Interfaith Dialogue Meeting, 6/18/2013

Sponsored by the Islamic Council of New England, the Massachusetts Council of Churches, and the Archdiocese of Boston,


May the Peace and Blessings of Almighty God be upon you.

It is my honor to lead off the discussion from the Muslim side on the question of ‘Interfaith Alliances in times of Crises’. To me this question appears as though the ‘alliances’ are programed to respond in a reactive mode, and that because a crisis threatens to fragment the alliance we have somehow to hustle to hold it together. A crisis-driven mode of any alliance is not built to last.

Rather I would maintain that all our alliances should be built on a solid foundation when not in a crisis mode and we have the time to answer the difficult questions that our respective constituencies have.

Thus with respect to Islam some of the concerns that Christians and Jews might have include:

  1. Does Islam promote, condone, or condemn terrorism?
  2. If Islam condemns terrorism why is it that some Muslim individuals and groups conduct acts of such barbarity in the name of Islam?
  3. If Islam is not monolithic who speaks for Muslims?
  4. Is there any incompatibility between being a practicing Muslim and a patriotic American?
  5. What is Jihad and what if any is its connection with terrorism?
  6. What is Shariah and is it essential for Muslims in the current climate of misunderstanding to promote its implementation?
  7. If Islam teaches that all authority resides in our Creator, how can they accept the separation of Church and State?
  8. As a corollary if Muslims cannot live under a democratic regime are they out to establish a ‘global caliphate?’                                                                                                                                                      These are just some questions that Christians may have about Islam and the Muslims in their midst, that make it difficult for them to understand how Islam can depict itself as a religion of Peace and yet its adherents demonstrate anything but peace, tolerance and respect. Unless Muslims confront these questions directly and provide answers that our Interfaith partners can convey to their respective constituencies, these are the types of questions that could create problems in times of crises. To me there are 3 explanations for the anomaly between the message of Peace of Islam and the violence of some of its radicals.  1. There is a small band of totally misguided Muslims who could best described as heretics who have grotesquely distorted the message of Islam and have framed the discourse based on completely baseless fatwas or decrees that make it permissible to kill innocent people (of all faiths especially Muslims who do not espouse their views), a view that is an absolute contradiction of all Islamic principles and values. Clearly the existence of this band of deviant Muslims creates the type of tensions that make all our lives uneasy.  2. There is a highly organized cabal of Islamophobes who have made Islam-bashing a highly profitable industry. They would not be able to exist if there were no deranged Muslims in the first place adding fuel to the fire of  Islamophobia. They feed of each other.   3. The Muslim heretics and their Islamophobic  counterparts would not be able to gain much traction out of their malice were it not for the collusion of the media: firstly they are silent about the protestations against terrorism  by the overwhelming majority of Muslims, and  secondly by their invidious insinuation that every act of unmitigated violence by anyone, who   claims a ‘Muslim’ background is immediately broadcast as an act of ‘terror’ or ‘Islamist terror’, whereas any such repugnant act by a non-Muslim as in Sandy Hook  etc.  is never linked to the religious affiliation of the perpetrator. No attempts are made to unearth the psychological profiles of any so-called Muslim profligates whose acts are simply linked to their religion.  Law enforcement, the media and the public in general have a responsibility to contemplate the underlying psychopathy in these mass murderers as is always done in the case of other recent non-Muslim terrorists (Wade Page, Jared Loughner, Adam Lanza, James Holmes, and Anders Breivik). Their heinous acts are referred to euphemistically as those of ‘deeply disturbed persons’, or those of a ‘lone wolf’ with no attempt to link their unholy behavior to their religious affiliations. It is an affront to the memory of those who lost loved ones at the hands of these monsters that their pain is any less because it was not brought on by ‘Islamist terrorists’.
  9. Thus the Muslims are losing the battle in the media to get their message out. In the same way as non- Muslims have concerns about some of the aberrant behavior of Muslims, Muslims also have concerns about the behavior of some of their non-Muslim counterparts, but because they constitute an insignificant and misunderstood community their concerns are either suppressed or overlooked. The Muslim concerns include issues such as – homelessness, drugs, healthcare, the expanding wealth gap, oligarchy, sexual license, gambling, alcohol, exploitation of women, foreign policy, civil rights erosions, gun control, ‘free speech’ etc., especially in a country that has been endowed with such a rich legacy and has so much power for exercising good.   It is in times of peace that we must address these issues of common concern to all of us by building trust, understanding, mutual respect, and friendship. We must recognize that we share a common humanity that is threatened by evil forces that we cannot challenge and overcome by our solitary efforts. We must abide by the Golden Rule for all. ‘Never again’ should be unconditional! We must know that each of us has the same fears, aspirations, needs for security, love, and well-being, regardless of whether we live in Boston, Timbuktu, Machu  Pichu, Sareyavo , or Tbilisi. In this country that we all love and call home we have to work together to root out the forces of corruption, injustice, exploitation and oppression that exist within our own borders and reduce to a travesty the grand scale of human rights protection that the framers of our Constitution had envisaged. Such a common purpose cannot be achieved in a moment of crisis. Such collective action requires a long term sincere commitment to understand that we are in this together and we can only succeed if we work together. We need to build these interfaith alliances not during crises but when we have time, to sit together, and without compromising any of our principles, we must learn to look at the big picture and recognize that it is in the big picture that we must see the unity and power of our interfaith alliances. We need to be common citizens first before we divide ourselves along our religious lines. That we are different on the bases of our color, races, ethnicities, religions and languages is a Blessing from God. We are who we are and we must learn to not only to respect but also to celebrate our differences. This does not mean that we all celebrate the same holidays, but we should be able to wish others well on their respective holidays. There are occasions on which we can all rejoice in the same holidays, but we should be able to respect the differences that prevent all of us from celebrating them in the same way. There are occasions when we need to salute the flag, sing the national anthem and swear the pledge of allegiance. We should all be able to join as one in such activities. These simple acts show our unconditional commitment to our country and our fellow beings. It does more to solidify our relationships not only with our friends in the interfaith community but also society at large. Crisis or no crisis we are indeed ‘One Nation under God’.

The greatest threats to this country are from within and include: immense trade deficit, immigration, lack of jobs, escalating asynchronous wealth distribution, and with it the imposition of an oligarchy, civil rights erosion, unbalanced and opportunistic foreign policy, hate speech masquerading as ‘free speech’, fragmented healthcare, creeping euthanasia, gun control or lack thereof, global warming, and media concentration of power, are some of the hot button issues – beside which the threat from terrorism to our way of life, as distressful as it is to our equanimity, is a monstrous scare tactic. As Eisenhower observed, ‘This world of ours… must avoid becoming a community of dreadful fear and hate, and be, instead, a proud confederation of mutual trust and respect. ‘Also, ‘the problem in defense is how far you can go without destroying from within what you are trying to defend from without.’  Similar sentiments were expressed by Abraham Lincoln who observed, “America will never be destroyed from the outside. If we falter and lose our freedoms, it will be because we destroyed ourselves.”

 Martin Luther King Jr. had this to say, “ We are called to speak for the weak, for the voiceless, for victims of our nation and those it calls enemy, for no document from human hands can make these humans any less our brothers”. And finally JFK noted, “if a free country cannot help the many who are poor, it cannot save the few who are rich.”  

An item of immediate religious relevance to both our communities is that despite Islam’s unequivocal decree that ‘There is no compulsion in religion’, many so-called Muslim countries have a dreadful record in accommodating minority religious groups in their midst. By the same token certain Christian groups exploit the victims of war and famine to advance their proselytization. Both these practices must stop.

In the final analysis, if despite all the pre-emptive measures we cultivate to promote goodwill, harmony and peace, and fail, we have pronouncements from two of the greatest leaders of mankind (May Peace be onto them both) which are designed as a protective shield from an open crisis. The first is a timeless rebuttal to the curse, in this case on the Syrian carnage by Sara Palin, “Kill ’em all and let God sort ’em out.”  The rebuttal is from the Prince of Peace himself who warned, ’Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account,’ (Matthew 5:3-12). An equally stern warning was issued to Muslims by Prophet Mohammed who said,” He who wrongs a Jew or a Christian will have myself as his indicter on the Day of Judgment (Bukhari). Perhaps Lincoln should be permitted the last word when he reminded us all, ‘Ask not whether God is on our side; ask rather whether we are on God’s side”.           

Abdul Cader Asmal 6/18/2013

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