This article was published in the Wilmington News Journal under the title “Delawareans, be proud of your open
minds about interfaith issues” on May 4th, 2010 and also in AltMuslimah.com |05/04.2010|
The last four weeks have been a feast for my mind and my soul. I have enjoyed participating in a series of dialogues on a plethora of issues, ranging from the contribution of Muslim women to American society to the stalemate in the Arab-Israeli peace process. While some states like Arizona are screaming to the world that their minds are closing, Delaware continues to nourish open minds. It maybe a small state, but does have a big heart.
We began by inviting four accomplished women lawyers to come and tell their stories to our students. There is so much talk about women and Islam, and most of it focuses on the negatives. What is often ignored is that there are indeed millions of Muslim women all over the world who are living extremely accomplished lives. They have great careers and great family life. They are professionals, business owners, they win Nobel prizes for struggles for human rights, they run countries and they run homes.
These women; Rafia Zakaria, a national board member of Amnesty International, Asma Uddin, an advocate for international religious freedoms, Hina Haq, a prosecutor of domestic violence crimes and Nina Qureshi, an immigration lawyer, destroyed stereotypes of Muslim women and started a process of rethinking of the status of women in Islam on the University campus. I can see it in the simulations, in the questions posed to visiting scholars and in the questions that are driving research papers. They shared the passion they felt for the rule of law and the principles of justice and rights. They discussed their personal journeys as jurists reflecting on their Islamic faith and the Muslim mandate to enjoin good and forbid evil. They also talked about the evolution of their Islamic identity as they engaged with American norms and cultural ethos.
Over three weeks ago, a former advisor to Presidents Nixon and Reagan, Robert Crane, initiated a fascinating conversation. He talked about the natural law basis of the ideas of justice as enshrined in the US Constitution and in the Islamic Shariah. His memories about US engagement with Islamic movements in the 1980s were intriguing. It is fascinating to note that the US was more open to dialogue with Islamists under Reagan than it is now under Obama. Clearly the catastrophic attacks on the US on September 11, 2001, had a marked shift in US posture.
Senator Ted Kaufman visited my class and argued that President Obama’s foreign policy was clearly moving away from that of President G. W. Bush’s, but in doing so it looked more and more like the foreign policy of President George H. Bush. Interesting. Yesterday’s Republican is today’s Democrat?
I have a soft spot for the wonderful folks at the Westminster Presbyterian Church. Once again they hosted me (last Sunday), to tackle a very interesting theme – What the Quran says about Christians. As usually the event was thought provoking, the audience intelligent and curios and the atmosphere deeply spiritual. The Church in collaboration with the Muslim Professionals of Delaware is starting a monthly interfaith-group that will explore spiritual and religious themes of common interest and this event was the stage-setter.
Next stop, Wilmington Friends School (WFS). I had the opportunity to participate on a panel and engage with seventy of their young scholars. The theme was about the prospects for peace in the Middle East. In keeping with the Quaker tradition of WFS, the panel touched on some of the most difficult issues without reticence but concluded on a note of hope for the future.
The panel was very diverse. It included Dr. Sandy Rae a psychologist who has worked in Palestine. Ron and Rosita Abel, a fascinating couple – Jewish and Palestinian – who work tirelessly for peace in the Middle East. Ben Schiff a young Israeli who served in Israeli Defense Forces and is now visiting Delaware, and the distinguished John Elzufon – my friend and critic — and a prominent member of the Delaware Jewish community.
While there were many disagreements about the Middle East, we did all agree that the students of WFS are very smart and that the U.S. must play a more meaningful role in the peace process.
We live in an age of cultural, religious and political polarization. The differences are sharp and the rhetoric vitriolic. Partisanship holds sway. People are quick to judge, reluctant to engage and slow to forgive. Delaware is fortunate that we have so many in our midst who are eager to reach out and listen. Lets keep it that way.