completed my studies, I will not make these documents public. Because they’ll kill them. Or they’ll threaten them to withdraw them.

I’m not speaking to you from Pluto or Mars or Jupiter. I’m here, I travel to Europe, I travel across Australia, I live half of the year in North America, so if someone wants to test my knowledge in Islam or the Koran, I’m more than happy to sit down. If I know, I’ll tell you I know. If I don’t know, I’ll say I don’t know. The problem for them is I don’t speak about anything which I’m not experienced in. Everything I say I’m an expert in. so I’m happy to be tested by them, by any professor, by any university — debate it even. I never run away, I’m always there.

And they’ve tested me on Sunrise [Australian TV program] where they brought a leader from Sydney, Dr Jamal Rifi, and with all due respect: he got rinsed. Because he thought that I was going to play along with him and act as though terrorism has nothing to do with Islam and everything is beautiful and nice. So I taught him a lesson he’ll never forget on live TV. So now they know what I’m like. And because they know what I’m like they won’t invite me any more.

And you touched on a very important topic with three issues: the ABC gives everybody a right of reply — except Imam Tawhidi.

Vee: Wow.

IT: Everyone. They will bring [uninteligible arabic name], a jihadist, on the panel and had an interview with him face to face. They will bring people they disagree with from anywhere on earth, and they will write about people and call them up and say, “listen, what’s your opinion?”

Imam Tawhidi is the only one that the ABC writes about and they’re shivering in fear. They will not call me up and ask, “hey listen, we want your opinion,” or “hey listen, what did you say about this?” They will never do it. All they do is cower in fear.

And this is why the last few articles they wrote, the ABC approached me, and I said: get lost. Now you’re trying to approach? All this time you’ve been defaming me, ruining my image, and now you just want to call and think that I’m gonna say, “yeah, let’s have a coffee together, come to my office.” No, no, no. I don’t speak to you any more. And because of that the ABC says, “look! He doesn’t want to speak to us.” No. I don’t want to speak to you because your audience is shrinking, that’s #1, and #2; everyone knows what you’re like, so why waste time with you.

The ABC, as I said, can be forgiven. Because they haven’t come across such a situation before and they don’t know how to handle someone like me. Secondly, they’re afraid of me like no tomorrow. Because I am destroying their narrative, I am ruining their paradigm, I’m challenging their claims. You see. And they’ve been living a lovely life with their narrative for a very long time. All of a sudden this guy shows up and he’s trying to challenge everything, of course they’re not gonna like him. They hate me, they hate my guts.

Look at the way they report. They call me extremist. I’m the extremist, right. You laugh at them, and this is why the people look at them and look at me and a hundred thousand people join my page. 150,000 followed my Facebook page in one year alone. No political party, no political organization in Australia has such audience. And I’m not saying that I am the best or I’m a prophet — no, no, no. People see the truth and they follow the truth. It’s as simple as that.

Vee: I’m not laughing, I’m worried for two reasons. Number one, as you said, the ABC is taxpayer funded, they shouldn’t have a narrative like you said, they should just report the facts. Now, I know a lot of my audience are used to the mainstream media having a narrative, but it’s not the way things should go. And secondly, when I said you’re a scholar who seems to have appeared out of nowhere, I was quoting from the ABC article. From the first moment they saw you they started hurling these insults.

IT: I know, it shows their level of journalism. If I don’t know and I see you for the first time, I’ll give you a call, “where were you preaching before?” Right?

Vee: Yeah.

IT: — “What mosque did you grow up in, which school did you study in.” Nothing! They went to a terrorist organization — not the ABC, but their sources provided them with a statement against me from a terrorist organization in Iran that said Imam Tawhidi dropped out from mosque. And they’re using it against me. I’m happy that I dropped out and withdrew from such a radical extremist institute — you should be happy.

From where did I drop out? I dropped out of a university once I noticed that they were trying to radicalize me, turn me into a Hezbollah militant style cleric, a missionary for them. The best decision I made in my life was dropping out of a university that was trying to turn me into a jihadist, and I will never shy away from that.

Vee: So you made a statement regarding Islam and terrorism, and I seem to notice looking at terrorist attacks within recent years in Europe, the overwhelming majority of them are committed by Sunni muslims. Now I know there are other denominations like Shi’ites for instance, and I understand they usually commit terrorism within the Middle East, and I couldn’t find any case in Europe. we know that there are Kurdish muslims and many other denominations. Can you pinpoint some correlation, like why would the Sunnis be more inclined to do these things in Europe, and why would the Shi’ites do them in the Middle East?

IT: The Sunnis make up over 90% of the religion. Some argue 85%. The point is, it’s the overwhelming majority of [muslims], so clearly most of the news and most of the events will be about them. Because they’re the majority. And also, Sunni Islam is more organized when it comes to militant Islam. So the majority of terrorist organizations are Sunni muslim. The majority of terrorist organizations — [uninteligible arabic term], ISIS — they’re all Sunni muslim. So clearly they’re going to make headlines.

That’s not to say Shi’ite Islam doesn’t have a problem. Shi’ite Islam also has terrorism. And terrorism in Europe. For example, the Iranian regime currently had a diplomat that tried to undertake a terrorist attack in Austria. Another incident just took place in France where an Iranian government official was caught trying to blow up the MEK conference for the Iranian opposition. And you know, it’s — Hezbollah and their terrorism around the world. And their drug trafficking and their kidnapping of [uninteligible]. So we have Hezbollah terrorism, Iranian regime terrorist, their allies in Yemen. Iran is like an octopus. With terrorist organizations everywhere. In Nigeria, the [uninteligible] movement. Everywhere you go — in Iraq now we have christians being shot and killed for being models and gay and so on. Who’s behind all of this? Shi’ite terrorism. The Islamic Republic of Iran. So just because the Sunni muslims are the majority does not mean that we overlook what’s happening when it comes to Shi’ite Islam. Shi’ite Islamism, the militant form and schools of thought and ideologies of Shi’ite Islam can in fact be even more dangerous than Sunni Islam.

Vee: Thank you for clearing that up because this was a question that a lot of people wanted me to ask of you. Now, from my understanding on islam, unlike the Bible, and the Torah, when you have things contradicting themselves — in the case of the Bible it’s going to be the priests that are going to decide which is the religious dogma regarding their contradictions — but as I understand with the Koran, it is a clear way of how to interpret it, it’s chronological, so I guess the older verses would be the ones that are to be taken.

IT: The Koran is not chronological.

Vee: So how do you do it when you have a discrepancy in the Koran. Let’s say you have one verse that says something and then the other would say something else.

IT: There is no problem: It’s a book of religion, it’s going to contradict itself based on circumstance, based on philosophy of revelation, based on events, based on situations, based on giving example. It does not intend to contradict itself. Like all books, they don’t intend to contradict themselves, but situations occur where things change. And [sometimes] it appears as though it’s a contradiction, but what you read as a contradiction was in fact a solution for a specific situation of that very era.

For the rest of the interview, watch Vee’s video here:

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