Q. A leading Islamic cleric has begun a tour of America urging American Muslims to help shape the religion’s relationship with the USA. Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf says Muslims should depoliticize their faith and that they should aim to make Islam be seen as an American religion, not an alien religion. Rauf, a Kuwait-born Muslim and an American citizen who has stated that he wants to improve relations between Islam and the West, is also the cleric behind the controversial Park51 Islamic center in New York, and has been criticized in some quarters for allegedly saying one thing to Western audiences and another to Muslim audiences.
Rauf is also the author of “What's Right with Islam: A New Vision for Muslims and the West,” a book which aims for a reconciliation between Muslims and Westerners by finding a common ground and by emphasizing what’s right with Islam, not just what’s wrong.
Or is Islamophobia so entrenched in American society that there will never be any kind of reconciliation? Could Imam Rauf’s tour be the thing America needs?
I believe that the current tension between Islam and the West can be overcome, but that it won’t happen quickly and it won’t happen with words alone. As a historical precedent, I look to how Japanese Americans were treated after Pearl Harbor. The Japanese Empire was certainly guilty of a heinous attack against Americans, even as the Muslim extremists of today are. Loyal Japanese-Americans were falsely accused and unjustly treated, and that’s also happened with many Muslim-Americans today. Yet Japan is now a national ally and Japanese-Americans are no longer vilified.
This reconciliation happened because the root cause of the tension was eliminated. The hostile, aggressive Japanese Empire was defeated and dismantled, and our country came to its senses again and realized that Japanese-Americans, like Muslim-Americans, are just people like us with the same fallible human nature that we all have.
Islam in America will struggle to find a popular common ground until the violent Muslim radicals are likewise defeated. In regard to dialogue and discussions, the appropriate words that settled Japanese/American hostilities were signed by Mamoru Shigemitsu on board the USS Missouri. Imam Rauf’s public relations campaign may speak to Muslim-Americans, but because of his past actions, I don’t believe he has much credibility with anyone else.
Two Bible passages will help us approach this situation sensibly. First, Romans 12:18 says, “If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men.” Second, as Jesus told His disciples: “Behold, I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves; therefore be shrewd as serpents, and innocent as doves” (Matthew 10:16).
Pastor Jon Barta
Valley Baptist Church, Burbank
Among the zillion words published on Imam Rauf and the controversial Park51 project, it was his link with the Sufi tradition that caught my attention. I first heard of Sufism as an undergrad in Comparative Religion 101 at my Lutheran college. Many years have passed, and I've managed to retain one beautiful thing of this mystical thread, nicknamed the “inner Islam.”
“A loaf of bread beneath the bough, a jug of wine, a book of verse and thou, beside me singing in the wilderness — And wilderness is paradise enow.”
This verse by Sufi poet Omar Khayyám in translation from Persian just doesn't sound like fundamentalist extremism to me, and neither does Rauf.
Many of us never did blame Islam and Muslim people for 9/11. If anything, the huge amount of U.S. media attention on them since 9/11, and on Park51 and other centers and mosques, should have helped educate us that Islam does not equal terrorism. Obviously I refer to the fact-based, rather than ax-grinding, media here.
The online Islamophobia Watch (http://www.islamophobia-watch.com) is a sobering but enlightening read, documenting acts of anti-Muslim bigotry worldwide. They also gather reports on organized efforts, mostly right-wing but with help from some leftist quarters, to create and sustain fear and suspicion of Islam.
Author Max Blumenthal terms it the “new Crusades.” Operating at the margins of political life until 9/11, when it gained momentum, the Islamophobes went into high gear with the election of President Obama.
The chasm of misunderstanding about Islam is not so much entrenched in U.S. society as it is created by those who seek to gain politically by fanning the flames of religious hatred.