Reframing and Continuing the Conversation: Standing with American Muslims
At FCNL, we read your feedback with enthusiasm and care. I’m grateful to get to help Joe Volk sort through your responses to our electronic communication, for the opportunity to see the diversity of our constituent’s opinions (as you are willing to communicate them to us).
FCNL is receiving a significant amount of responses on all sides to our blogs and petition in support of the Islamic Cultural Center in Manhattan. Many of you have considered a range of facts and perspectives, and many of you feel strongly for or against the Cultural Center. Many of your questions and comments answer each other. I hope this blog post will promote a conversation amongst all of us, in part because FCNL believes that public dialogue about the Cultural Center proposal is much of what is needed to resolve some of the tension, but also because the more diverse viewpoints we consider, the better we can understand Truth.
There are a few things that need to be established at the outset of this post, though. FCNL will not publish the small number of racist, inflammatory, and hate-filled comments that came into our inbox. Racist ideas about Muslims continue to influence our public debate, but I think there are more important questions to be considered here. To that end, I would offer a few points of reflection as a suggestion for framing our conversation:
- Working in a Quaker institution I’ve come to learn that Friends in the United States express a wide variety of political, spiritual, and social perspectives. This came as no particular surprise; my own grounding in Unitarian Universalism reinforces the point that every religion and other multi-national human institution incorporates a tremendous range of world views and actions. From friends and public figures, I hear Muslims making similar observations about their own communities in the United States. In my opinion, to understand the Islamic faith as any less diverse than any other tradition in this country is, in fact, to misunderstand one of the more compassionate and generous religions I have encountered.
- It would be easy to read the history of the crusades or the Spanish Inquisition and argue that Christianity is an inherently violent faith. Yet many of us who are familiar with Christianity would agree that isn’t the case, and perhaps argue that that violence is contrary to some of its most important teachings. Violence, including issues ranging from domestic violence to terrorism, is a part of our society today. Yet I do not understand violence to be inherent in either Christianity or Islam. If you get your information about Islam from only the mainstream media, I would encourage you to gather a wider range of opinions.
- Many of you were concerned that you have not heard Muslims in the U.S. condemn the events of September, 11, 2001. Like FCNL, many individuals and organizations have their own efforts to oppose religious extremism and religious violence. One recent example of this is the online movement against religious extremism organized by the Islamic Society of North America. You could also check out the writings of Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf or the Council for American-Islamic Relations (CAIR).
- Lastly (and sorry, this is a pet peeve of mine), there is no such thing as ‘reverse racism’ against white people. Racism is prejudice plus power, and in U.S. society white people (as a group) have power where people of color (as a group) do not. Many Muslims deal with racism on a daily basis, and it is the work of all of us to recognize and redistribute power and privilege in order to bring wholeness to our lives and our communities.
With those parameters – an assumption of religious diversity across the board, an open-mindedness about the role of violence in Islam, a few alternative sources of information, and an orientation towards racial wholeness – I think our conversation will be productive.
Let’s get to it! Here are some of the comments we received about the actual proposed Cultural Center in Manhattan. Don’t forget, if something you read here sparks a reaction, please reply in the comments section at the bottom of the post.
- “It seems to me that the ground surrounding Ground Zero needs to be holy, sacred ground. If a Mosque is there, other religions would put something up and destroy its sacredness.”
- “Forcing women to ‘walk behind the man’ and be veiled or cloaked from head to toe is medieval nonsense that has to go. The center in Manhattan would be a great opportunity to step forward into the dimensions of reform that have been the dream of Middle Eastern women, and women everywhere, for centuries.”
- “Would you still support it if it is revealed that it is to be funded by radical Muslims?”
- “Another friend, an orthodox Jew, told me she didn’t think the protestors against the Center really understood that whatever else, this is a legal contract–not something you can protest and change, yet as she pointed out, the Muslims who are advocating the center, though they are saying the Center aims to bridge the cultural gap, have chosen a place for this cultural center which does exacerbate the situation, given its history.”
- “We dare to imagine the site of the World Trade Towers surrounded by the evidence of our nation’s commitment to religious freedom, and our nation’s pluralism. The Center’s proponents are extending themselves in friendship, with a vision of a vibrant and diverse interfaith community and nation.”
Here are a few of your comments about Islam, in general:
- “It is in poor taste to build a mosque on the very grounds that have become identified with 9/11, even though many of us (myself included) suspect that Muslims were used as scapegoats for whoever committed this atrocity.”
- “Is there a fund for that Muslim cabbie who was stabbed?”
And a few comments about FCNL’s mailings and petition:
- “I too stand with Muslims from the USA. (America is much larger, and I believe it would help greatly if FCNL acknowledged that.)”
- “I will not sign the petition, though I wish all those involved with the project success in their worthy endeavors and affirmation of all that is good in the human spirit. I want to see Islam reformed before I render any support for it, or the other ‘religions’ that diminish the value of women in any manner.”
- “We are truly blessed to have such dear ‘Friends’. May God bless all who stand for justice. Ameen.”