Noor Dahri just published a new book on the Israel Defense Forces. He is a counter-terrorism researcher and a former officer with the London Police. He has studied at Herzliya’s International Institute for Counter-Terrorism (ICT) and has lectured in front of Israeli security experts.
Dahri is currently in Israel gathering research for his next book on Israeli security threats, traveling along Israel’s often tense borders with Gaza, Syria and Lebanon. Details of his trip, including visits to the Temple Mount, the Al-Aqsa mosque compound and the Western Wall have made waves on social media. What makes Dahri different than other security analysts, is that he is a devout adherent to Islamic doctrine and a self-defined “Muslim Zionist.”
Born in Pakistan, Dahri came to London at the age of 30 as a secular Muslim, disappointed with violent adherents of the Islamic faith. In London, he joined a Marxist organization before meeting his Pakistani-born wife. Today, Darhi is a full-fledged practicing Salafi Muslim, praying five times a day, fasting during Ramadan and has made pilgrimages to Saudi Arabia.
He believes that many of the intolerant sentiments and violent doctrines exhibited by large groups of Muslims are “manipulated by Jihadists” and not Koranic in nature.
He believes in a “more moderate” version of Islam, one that is not inconsistent with having strong ties with Jews and the State of Israel. For his friendship, he was named an “honorary member” of the Zionist Federation.
Dahri is currently the founder and executive director of the Islamic Theology of Counter Terrorism (ITCT).
He sat down with JNS for a wide-ranging interview covering theology, security, geopolitics, and his unique journey towards faith and friendships. The interview was often emotional, including many smiles and occasional tears.
The interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.
Q: What brings you to Israel and specifically to Jerusalem?
A: To see the people, the city, the multiculturalism, multi-religions. And, of course, I believe that not only Jerusalem, but the whole land is holy. Israel is a holy land and blessed land. For all religions. Not just for Islam. Actually, it’s not Muslim land. And we are occupiers, actually. We are occupiers because that area is holy. That’s a holy place to us, but it does not belong to us because Muhammad didn’t say it belonged to us. The Koran didn’t say it belonged to us. It’s holy to us but does not belong to us.
Q: What did you feel while visiting the Al-Aqsa Mosque/Temple Mount compound?
A: Honestly, I tell you when I was in Al-Aqsa, I was a little bit scared. Because I got threats. So I went to Al-Aqsa, and people were looking at me. Some people where I was going actually followed me. I thought, who the hell are they? Why are they looking at me? Why are they following me? I did not know their intention. So I quickly stepped towards the Israeli security forces at Al-Aqsa and stayed close to them.
Q: Why didn’t you go with friends or security?
A: Before I went, I received calls from a few of my friends who said they saw some of my social-media posts. They offered to have officers escort me wherever I go. They said it would be no problem to arrange it because they were worried about me. But I said, “no, thank you very much.” I want to be very humble when I go to the holy sites. Not with security. But I was cautious.
Q: Your trip to the holy sites at the Western Wall and the Temple Mount has caused quite a buzz on social media. Why?
A: I didn’t even know it yesterday. I opened my phone. I had so many hundred messages—hundreds of calls. I said, what happened? People said, look at “the shadow” [on Facebook and Telegram].
I didn’t even know who “the shadow” is. I was in Tel Aviv with my friends, and my mobile phone was set aside. When I saw it, I realized, oh my goodness, what happened? My Twitter post was a simple picture. And my statement was a simple statement that as a Muslim, I have a right to enter the Kotel [Western Wall prayer plaza]. No one stopped me; none of the officers that were there. They just said, OK, everyone’s bag luggage must go through a security check. So I was just like everyone else. They asked me about the intention of my visit. I told them that it was just to see the religious site, holy site. They said, ‘OK. Welcome. Off you go.”
Q: Did you always support Israel?
A: No, when I first joined the police force in London, I was very anti-Israel, very anti-Zionism. I had no hate, but reservations against Zionists and against Zionism. And, of course, Israel, because without Zionism, there’s no Israel. And without Israel, there’s no Zionism actually.
Q: When did you start to support Israel?
A: I think when “Operation Protective Edge” happened.
At the time, I was a British Transport Police officer working in the London Underground. I mention this in my book. There was my colleague, Eli Baron. She was Jewish, and she was a customer-service assistant on the underground … Oxford Circus, Piccadilly Circus Station.
We used to talk. At the time I had no idea she was Jewish. During “Protective Edge,” she asked: “OK, what’s your opinion about Israel? About Jews?” I said, “I don’t have any problem with Jews. But Israel, yes. They are killing innocent Gazans, Palestinians. They have no rights. Look at the blockade, they are dying in hunger, and this and that … ”
She challenged me to research. Then because obviously, I was a researcher, I started to do deep, deep research. Then when I had enough knowledge, I realized, “Oh my God, I was wrong.”
Then I began worrying about the reaction if I would write that “Israel is right” to my Muslim followers. I will be straight away on the floor. Absolutely straight away. I will be on the floor. And what about my family? What about my dad, my brother, my sisters? Because then I will be the only one.
I was fighting with myself for so many days, very stressed. Then I read the hadith that teaches that Allah said to stick with the truth. Whether the truth is against you or your community. And what is said in another hadith is, “Whenever any information comes from anyone, do that, investigate, research.” Research, and then you accept it.
I was the only Muslim or only Pakistani who openly supported Israel at that time. Back then, I was already religious. I was writing religious things about the Koran. I had a vast circle of religious people reading. So they were not expecting that I would support ‘Protective Edge.’
And then I decided, I think this is the right time. So I wrote on Facebook that I, as a religious Muslim, support Israel’s right to exist. And I defend the IDF. I said, “Israel has a right to defend against a terrorist and every Muslim … and we must support and stand by the Israeli, Jewish people and Israeli.” That’s it. That post changed my life.
Q: That was a big risk.
A: I always love to take risks because I believe if you don’t take risks, you can’t move forward. If you’re with truth, then take a risk.
Q: How did it change your life?
A: [crying] My family left me. My father, everyone left me. Everyone left me alone. I got a message from my family. They said: “We disown you.”
Q: What about your wife?
A: No, my wife was with me. She was the only one who supported me. My wife says, “No.” She said, “You are on the right path. Don’t be scared. Move forward. I’m on backup. But if life is gone, it is no problem. Don’t worry about life. I have to go one day.”
Q: And you’ve had a lot of threats since then?
A: Oh, my goodness.
Q: Does the recent stabbing of Salman Rushdie in New York state scare you? There was a fatwa against him.
A: No, it didn’t scare me. Because I didn’t say anything against Islam. I’m showing the real face of Islam—that this is Islam. I present the real Islam.
Q: You study Salafi theology. From the limited understanding of many non-Muslims, it appears as though Islamic doctrine is intolerant of other religions, and that it must fight to conquer non-Muslim lands. Your views appear much more moderate. Can you explain how you view Islamic concepts such as jihad?
A: Islam never said that the world will be the Muslim or well should be the Muslim. No, it, as long as the people believe in God, it’s fine. Jewish believe in God, no problem. They have no problem. There’s no conversion in Islam.
Actually, jihad does not mean “holy war” as a concept in Islam. Jihad is not holy war; it is a self-restructure, self-struggle. In the Koran—because the Arabic language is very fussy, very deep like Hebrew—if you have one word, you can take their word, fix it, and you manipulate the words. Do you understand? So for understanding jihad, you need to understand Arabic. In the Koran, the word against infidels is qital. Now, most scholars who promote political Islam define the word qital as to kill. But actually, qital does not mean to kill. It means to fight—fight against those who fight you. So it’s defensive, like a defensive army. Only fight if they fight with you. If they don’t fight with you, don’t start any fight against anyone.
Q: You are the first Muslim and first Pakistani to become an honorary member of the Zionist Federation. What do you believe Muslims need to know about Israel and Zionism?
A: Muslims need to understand first what Zionism is, actually. They have a very wrong concept of Zionism. If they could not understand what Zionism is, they will never understand what Israel is. This is my first message always to Muslims: Please, be partial, be neutral. First, just accept that the Jewish nation has a right to exist. That is already very Zionist. We don’t need anything more from Muslims. Just to admit Koran, actually. Follow Koran that says that land is given to the Jews. Follow Koran. That’s what I want. That’s what Israel wants. That’s what all Jewish and Israeli people want.
Q: As a security expert, what are your recommendations for Israel?
A: You have to take some unpleasant, maybe harsh, but bold steps to secure your nation and country.
Currently what threats do you have? You have Hamas, Palestinian Islamic Jihad, Hezbollah. And you are dealing successfully. You can deal with Palestinians easily.
The bigger challenge is Israeli Arabs [with full citizenship in Israel]. They have full, equal rights, which is good. They work with you. Fantastic. They live with you shoulder to shoulder. Beautiful. You are giving them full rights. This is an example of coexistence you are showing to the world. But, you have to take some bold actions. When they commit acts of terror, why are you giving them so much leniency?
Love your neighbor. This is what the Torah said. They are your neighbors. Love them. But Torah says if someone hates you, punish them, isn’t it? And there’s a law of the Koran law of the Torah. This is a law of God. That’s why we always punish our children, isn’t it? So, they’re your neighbor. You grew up with them, isn’t it? So, they’re children of Israel, actually in your country. Yes. Love them. But, punish them.
Don’t be too lenient. Don’t be too good. Because if you become too good, you’ll become apologetic. And, then you have to give explanations to every single U.N. organization and internal organization. Amnesty. Human Rights Watch.
Don’t be defensive. Everything you have done usually has been just. Yes, you have to show the world. But not defensive.
The only person who is defensive is the person who has lost the argument.
I want to work on a book on Arab Israelis: their life, their culture, their customs. On the one hand, I want to give them identity through my book. I want to give them access, so the world knows who they are. On the one hand, I’m saving their lives. But on the other hand, I’m helping Israel, as well.
Q: In 2014, you were alone in your support for Israel as a practicing Muslim. Now, with the Abraham Accords, sentiment towards Israel is changing across the Muslim world. What is your view of this agreement?
A: Oh my God. Beautiful. The Abraham Accord gave us Zionists the breath we are looking for. We can now openly support Israel. We can openly go to Dubai, the UAE, and we can say, “Yes, this is the Israeli flag.” In the Arab world, Israeli supporters can go anywhere. We can go to Morocco. We can go to Bahrain. Even to Saudi Arabia. People went to Saudi Arabia from Israel. They send me pictures. “Hey!” From Medina, from Medina Mosque. Mosque in Medina, masjid of the prophet.
Today, I’m not alone because so many Arabs have become Zionists, you can’t even believe it. On social media, they’re following me. I’m following them. And, how I see their posts. I am, sometimes, “Oh my God, they are running faster than me.” And that is fantastic.
Q: Do you think Pakistan will ever normalize relations with Israel?
A: Pakistan doesn’t have any borders with Israel. The hate we adopted is Arab hate we adopted, with money and we indoctrinated Pakistani minds. What our Arabs said to us. That’s what we did.
Now it’s hard to take them, get out of these old people until they die. Right? I don’t reach them. But the thing is this, they spend all their life to hate Israel. They are now aged, right? We can’t take them out easily.
Generations and generations are coming now. Because they are very, very connected with Jewish actually. Pakistan is very much connected with the Jewish. I have a friend, Peer Muddasar, that started a podcast with Israelis and then Pakistan is related. In Pakistan, that podcast is very famous—a thousand people watch it and say, “Wow, it’s good.” So change is coming. When I started, there was no single person.
Now, I can send you so many articles written by the top journalists in the newspaper, in English and Pakistani newspapers. And that, “Yes, we should accept Israel.” Even though I can show you the videos, maybe I can find them for you. The parliament members said recently that yes, they’re from Israel, the people are right. We should accept them. We don’t have war with Israel. Israel always helps us. And we always help each other.
Q: What is your vision for the future?
A: [Wide-eyed] The future is very bright.