FCNL and FMW Welcome Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf
When the proposed Islamic cultural center at Park 51 became the center of a media firestorm this fall, project leader Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf’s faith was tested as never before. In response he chose to wage peace by promoting inter-faith understanding throughout America and the world.
On Sunday David Etheridge, clerk of the Friends Meeting of Washington, and Joe Volk, now the former Executive Secretary of FCNL, welcomed the imam and over sixty individuals of many faiths to the Friends Meeting of Washington (FMW). Quakers from Sandy Spring, Adelphi, Bethesda, Alexandria, Langley Hill, and Stony Run Friends Meetings joined Muslims, Jews, Buddhists, Methodists, Unitarian Universalists and others in silent worship.
Imam Feisal spoke out of the silence, and sparked a conversation that gets to the heart of the matter—that our greatest challenge is to bridge the gaps between the peace-loving moderates of all countries and faiths, and the radicals that threaten to divide us.
In the fall of 2009 FCNL’s General Committee approved an epistle encouraging Quaker engagement with American Muslims. In response to the public controversy surrounding the “Ground Zero Mega-Mosque” in the fall of 2010, over eight thousand individuals signed FCNL’s petition entitled “We Stand with American Muslims” in support of religious freedom. FCNL Associate Executive Secretary Jim Cason later delivered the petition in person to the Cordoba Initiative’s offices in New York. And on Sunday at FMW Quakers, Muslims, and others continued the inter-faith conversation with an excitement and geniality rarely seen among new acquaintances discussing religion and politics.
FCNL staff and members of FMW worked together to arrange the meeting with Imam Feisal and to spread the word among religious communities throughout the region. The Washington DC Interfaith Peace Initiative, of which FMW is a supporter, was instrumental in reaching out to faith groups including MoverMoms, a Bethesda-based NGO that helps mothers engage their families in service and interfaith work. After silent worship and an introduction from Joe Volk, the imam participated in a discussion about his spiritual journey, connections between Quakerism and Islam, the cultural center, and protests in the Middle East. The tone throughout the meeting was of respect and a desire for peace.
Feisal was born to Egyptian parents in England, spent most of his childhood in Malaysia and moved to the US in his teens. At the time he struggled with a cultural identity crisis that later translated into a remarkable ability to draw meaningful connections between East and West. At fourteen Feisal had a profound experience in which he felt his ego dissolve and sensed the “full power, knowledge, and love of the Creator.” Like Quakers, he found that silence, “communicating without speaking,” is one of the most profound ways to connect with and live out God’s will.
In 2004 Imam Feisal founded the the Cordoba Initiative, an organization devoted to inter-faith and inter-cultural understanding. During the public outcry against the Islamic Cultural Center this fall Feisal watched allies turn against him, and his life changed from that of a private citizen to a celebrity chased by Paparazzi. One woman asked how he finds the resolve to face such immense challenges. Feisal has found that the more one works on oneself, the more difficult one’s trials become, but he seeks to react to hardship as the prophets did. Joe Volk shared the saying that “he who throws mud loses ground,” to which the imam joked, “he who gets mud thrown at him gains ground.”
The group had many questions about the revolutions sweeping the Middle East. Feisal held that protesters are striving for the standard that we have set here in America. They want jobs. They want intellectual and religious freedom, “to be a nation under God.” As Friends might say, they want the ability to reach their full potential. In Feisal’s view, the real challenge we face is to bridge the gap between the peace-loving moderates of all countries and faiths, and the radicals of all countries and faiths that threaten to divide us. Muslims’ all over the world are watching Americans’ response to initiatives like the Islamic cultural center—and that’s why inter-faith dialogue in the US is so important. Feisal gave his heartfelt thanks on behalf of the Cordoba Initiative for FCNL’s petition of support.
As Greg Mortenson so chose the name of his book, the Balti tribe of Pakistan has a saying that the first time you share tea with someone, you are a stranger. The second time, you are an honored guest, and the third time, you are family. As Atlanta Friend Sue May put it, “sounds as if we are at our third cup with these folks!”