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Reframing and Continuing the Conversation: Standing with American Muslims

September 7, 2010

We Stand 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.”
23 Comments leave one →
  1. J Kirby permalink
    September 7, 2010 10:21 pm

    I stand with Muslims for their Constitutional and just plain Human Rights to worship at a place that has been theirs for sometime now. What I’m very concerned about is the upcoming 9/11 Koran burning by fundamental Christians in Florida. It will put the US troops and other Americans in the Middle East and around the world in danger of retaliation, and will only bring new division in a highly explosive situation. Banning or burning any book has never brought about anything but fear & rage, and burning a Holy book is just asking for more hate and violence.

  2. DHFabian permalink
    September 7, 2010 10:35 pm

    Is this generation of Americans so weak that they feel they must crush any ideas that don’t reflect their own? Are they that timid? Does any measure of diversity leave them trembling with anxiety?

    Anyone who truly loves what America represents certainly can’t march in the streets, ready to commit violence in the effort to repeal our cherished freedom of religion.

  3. Peter Holmes permalink
    September 7, 2010 11:03 pm

    I have no interest in surrendering any more constitutional rights of mine as an appropriate response to the events of 9/11. Nor do I want to see our government imbued with theocratic powers to pick and choose which religions to permit or not. I do not see how being pissed-off at American Muslims can somehow assuage the dereliction and idiocy of letting Osama walk away from ToraBora in order to go have a war with Iraq, while Osama and 16 of the terrorist goons of 9/11 are Saudis, and the other three NOT IRAQI. I have no interest in throwing gasoline on the fire of Al Qaeda propaganda, nor do I wish to see the US emulate those countries that repress religions they are not fond of. And finally if we vitiate all or part of our constitution in order to get back at THEM, I got news for you, THEY WIN.

    • Katherine Threatt permalink
      September 10, 2010 4:18 am

      Mr. Holmes, it was an honor to read your response, and it is a joy to know you are on the planet.

      • Peter Holmes permalink
        September 17, 2010 3:51 pm

        Well, thank you very much, Ms. Threatt. It’s very satisfying to know that one’s comments resonate with others.

  4. September 8, 2010 12:29 am

    Here in the Sarasota-Bradenton area, south of Tampa Bay, a new mosque is being built only blocks from our modest Friends Meeting House; we have welcomed them cordially and are, on 9/11, joining with them, Jewish groups, and numerous Catholic and Protestant Christian churches in an Interfaith Service for Understanding and Peace. We stand in full solidarity and brotherhood with them and with all Muslims, especially in America. And we deplore the objections raised to building the Islamic Center in Manhattan, the terrible attack on the mosque in Murfreesboro,TN, and the Islamaphobia being spread by so many political leaders. Their animosity is not shared by the majority of Americans, especially those in thousands of churches and religious congregations.

    • sharon hoover permalink
      September 13, 2010 3:40 pm

      Bless you. Sharon, Alfred MM

  5. Dotty Stumpf permalink
    September 8, 2010 1:42 am

    @ejmurphy

    Your message of solidarity and plan for your 9/11 interfaith service gave me the most hope since I listened to Mayor Bloomberg’s speech. Thanks!

  6. September 8, 2010 3:37 am

    The proposed mosque is two blocks from Ground Zero, not on the site, and clearly the noisy opposition is just trying to be hateful and stir up the ignorant. However, I will not support a petition that puts the Quakers in solidarity with Islam. I think Islam needs to be drastically changed before I would consider recommending anyone practice it. I say this with a small but meaningful exposure to it. Shortly after 9-11 I decided to read the Q’uran to see if that would result in a more sympathetic view of this religion, which I viewed at the time as cruel to women, and relentlessly authoritarian. I learned that Muslim dogma says that no-one should translate the Q’uran from the ancient Arabic words, written around 700 AD, and that reciting it in that ancient tongue will bring salvation. This mirrors the promises made by Roman Catholic Church about the Latinate Mass, or chanting of 13th century Japanese Buddhist sutras by Nichiren Shoshu practitioners, etc. However, intellectual people within the Islamic faith nevertheless have translated it, and I found an “approved” English translation and read it – although the introduction states that non-believers should not read it and would be cursed if they did. I took my chances. I learned that the Q’uran was compiled after Muhammed’s death by scribes who interviewed people who had been present at Muhammed’s many speeches and battles. Many of its chapters are repetitions by various people who were at the same event, some with limited recollections and others with extensive recollections. Weirdly enough, it is organized not chronologically by the date of the speech, but by the length of each narrative. The Q’uran starts with the longest and ends with the shortest, so these recollections are all mixed up. After reading about 3/4 and skimming the rest, I returned it to the library having concluded that my opinion had not been altered one iota, though I learned a lot. I learned that Muhammed was able to forge an alliance of the warring tribes of the Arabian Peninsula by dint of great charisma, and he figured out that requiring his newly allied former enemies to bow down five times a day and swear allegiance to the one ruling dogma, that this would help keep them from becoming renegades and breaking the peace. Although he liberalized laws of the day regarding women and charity for the poor, the laws that were better than the originals in 700 AD are greatly deficient when compared with modern western law, nor capable of meeting the needs we have today. In short, I feel that those who advocate adhering to the tenets of Islam are crippling the 21st Century and I would attempt to persuade anyone to choose a different spiritual practice, for instance, the Society of Friends, or a sane American Zen Buddhism, or any other practice that enhances equality, compassion, and progress.

    • J Kirby permalink
      September 8, 2010 9:13 am

      Like the Koran & Mohammed, The New Testament was also written by men who were not present during Christ’s time on earth.

    • sharon hoover permalink
      September 13, 2010 3:42 pm

      Ever try reading the Old Testament?

  7. Lee Dimin permalink
    September 8, 2010 8:19 am

    I do not oppose a mosque in lower Manhattan. I oppose the connection with any mosque in the United States of one Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, an anti-American, anti-Chistian and anti-Jew, as well as a believer that the Unted States Constitution shold be made to conform to the Shariah. He has made numerous statements to support these charges. He blames U.S. foreign popoicies forthe 9/11/01 attacks on the ?World Trade Center, Pentagon and a passenger plane over a Pennsylvania field. He blames “Christians” for the WWII attack on Dresden, Germany and on Hiroshima, Japan, and maintains Muslims never attack civilians, but: the Israeli athletes murdered at the Munich Olympics in 1972 were civiians; the rockets Hamas fires into Sderot and Ashkelon are fied upon and kill civilians; the suicide vests strapped to children to be exploded in civilian populated areas of Israel to kill, kill, kill. Read the statements made by Imam Rauf and wonder why our Secretary of State paid him $16,000 to make a recent trip to visit three Muslim nations inthe Middle East. Was it to raise funds for his anti-Christian,anti-Jewish and anti-American activities in his new mosque that he intends to build because because “Islam” requires it. If Islam requires it, build it in Islam not here.

    I am beginning to worry about the competence of Secretary of State Hillary Rodhalm Clinton and her understanding of the people she is dealing with. It is time the United States of America stopped
    its mea culp to Muslim States and to petty would-be dictators like Mahmoud Abbas, who has recently, after the initial meeting this past week of “peace” negotiators, told the United States that he has set the conditions for the continuaton of the talks – the unconditional surrender of the State of Israel. Hillary must go.

  8. Vernon Wong permalink
    September 8, 2010 8:27 am

    The basic problem is the overemphasis of religion in many Islamic and Christian societies. Each religion, esp their fundamentalist fringes, require each one to promote theirs as the only one true religion or God. This intolerance of other faiths requires them to impose their faith on all others.

    In the United States, we supposedly have a freedom of and from religion. Yet the Christian sects insist that all others of different or no faiths comply with their Christian values. In the same way and to much more extreme degree, Muslims are required by their Allah, to eliminate all Unbelievers or Infidels. Even the Christian religion projects a final battle for supremacy among these religions.

    Have all the Muslims in the United States openly and emphatically disavowed all forms of violence in promoting their faith? If they have, I have not heard them. Have they prevented their children and family from adopting Jihad against all western, Christian and Jewish interests? Even if only a small fundamentalist fringe promotes Jihad, how many does it take to carry out terroristic actions against the host society?

    The conflict to build a mosque near Ground Zero or not is just a small symptom of this rivalry.

  9. September 8, 2010 12:50 pm

    Let’s talk about burning the Koran. By now you’ve probably heard about plans by Dr. Terry Jones of the so-called “Dove” World Outreach Center to burn the Koran on September 11. If not, hold your nose and see this: http://www.doveworld.org/

    As a response, I suggest everyone reading this call the Gainsville FD at 352-334-5078 and report a fire at the Dove World Outreach Center, 5805 NW 37th St. in Gainsville on Sept. 11. I believe the call has to be recorded by law, which is a good thing because they have to respond in some way to the outrageous action of burning the Koran (maybe “Dove” World doesn’t have a burn permit!). Other than physically showing up at their door with a bucket brigade, I can’t think of a more fitting way to respond to this incredibly stupid action.

    • J Kirby permalink
      September 9, 2010 4:53 am

      The Fire Department in Gainsville says outside burning is banned, but who knows, the church might come up with a alternate plan…

    • Katherine Threatt permalink
      September 10, 2010 4:21 am

      Thank you for the information! This sounds like a good (albeit hilarious) idea.

  10. Isabel Best permalink
    September 8, 2010 2:32 pm

    It sounds as though a cultural center which will help interpret Muslim faith and culture to US citizens is really needed, and in such a well-exposed place! The Sufi branch of Islam is well-known to be peace-loving, so they could offer a first encounter with Islam which is at least as peaceful as most Christian churches are.

    If we want to make this group of Muslims responsible for the massacre committed by another Islamic group on 9-11, then Christians today should refrain from building churches in what we (among others) call the Holy Land, where so many Muslims died during the Crusades.

  11. Chris Rushlau permalink
    September 9, 2010 10:15 pm

    We have already trashed the First Amendment in our support for the professedly racist state of Israel. Professedly? “Jewish state”. If that does not mean Jews are legally priveleged over non-Jews, their lawyers are more feeble than the rest of their state institutions and non-governmental supporters. If Israel instituted a “convert to Judaism” process analogous to getting a driver’s license, that would be the end of the racism.
    With the huge bonfire of the holocaust of the First Amendment in the background, no wonder we see all these little blasphemies–this row about a mosque, this Qor-an-burning spectacle–in the lurid flickering light.

  12. sharon hoover permalink
    September 13, 2010 3:53 pm

    The above remarks and their rhetoric surprise me.

    Most of the above appears to be primarily cant, based on limited knowledge of historical, theological, philosphical, political and cultural history. I am glad that we have an articulate President at this time. His remarks at the end of his most recent press conference were plain and clear.

    If we, the people, are going to respond quickly and viscerally to things on the web, we must make certain that we also study the world’s knowledge and languages, especially our own, slowly and thoroughly sometime, so that our off-the-cuff remarks have depth.

    Respectfully submitted, Sharon

    • Christopher Rushlau permalink
      September 13, 2010 4:15 pm

      My idea of law (and I may be the only person who embraces it–I guess it’s heavy on natural law, the idea of people being naturally reasonable, which raises the problem of self-deception, the avoidance of which spiritual malady has limited support in European traditions, namely, mysticism (e.g., spiritual direction, dark nights of the senses/soul, cloud of unknowing) on the one hand and the adversarial process on the other (but only if its practitioners intend to carve away error so as to leave truth–as opposed to carving away opponents so as to leave confusion)) is that it deals only in the most obvious realities of our common existence.
      Separation of church and state, which also functions in aid of equality before the law, is both a fundamental road-sign on our highway of the good society and the fundamental thing the Jewish state contradicts. The world can therefore see our imperial encampment in Palestine as not just one more in a world history full of them, but as one which violates our, the empire’s, own most sacred faith. It is this hypocrisy that so fills the world with anger at us, and which in turn calls forth from among us the infuriatingly lame justifications of Israel, the war on terror, “Islamo-phobia”, etc.
      My best proof that Israel is at the heart of this crisis is that Israel is barely mentioned in this crisis. Given its history and its constitutional anomaly–privileging Jews over non-Jews in a land dominated by Muslims for fifteen hundred years–you’d expect at least a mention of this wrinkle. But it cannot be mentioned, because the anomaly would attract further attention, and the fabric of hypocrisy would begin to unravel.
      This is the political crisis we are in–our refusal to face the moral crisis of Israel’s constitution.

      • Christopher Rushlau permalink
        September 13, 2010 4:19 pm

        Make that thirteen and some-odd hundred years, sorry.

  13. Kat Heavner permalink
    September 17, 2010 12:54 pm

    “Many of you were concerned that you have not heard Muslims in the U.S. condemn the events of September, 11, 2001.”
    Why should Muslims in the U.S. have to condemn the events of September, 11, 2001? There are Christians all around the world–past and present–committing atrocities as well (and I do thank you for the comment on the crusades, etc. to this point), and no one asks U.S. Christians to apologize for those actions, because it is acknowledged that most U.S. Christians had absolutely nothing to do with those actions, despite worshiping the same version of God. The same can be said for any religion–I am reminded especially of the bloody conflict in the West Bank.
    The general population of Muslims in the U.S. was not involved in the attacks of 9/11. Either we, U.S. citizens, decide to hold ALL Muslims world-wide accountable for groveling, even 10 years after this horrible event, or we stand by our claim that it was an act perpetrated by a small and radical “Muslim” sect (again I stress my opinion that any version of Islam that encourages violence is not true Islam) with its roots in Afghanistan. I don’t see how we can justify “The War on Terror” abroad and this battle against a cultural center in Manhattan at the same time.

    As to this point, as well as the comments about ground zero being “holy, sacred ground,” I’d like to point to Eboo Patel’s interview with Don Lemon on CNN: http://cnn.com/video/?/video/bestoftv/2010/08/15/nr.islamic.center.debate.cnn

    • Christopher Rushlau permalink
      September 17, 2010 4:29 pm

      The Portland Press Herald (Maine) made news of its own last week. On Saturday, September 11, it ran a front-page story about the last day of Ramadan. There are a fair number of Somali immigrants in Portland, some in Lewiston, and you see many women and girls wearing headscarves and full length dresses. “Fair number” and “many” are in the context of this being the “whitest” state in the Union by census figures.
      Off-news day, nice way to touch lightly on racism, the human face of the war on terror, what not?
      There was, according to the new publisher, a local bigshot who bought this daily paper, the biggest in Maine, last year before it went under altogether, a storm of protest during the weekend about the dishonoring of the victims of 9-1-1: the celebrating of the religion that has killed them and so many of our brave boys and young women in harm’s way for freedom’s sake.
      So he put a front page apology out on Monday, regretting his “insensitivity”. He explained that there was plenty of coverage of the anniversary of 9-1-1, which had to go by before you could cover it, that being the way news works. It happens, then you cover it.
      The publisher wasn’t that sarcastic. He could have wielded the sarcastic stick with great effect, but instead he apologized to all the Christians out there who know that Islam has a long way to go before it learns not to fly airliners into Manhattan high-rises in vain protest at our heroic brothers and sisters–well, next-door-neighbors–who are bringing the blessings of liberty for themselves to Palestine.
      It’s not the Tea Party or a small church’s small minister in Florida who drive US racism in the war on terror (and the Vietnam war before that, and Jim Crow, and Chinese exclusion laws, and native genocide). It’s “sensitivity” in newspaper publishers’ offices

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