SEASON OF DIALOGUES
In this Muslim World, Mosques and
Churches often share the same space.
Muqtedar Khan | 08.17.2010
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
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
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.
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