Mansour Al-Hadj, Director of Reform at MEMRI, interviewed on Al-Hurra TV on August 24, 2017, talked about the problem of imams coming to the U.S. from the Middle East. Such imams, who are "ignorant of the values" of tolerance, liberty, and freedom of belief enjoyed in the U.S., spread the traditional religious discourse, he said. Al-Hadj called for imams preaching in America – "enlightened, tolerant Muslim Americans, who accept the other" – to be trained there, through the funding of Muslim societies in the U.S. "Imams influenced by extremist religious fundamentalism should "step aside and make way for people with progressive Islamic ideas," said Al-Hadj, adding that he hoped that "we in America will export [our tolerant] Islam to the Middle East."
Mansour Al-Hadj: "The mosque pulpits in America are out of control, because most of the preachers who lead the prayers in these centers embrace the traditional Islamic rhetoric. Most of them are from the Middle East and are considered to be ulema, or people with superior religious understanding. Their problem is that they are traditional, and the traditional discourse has failed in Arab countries. The proof is that in Islamic societies, Islam has failed to unite the citizens and to prevent violence and the rhetoric of hatred. Unfortunately, we suffer from such imams here in America. They bring the traditional religious discourse with them, and spread it in an environment that is entirely different from where they came from."
Interviewer 1: "Do you think that Western extremist Salafis constitute a real threat, and how can this be dealt with without falling into the trap of Islamophobia?"
Mansour Al-Hadj: "Salafism does not differentiate between East and West, unfortunately. A person who embraces Salafi ideology does so out of the mistaken belief that Salafi ideology is the true Islam. Of course they constitute a problem and a threat to [Western] societies, because the religious Salafi discourse is hostile to the world in its entirety, and to anyone who is not Salafi – the Shiites, the Sufis, the Ahmadis, and even people who leave Islam. Salafi ideology demands they be killed for being 'apostates.' As for Islamophobia, I believe that it is exaggerated to a large extent. Everybody has phobias. We, for example, live in a big city, and we fear that we will be victims of terror attacks, like ones that targeted cities in Europe and elsewhere in the world. This fear is real."
Interviewer 2: "What role should be played by young imams who are influenced by extremist religious fundamentalism?"
Mansour Al-Hadj: "If they are influenced by fundamentalism, they should step aside and make way for people with progressive Islamic ideals, which are in keeping with human rights, with the developments in the world, and with the comprehensive human discourse. Fundamentalist discourse brings division rather than unity. I've written several articles calling on Muslims in America to renounce the imams of hate, who offer traditional Islam as the true Islam, but, in fact, are misrepresenting Islam. They present it in a manner that is not in sync with Islam in America. I expect – or I hope – that we in America will export [our] Islam to the Middle East. Society here is cohesive, and people respect one another. Schools are open to all, and there is no religious discrimination, or discrimination against people of color or people who uphold a certain faith. The Muslims in America have the ability and the experience to export that kind of Islam, which we need in the Middle East. We need a tolerant Islam, Islam that loves..."
Interviewer 1: "Some people believe that imams in the West should undergo training. Do you think the circumstances are ripe for such training, in order to increase the imams' knowledge of the society in which they live?"
Mansour Al-Hadj: "This is another problem. The U.S. imports imams from Egypt, Turkey, the Gulf, and other Islamic countries. Unfortunately, these imams are not familiar with American society. They are ignorant of the values we enjoy here in the U.S. – tolerance, liberty, and freedom of belief. I am against importing imams from abroad. I prefer to have imams trained here – enlightened, tolerant Muslim Americans, who accept the other."
Interviewer 2: "Who should pay for this training?"
Mansour Al-Hadj: "Islamic societies in America, of course. Muslim Americans who have seen how traditional Islamic discourse in the Middle East and in Islamic countries elsewhere has failed to bring about tolerant and peaceful societies, should be the ones to support reformist approaches in Islam, and to block all those who try to spread extremism in the name of Islam.