Interviewer: Should the sheiks and imams of the mosques refrain from discussing issues like Iraq and the American invasion, in order to avoid stirring up the youth?
Muhammad Al-Mahmoud: They should raise these issues with wisdom and political understanding, and with an understanding of the relation between politics and the military and economic aspects...
Interviewer: So they should welcome the Americans?
Muhammad Al-Mahmoud: They don't have to welcome them, but they should treat them in a civilized manner.
The coalition forces did not come to a democratic country or to a country that is somewhat functional, but to a dictatorial and oppressive country, devastated from within. Therefore, they were justified, even as liberating forces.
Interviewer: Is the situation today, following the American occupation, better than it was under Saddam?
Muhammad Al-Mahmoud: Without a doubt.
Interviewer: I don't want to... Really?
Muhammad Al-Mahmoud: The situation is undoubtedly better, if you examine it from an historical perspective, and not just the limited period of five years.
[Islamic] societies today have regular armies, and they are the ones responsible for Jihad. They are the ones to decide whether Jihad should be declared or not. It is not up to just anyone...
Interviewer: But all the people who adopt the concept of Jihad claim that these armies have not fulfilled the duty of Jihad, and therefore, they have no choice.
Muhammad Al-Mahmoud: Anyone can say this. Even in the days of the Prophet, there were people who wanted to brandish their swords even in times of truce. The Prophet did not permit this, of course.
Even religious texts must be read in the context of the reality, because I cannot select a certain text that contradicts the reality, and choose to ignore the reality...
Interviewer: In other words, we should give the reality precedence over the texts?
Muhammad Al-Mahmoud: No. If a certain text contradicts the reality - if a certain text contradicts the facts on the ground – the text must be reinterpreted.
Take the hadith that is always cited by those who oppose women becoming heads of state... "A people cannot be successful if it is ruled by a woman." But, in fact, there have been successful cases – from Margaret Thatcher to the Queen of Sheba. There were many successful cases, which have proven that women can be more successful than [male] politicians. One cannot compare the success of Margaret Thatcher with that of Saddam Hussein, who was a man. In this case, reality proves that it is not a question of being male or female, but a question of abilities.
Interviewer: What is the reason for the crisis of the Islamic societies, if not the growing distance from religion?
Muhammad Al-Mahmoud: Their crisis stems from their backwardness.
Interviewer: Backwardness in what sense?
Muhammad Al-Mahmoud: Backwardness in all aspects – cultural-ideological backwardness, which leads to backwardness in the technological-material sense. They even suffer spiritual backwardness.
All the extremist sheiks are ignorant.
Interviewer: In what sense?
Muhammad Al-Mahmoud: They know nothing about their reality. All they have is a recollection, and they are drowning in it. Each one of them has amassed textual knowledge, but textual knowledge and traditions do not constitute thought. They are nothing but a collection of data. A collection of data taken from a book does not constitute the book itself. The problem with them is that they do not limit the texts they memorized to their contemporary context.
The real living culture is the Western culture. There is no doubt about it. It is Western civilization that has generated this civilization. Western civilization, from the days of ancient Greece to our times - if we skip the Middle Ages - is the living culture that can breathe life into even backward civilizations, or those that have almost collapsed internally...
Interviewer: Like our Arab culture, for instance? Do you believe that Islamic culture is backward?
Muhammad Al-Mahmoud: No. The Arab culture... Look, the religion...
Interviewer: Do you consider Islamic culture to be backward?
Muhammad Al-Mahmoud: What is the meaning of "Islamic culture"?
Interviewer: But there is such a thing as Arab culture?
Muhammad Al-Mahmoud: Yes, there is.
Interviewer: And what about Islamic culture?
Muhammad Al-Mahmoud: No. Islam is a religion with very clear elements.
Interviewer: And a culture?
Muhammad Al-Mahmoud: No, there is no such thing as Islamic culture.