late 19th century, the forces of religious division in America targeted
Catholics. Josiah Strong's
book Our Country: Its
Possible Future and Present Crisis referred to Catholics as "the
alien Romanist" who swore
allegiance to the pope instead of the country and rejected core American
values such as freedom of the
press and religious liberty. The book remained in print for decades and
sold nearly 200,000 copies.
early 20th century, the forces of religious division in America targeted
Jews. Harvard scholar Diana
Eck writes, "In the 1930s and early 1940s, hate
organizations grew and conspiracy theories about Jewish
influence spread like wildfire." In 1939, Father Charles Coughlin's
Christian Front filled Madison Square
Garden with 20,000 people at a vitriolic anti-Semitic event complete with
banners that read: "Stop
Jewish Domination of America."
the forces of religious division demonize Muslims. Tennessee's lieutenant
governor, Ron Ramsey, says
Islam — a faith of 1.5 billion people founded 1,400 years ago — could
well be a cult and not a religion.
Therefore, he continues, constitutional religious liberty guarantees might
not apply to Muslims.
and Muslim community centers are being vociferously opposed from New York
to Tennessee to California.
A church in Florida proudly posts a roadside sign that reads, "Islam
is of the Devil," and is planning
an event called "International Burn a Quran Day."
arguments marshaled against Jews and Catholics in previous eras are being
advanced against Muslims
today. You've heard the charges:
tenets of Islam are opposed to the values of America.
have undue influence with American elites.
integration into America is a veiled Islamic invasion.
easy to imagine Strong's book written today with "the alien
Islamic" replacing "the alien Romanist," or
a Father Coughlin-style rally at Madison Square
Garden with tens of thousands chanting, "Muslim go
forces of religious division have always been alive in America, but they
have never defined America.
The core principle of our nation is that a diverse
people can live together in unity. Our motto, placed on
the seal of the United
States in 1776 when we became a country, is E Pluribus Unum: out of many,
Founding Fathers fought for this ethic. Addressing the Hebrew Congregation
of Newport, R.I., as America's
first president, George Washington expressed this hope: "May the
children of the stock of Abraham
who dwell in this land continue to merit and enjoy the goodwill of the
other inhabitants, while every
one shall sit in safety under his own vine and fig tree, and there shall
be none to make him afraid."
unity in America is not to be taken for granted. Every generation must
both preserve and protect our nation's
core principle, and extend and expand it.
we need today is a force advancing this value of unity and returning the
voices of division to the margins.
I think this force is going to come from an interfaith movement.
what that could look like: Civic groups could organize interfaith service
projects, such as those fostered
by Habitat for Humanity, bringing a community's Jews, Muslims, Christians,
Buddhists, Hindus, Humanists
and others together for an afternoon of volunteering and interfaith
rabbis and imams could preach about how the teachings of their respective
religions inspire cooperation
with those of different faiths. These faith leaders could then hold up
things they admire about other
could offer courses that emphasize the history of cooperation between
religious groups instead
of focusing just on the stories of conflict.
leaders could give speeches about shared values such as mercy, compassion
and hospitality that serve
as common ground between religions.
Franklin— like his fellow Founders Washington, Madison and Jefferson —
would recognize such a nation.
Franklin helped set in motion our traditions of openness, unity and
cooperation. In the 18th century,
he helped build a public hall in Philadelphia with the express purpose
that it embody the true American
spirit. He said that the hall exists "expressly for the use of any
preacher of any religious persuasion
who might desire to say something to the people at Philadelphia ... so
that even if the mufti of Constantinople
were to send a missionary to preach Mohammadanism (Islam) to us, he would
find a pulpit
at his service."
forces of religious division targeting Muslims seek to take America off
course. We must not forfeit the
territory to them. In America, we don't discriminate
against people of any religion. In America, we will no
be divided by faith. In
America, everyone has a place. In America, we are better together.
Patel is the founder and president of the Interfaith Youth Core and was a
member of Presiden Obama's
Inaugural Faith Council.
FIRE STORM TO ILLUMINATION:
Reflections on the New York Center and Mosque Project
William Lesher, Chair Emeritus, Council for the Parliament of the World's
some in the media have referred to as "a fire storm" over the
mosque debate in lower Manhattan is
turning out to be a catalyst to launch a much needed
national discussion (and tutorial) on Muslims in America.
this discussion was intensified by the exaggerated rhetoric and distorted
claims of Pamela Geller, a
conservative blogger in her post on May 6, a
consensus seems to be forming among constitutionally
committed citizens across the political spectrum.
Fair-minded people are agreeing that the Imam and his
wife in charge of the mosque project, Feisal Abdul
Rauf, Daisy Khan and their supporters, have every right
to expand their center and include a new worship space on the site. They
have worked from and worshipped
in this place for many years, two blocks from the World Trade Center
disaster. Even though current
polls claim that 7 out of 10 Americans oppose the project, opponents can
hardly argue that the project
planners do not have a constitutional right to carry out their vision. As
one letter to the NY Times editor
put it, "As a legal matter, there is nothing to debate. If a church
or synagogue could be constructed
on this site, so may a mosque. Period. The first amendment means at least
location of the proposed Islamic Center touches the raw nerve that has
elicited often shrill claims
ranging from insensitivity to the families of the
9/11 victims and desecration of hallowed ground to an
international Islamic conspiracy to subvert the
nation. Given the fact that the vast majority of Americans
know little of Islam and know almost nothing of the
history and intentions of the center planners in lower
Manhattan, it is not surprising that the barrage of
misinformation that initiated and continues to stoke the
current national discussion has filled this vacuum
and created the sharp negative and often heated responses.
as the national discussion continues, one might cautiously hope, even
anticipate, that the time is
right for a nation-wide learning process to unfold.
This could become a time for Americans of fairness and
goodwill to take the time to listen and to learn from people in the
interreligious community and from Muslims
themselves about the importance, the variety, and the beauty of this
second largest religion in the world.
And to hear as well, about the healing potential for having a thoroughly
American expression of Islam
close to the site of Ground Zero.
Interreligious Movement in the US and around the world has been building
bridges of understanding
among religious communities, including Islam, for
the last few decades. Many religious people in the US
are affiliated with local interreligious councils or
with national and international organizations like United
Religions Initiative (URI) or Religions for Peace
(RFP) or have participated in one of the four modern
Parliaments of the World's Religions (PWR) with
which I am affiliated. These people have led the way in
this historic movement to develop knowledge,
understanding, and respect for religious and spiritual
communities of the world, many of whom have growing
numbers of adherents in our towns and cities, states
affiliated with the growing interreligious movement know about the great
diversity that exists within
Islam, not unlike the wide spectrum of beliefs,
traditions and behaviors among different sectors in the
Christian and Jewish communities. They know what
William Dalrymple wrote about in an illuminating Op- Ed piece in the New
York Times entitled, "The Muslims in the Middle," that Islam is
not a monolithic religion.
Rather it is as complex as Christianity and Judaism, with as many, perhaps
more divisions, sects and
traditions, some in opposition to others, as is true of every major
religious group. Dalrymple helpfully teaches
in his article how "Feisal Abdul Rauf...is one of America's leading
thinkers of Sufism, the mystical form
of Islam which in terms of goals and outlook couldn't be farther from the
violent Wahabism of the jihadists.
His videos and sermons preach love, the remembrance of God and
reconciliation.....But in the eyes
of Osama bin Laden and the Taliban, he is an infidel-loving,
of the interfaith movement are also leading the resistance to the
resisters and need to do so
more and more. In another New York Times article
describing protests against mosques in several communities
around the country, Laurie Goodstein focuses on Temecula, Ca. There she
writes: "In late June
...members of a local Tea Party group took dogs and picket signs to Friday
prayers at a mosque that is
seeking to build a new worship center on a vacant lot nearby." She
goes on to say that an estimated 20
- 30 people turned out to protest the mosque. But then Ms. Goodstein
states what many of us think is the
real story in Temecula, "that the protesters were outnumbered by at
least 75 supporters" who affirm the
right of the Muslim congregation in Temecula to expand their mosque.
Something good is happening in
Temecula when, less then a decade after 9/11, local citizens know and act
on the difference between their
mainstream Muslim neighbors and the terrorists whose actions violated the
most basic tenants of Islam.
It's too bad that the NY Times headlined the Goodstein article,
"Across Nation, Mosque Projects Meet
Resistance" and missed the positive thrust of the Temecula story.
from the experience of the Parliament of the World's Religions, the 2004
Parliament in Barcelona,
Spain focused major attention on the issue of Religiously Motivated and
Experienced Violence. After
several days of intense workshop discussions, participants from across the
agreed that the minimum responsibility of religious communities is to come
to the aid of any religious
community whose house of worship is the target of an attack, vandalism,
threat or destruction.
recent Parliament in Melbourne, Australia in 2009 featured a strong focus
on Islam. Imam Feisal Abdul
Rauf himself was a major presenter leading or participating in six
interreligious programs with the following
titles: "Applying Islamic Principles for a Just and Sustainable
World"; "Sacred Envy Panel:
What We Love about Our Own Faith, What We Admire in Others and What
Challenges Us in Both";
"Purifying the Heart and Soul through Remembrance of Allah";
"Dhikr As An Islamic Devotional Act
for Inner Peace"; "How Islam Deals with Social Justice, Gender
Justice and Religious Diversity"; and "Islam
and the West: Creating an Accord of Civilizations." How much could
such a teacher of Islam help to
bridge the gulf of misunderstanding about this great faith tradition by
continuing his long and much admired
ministry in lower Manhattan where he has built an international reputation
for promulgating a modern
version of Islam?
while some call it a "fire storm" and do their best to make it
so, there are other voices that seem to be
gaining strength. Among the shouting and the
uninformed outrage that sometimes seems ubiquitous, I
sense that responsible media outlets and people in
the interreligious movement are grasping the significance
of this moment and are helping to seed the discussion with historical
facts, accurate information
and a commitment to understanding and respect. If this trend continues we
will all learn important
things about ourselves and about the most recent global religious
tradition to enter the mainstream
of American life.