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Work with Muslims opens ‘new world’

 
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7:00 A.M. EST Sept. 20, 2010

A supporter of religious freedom holds a sign during Sept. 11 memorial observances in New York. UMNS photos by John C. Goodwin.
A supporter of religious freedom holds a sign during Sept. 11 memorial observances in New York. UMNS photos by John C. Goodwin.
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As I hear the debate rage over the building of the Cordoba House Community Center in Lower Manhattan, it causes me great sadness to watch two religious leaders whom I admire castigated and derided by media, politicians and a group of people who don’t really know them or their work.

I know their work. I am a member of the Church of St. Paul and St. Andrew United Methodist. In 2003, I had the privilege of working with Daisy Khan and Imam Feisal Rauf on a project that opened a new world of interfaith understanding to me. My life was forever changed, and the bonds created between my Jewish and Muslim brothers and sisters remain an important part of my life and the life of my church today. We called the project “Same Difference.”

“Same Difference,” primarily funded by the United Methodist Committee on Relief’s 9/11 Fund, brought together a team of Christian, Jewish and Muslim interviewers who spread across the five boroughs of New York City. The goal was a better understanding of interfaith relations since 9/11.

Daisy, Eileen Weiss (from Congregation B’nai Jeshurun) and I worked diligently to make sure conservative, moderate and liberal religious practices were evenly represented in our interview pool. We combined the exact words from these interviews with music and dance to create an interfaith play titled “Same Difference.”

A cathartic experience

The play and a series of talkback sessions provided a cathartic and healing experience for everyone involved. The honest anger and fears left from the 9/11 tragedy were laid bare. But here, in a safe space allowing actors to express shared feelings, we were able to address our differences, finding that many of our hopes and dreams for the future were indeed the same.

The relationship with Daisy and Feisal continued with a Cordoba Bread Project exploring how the Abrahamic faiths use bread in their traditions. Then our three congregations participated together in a series of “Break Fast” dinners. More recently, Daisy helped find a Muslim female “voice of vision” for the United Methodist Women’s 2010 Assembly, where more than 7,000 women gathered in St. Louis. Her words were an inspiration for peace.

A police officer stands watch Sept. 11 over the former Burlington Coat Factory building in lower Manhattan, the proposed site for an Islamic cultural center.
A police officer stands watch Sept. 11 over the former Burlington Coat Factory building in lower Manhattan, the proposed site for an Islamic cultural center.
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Daisy is a courageous woman of faith. She has created a project trying to allow women scholars to reinterpret the Koran, thereby creating a new Sharia law. She is forging new ground for Muslim women everywhere. Her openness radiates positive energy to everyone she meets.

Feisal is a captivating and insightful imam, widely respected across the New York interfaith community and around the world. I always feel the presence of God when I hear Feisal speak.

I hope every United Methodist around the country can hear my story and feel that somehow, you too know Daisy Khan and Imam Feisal Rauf. 

Still fearful of ‘the other’

One of the greatest fears expressed during the show was by a Muslim educator who said the 19 hijackers not only hijacked the planes "but they also hijacked Islam for me.” She worried no one would ever again be able to separate Islam from terrorism.

The recent furor over the building of the Cordoba House Community Center confirms her fears. We have just passed the ninth anniversary of the 9/11 tragedy, and still we are fearful of “the other.” To oppose Cordoba House, one must first believe that the Muslim religion itself encourages violence. It is a wrong and prejudicial belief that we cannot afford in a country founded on freedom of religion.

Radicals and extremists within all faiths lie in waiting for permission to act out against society. When politicians, the media and other religious leaders give them permission by stoking hatred, they act. These people use religion as an excuse for their violent behavior. Feisal often says he has more in common with a moderate Christian than with a radical Muslim. What I have seen and learned from Daisy and Feisal has shown me clearly that peace is possible. 

Many journalists have asked Daisy and Feisal, “Where were the voices of moderate Muslims after 9/11?” They are here in my friends. Daisy and Feisal are willing and ready to speak out for freedom within and beyond their faith. Are we ready to support them? I hope so.

*Brockus, a member of the Church of St. Paul and St. Andrew, served as a performing arts and design consultant for the 2006 and 2010 UMW assemblies and the 2008 General Conference.

News media contact: Linda Bloom, New York, 646-369-3759 or newsdesk@umcom.org.

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