Throughout the debate over the Islamic community center set to be built near ground zero, conservative media have repeatedly conflated all Muslims with violent extremists. Moreover, they have explicitly smeared Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, who is spearheading the project, as a radical Muslim who supports terrorists, when in fact, Rauf has a long history of condemning terrorism, promoting pluralism, and arguing that the true meaning of Islam involves democracy, religious freedom and women's rights.
Rauf is pluralistic adherent of Sufism, which is frequently attacked by extremists. Historian William Dalrymple wrote in an August 16 New York Times op-ed that “Feisal Abdul Rauf of the Cordoba Initiative 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 Wahhabism of the jihadists.” Dalrymple further stated that “such moderate, pluralistic Sufi imams are the front line against the most violent forms of Islam.” Dalrymple added that “Sufi leaders risk their lives for their tolerant beliefs” and went on to list several recent attacks on Sufis by the Pakistani Taliban.
Rauf: “I am a supporter of the State of Israel.” The New York Times noted on August 21 that Rauf “is often described as having refused to call Hamas” a “terrorist organization.” When asked about the Hamas designation in a radio interview, Rauf stated:
Well, I'm not a politician. ... The issue of terrorism is a very complex question. ... I am a bridge builder. My work is ... I do not want to be placed nor will I accept a position where I am the target of one side or another. My attempt is to see a peace in Israel. ... Targeting of civilians is wrong. It's a sin in our religion, whoever does it. ... I am a supporter of the State of Israel.
Rauf's Cordoba Initiative states on its website: “Hamas is both a political movement and a terrorist organization. Hamas commits atrocious acts of terror. Imam Feisal has forcefully and consistently condemned all forms of terrorism, including those committed by Hamas, as un-Islamic.”
NY Times: Rauf is “pro-American within the Muslim world.” The New York Times reported on August 21 that Rauf “consistently denounces violence. Some of his views on the interplay between terrorism and American foreign policy -- or his search for commonalities between Islamic law and this country's Constitution -- have proved jarring to some American ears, but still place him as pro-American within the Muslim world. He devotes himself to befriending Christians and Jews -- so much, some Muslim Americans say, that he has lost touch with their own concerns.”
Bush administration sent Rauf on State Department trip in 2007. In an August 10 press briefing, Assistant Secretary of State P.J. Crowley addressed the State Department travel program in which Rauf is participating, noting that its purpose is to promote “religious tolerance” and provide Muslim countries with a “moderate perspective” of being “Muslim in the United States.” Crowley noted:
For Imam Feisal, this will be his third trip under this program. In 2007, he visited Bahrain, Morocco, the UAE and Qatar. And earlier this year in January, he also visited Egypt. So we have a long-term relationship with him. His work on tolerance and religious diversity is well-known and he brings a moderate perspective to foreign audiences on what it's like to be a practicing Muslim in the United States. And our discussions with him about taking this trip preceded the current debate in New York over the center.
Rauf worked with FBI agents in 2003. The New York Daily News reported on March 11, 2003, (accessed via Nexis) that Rauf spoke to FBI agents “as part of an FBI effort to present agents who are the ground troops in the war against terrorism with a view of Islam that avoids stereotypes.” From the Daily News article:
In an office in lower Manhattan yesterday blocks from Ground Zero, Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf talked about his Muslim beliefs to an unusual audience -- a roomful of FBI agents.
“Islamic extremism for the majority of Muslims is an oxymoron,” he explained to the agents. “It is a fundamental contradiction in terms.”
Rauf -- imam of the Masjid al-Farah mosque of Tribeca -- was speaking as part of an FBI effort to present agents who are the ground troops in the war against terrorism with a view of Islam that avoids stereotypes.
Rauf made clear Islam's image has been distorted by radical fundamentalists who insist on strict adherence to their interpretation of the Koran and impose a fascistic order on certain countries.
“It can happen under any religion,” he noted.
He insisted Islam has a historic kinship with both Judaism and Christianity, a relationship of which not only Americans but many Muslims are unaware.
Rauf said “strict prohibition on charging interest” has caused Muslim world to lag behind. Rauf wrote in his book, What's Right with Islam: A New Vision for Muslims and the West:
It is ironic that enormous good has come from the inventions of banking and the corporation -- two practices that were once major sins in all the Abrahamic faith traditions: charging interest for moneylending and eliminating the obligation to fully repay one's debt. But these two institutions combined with the emergence of modern liberal democracy to radically improve the fortunes of the Western world. The beginnings of modern capitalism -- made possible by the limited liability company and its ability to borrow money and invest it in highly profitable but risky ventures without completely wiping out its owners' assets -- led to the creation of enormous wealth and fueled the rise of the West to economic dominance, which continues to this day. Not being able to accept these ideas is one of the primary reasons the Muslim world lagged behind the West and the Asian Pacific nations, which did not have to contend with the religious compunctions that held the Muslim world back. The problem was that Muslim jurists equated any amount of interest, no matter how small, with usury, which the Quran absolutely forbids. This strict prohibition on charging interest still prevails in the Muslim world and has largely prevented it from robustly developing the financial market's institutions of banking, capital markets, and stock exchanges -- the foundations of capitalism. [Pages 3-4]
Rauf's view of true Islam: Democracy, religious freedom, gender equality. In a June 5, 2009, Washington Post op-ed, Rauf praised Obama's Cairo speech and wrote: “The question now is whether Muslim governments and warring factions can embrace the true meaning of Islam.” Rauf further stated that "[a]dherence to Islam would end indiscriminate firing of missiles from Gaza into Israel that kill innocents" and that “Islam supports democracy with government run by consent of the people” :
Religious freedom is at the core of Islam. The Quran expressly and unambiguously prohibits the coercion of faith because that violates a fundamental human right -- the right to a free conscience. The Quran says in one place “There shall be no compulsion in religion.” And in another it says, “To you your beliefs and to me, mine.”
The Prophet Muhammad has been known as the first feminist. “The best of you are those who are best to their women,” he said. Gender equality is an intrinsic part of Islamic belief. The Quran makes no difference in the religious obligations of men and women and set the stage for women's rights. Many of the limits placed on women in Muslim societies are due to local custom more than to Islamic teaching.
Rauf: We need to stop “the utilization of government policy and power to forward a particular religious agenda.” During a 2006 appearance on ABC News' Good Morning America, Rauf stated that “when political issues or -- government policy becomes a -- means of fulfilling a religious agenda, that's where the danger lies.” Rauf added:
RAUF: We have to do this both in the West as well as in the Islamic world. There is too much of the linkage. When we talk about separation of church and state, for instance, it is not that there should be no state religion, because Britain has a state religion. There is a state, an English state religion. The issue is the de-linking of the utilization of government policy and power to forward a particular religious agenda. And that is the issue which needs to be dealing with.
Rauf: Men need to hear the “Islamic arguments” for women's rights. Religion News Service reported on November 22, 2006:
Feisal Abdul Rauf, the latest in a family line of imams, weaved through the crowd of chattering women, balancing four cups of coffee on a cardboard tray. Arriving at his table, where he was the only man, he passed the coffees around, wearing a sly grin.
The scene contrasted with popular notions of Islamic religious leaders clinging to antiquated gender roles, and Muslim women as sorely oppressed. A religious leader serving women may not be an image that comes to many minds either Muslims or non-Muslim.
Yet that's exactly what happened this past weekend (Nov. 18-19), when close to 200 women from more than 20 countries gathered here for the Women's Initiative in Spirituality and Equity. Their goal: to create an all-female Islamic council to advocate for women's concerns, and fund women's projects around the world, including scholarships to educate Muslim women.
Rauf, the coffee-carrying imam, said patriarchy in the Muslim world is exaggerated and Muslim men are willing and able to accept women as equals. It's just a matter of presenting them with women-friendly interpretations of Islamic texts, he said.
“Most Muslim men's hearts are already there; what is needed is an explanation,” said Rauf, a New York City imam. “They know what is right. But they don't have the Islamic arguments for it.”
Rauf said the Quran is replete with references to women's equality. Islam's Prophet Muhammad, whose ways Muslims try to emulate, sewed his own clothes, swept the floor and did other household chores, for example.
Rauf and Khan said in 2006 that Muslims feel “comfortable in America” because “America protects religions and allows Muslims to be themselves.” A June 21, 2006, State Department press release on the “Muslim Leaders of Tomorrow” forum quoted Rauf and his wife, Cordoba Initiative director Daisy Khan, as praising America's religious freedoms:
There are almost 8 million Muslims in America and 25 million in the West, Khan said. But it is a diverse community, particularly in New York where almost 1 million Muslims come from every country in the Muslim world.
It is easier for Muslims to be accepted in the United States, Canada and Australia, because those countries have “a clear sense of being immigrant nations,” Rauf added.
As a faith community, American Muslims “feel generally comfortable in America ... in the sense that America protects religions and allows Muslims to be themselves, to practice their faith in the way they want,” Khan said.
Time's Ghosh: Rauf argues that “American democracy is the embodiment of Islam's ideal society.” Bobby Ghosh of Time wrote on August 3 that "[t]he Kuwaiti-born Rauf, 52, is the imam of a mosque in New York City's Tribeca district, has written extensively on Islam and its place in modern society and often argues that American democracy is the embodiment of Islam's ideal society." Ghosh further noted: “Since 9/11, Western 'experts' have said repeatedly that Muslim leaders who fit Rauf's description should be sought out and empowered to fight the rising tide of extremism.”
Rauf, Khan formed organization to “meld Islamic Observance with women's rights and modernity.” The New York Times reported on August 11 that Rauf and Khan “founded a Sufi organization advocating melding Islamic observance with women's rights and modernity. After 9/11 they raised their profile, renaming the group the American Society for Muslim Advancement and focusing on connecting Muslims and wider American society. They spoke out against religious violence; the imam advised the F.B.I.; his wife joined the board of the 9/11 memorial and museum.”
Rauf argues that “the American political structure” is harmonious with Islam. In a December 12, 2005, article for The New Republic, Spencer Ackerman wrote that in contrast to “Europe's growing Muslim culture of alienation,” Muslims in America are less drawn to extremism “because of a fundamentally American attribute: the mutually reinforcing creeds of pluralism and religiosity.” Ackerman also quoted Rauf:
Most Americans would be horrified by the notion that they live in a country that abides by Islamic law. But some American Muslim leaders contend that U.S. society is harmonious with Koranic injunctions without even trying. “America is positively, unabashedly religious,” enthuses Feisal Abdul Rauf, a New York-based imam. In his important 2004 book, titled What's Right With Islam, Abdul Rauf contends that space for religiosity is essentially inseparable from American liberalism, codified in both the U.S. political system and the broader U.S. social compact: “Fully in keeping with the principles of the Abrahamic ethic, American religious pluralism was not merely a historical or political fact; it became, in the mind of the American, the primordial condition of things, a self-evident and essential aspect of the American way of life and therefore in itself an aspect of the American creed.” Drawing on hundreds of years of Islamic writings, Abdul Rauf makes the case that, by upholding the five conditions understood by Muslim legal scholars to constitute the good society -- life, mental well-being, religion, property, and family -- “the American political structure is Shariah compliant.”
Rauf: Muslims are fleeing to Western states that more compatible with Islamic principles. From a July 18, 2005, interview with the Australian Broadcasting Corp.:
RAUF: A century ago or more than a century ago the Chief Mufti in Egypt made a statement which was very well known in the Muslim world and among scholars of Islam even in the West.
On a visit to Paris and to France he returned and said that in France I saw Islam but no Muslims and in Egypt I see Muslims with no Islam. It's a very important point for people to understand, both Muslims and non-Muslims.
The reason why Muslims are fleeing many of their societies to countries like Australia, western Europe, United States and Canada is because the societal mandates of an Islamic society and Islamic State is in fact the kind of structure of society that we see in Western societies - the ability of people to participate in issues of governance, issues of the economic wellbeing and economic pie are fundamental to Islamic principles of governance. [accessed via Nexis]
Rauf was invited to speak at Daniel Pearl memorial service, and he spoke of “confirm[ing] the common ground of our faiths.” The Atlantic's Jeffrey Goldberg noted on August 19 that Rauf spoke at a memorial service for Daniel Pearl, a Jewish journalist who was kidnapped and murdered by militants in Pakistan. Rauf stated:
O Lord, we are people who are not usually in the same room with one another, and all too rarely with an opportunity to talk to each other.
We are people of faith and perhaps people without any professed religion: practicing and perhaps not. Today we are members of many faiths: Christian, Jew and Muslim. But we have come together to confirm the common ground of our faiths, on which we all stand united, to assert our common values, values that constrain us to act in the highest sense of what it means to be human.
We are here to assert the Islamic conviction of the moral equivalency of our Abrahamic faiths. If to be a Jew means to say with all one's heart, mind and soul Shma` Yisrael, Adonai Elohenu Adonai Ahad; hear O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is One, not only today I am a Jew, I have always been one, Mr. Pearl.
If to be a Christian is to love the Lord our God with all of my heart, mind and soul, and to love for my fellow human being what I love for myself, then not only am I a Christian, but I have always been one Mr. Pearl.
And I am here to inform you, with the full authority of the Quranic texts and the practice of the Prophet Muhammad, that to say La ilaha illallah Muhammadun rasulullah is no different. It expresses the same theological and ethical principles and values.
We are here especially to seek your forgiveness and of your family for what has been done in the name of Islam.
Rauf: God sent “the truth to every other faith tradition.” Rauf stated during a January 9, 2005, CNN interview: “I think that religious leaders and thinkers should amplify the common message to all of our faith traditions and those of us from within the Muslim tradition need to point out that we believe, as Muslims, that God did send the truth to every other faith tradition. There's not a community to whom God did not reveal the same principles of the absolute truth and the absoluteness of God that God is the God of all of humanity and that we are to treat each other as we want ourselves to be treated.”
Rauf, Khan reportedly perform interfaith marriage ceremonies. The Washington Post reported that Rauf “and his wife also serve as spiritual guides for a small community of Muslim American go-getters, holding zikrs in their home as well as doing informal matchmaking and performing marriage ceremonies, including ones for interfaith couples.”
Rauf attended interfaith conference with Jewish, Christian leaders and Bush official Karen Hughes. In March 2006, Rauf attended the International Conference on Faith and Service with Walter Isaacson, Karen Hughes, Rabbi Irving Greenberg, and Rev. Richard Cizik. The Washington Times report on the event stated:
Islamic doctrine says there “shall be no compulsion in religion” and says people of all faiths should be allowed to practice their religion unmolested, said Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, head of the American Society for Muslim Advancement. “It is a travesty of Islamic law and Islamic thought” that these principles are violated today.
Rauf spoke at UN seminar on combating anti-Semitism. The Associated Press reported on June 22, 2004, that Rauf was a speaker at “the first-ever U.N. seminar on combating anti-Semitism.” From the article:
Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, president of the American Sufi Muslim Association and the only Muslim speaker at Monday's seminar, said he is committed to bringing Muslims and non-Muslims together.
If that happens, Rauf said, “we might be able to create the proverbial straw that might break the back of anti-Semitism and hatred worldwide.”
Rauf: “The teachings of Islam are very similar to the teachings of Christianity, of loving the one God and loving thy neighbor.” During a November 2006 interview with ABC News' Diane Sawyer, Rauf stated:
SAWYER: What don't the rest of us understand about the enflamed feelings of the Muslim community?
RAUF: Well, the Muslim world has felt for a long time besieged by the West, by Western culture, Western faith traditions, Western atheism from the Soviet Union. And what we see over the last 30, 40 years is a -- is a reaction from the action, which began and peaked in the first part of the 20th century against religion in general, and Islam as well as other faith traditions.
SAWYER: Do you feel these are overreactions or appropriate reactions to these two events?
RAUF: I feel they are wrong reactions. The -- these reactions are not at all called for by Islamic teachings. The teachings of Islam are very similar to the teachings of Christianity, of loving the one God and loving thy neighbor. These are the two common principles.
Rev. William Tully asked Rauf to teach class on “What Every Christian and Jew Needs to Know About Islam.” The New York Times reported in December 2007 that Rev. William McDonald Tully of St. Bartholomew's Episcopal Church “brought in a rabbi, Leonard Schoolman, to run the church's Center for Religious Inquiry, and hired an imam, Feisal Abdul Rauf, to teach a course called 'What Every Christian and Jew Needs to Know About Islam.' ”
Rauf: “We condemn terrorists. We recognize it exists in our faith, but we are committed to eradicate it.” A May 21 New York Daily News article quoted Rauf stating: “We condemn terrorists. We recognize it exists in our faith, but we are committed to eradicate it.” He also stated: “We want to rebuild this community. ... This is about moderate Muslims who intend to be and want to be part of the solution.”
Slate: Rauf has “denounced church burnings in Muslim countries ... proposed to reclaim Islam from violent radicals.” An August 2 Slate.com article reported that Rauf “has denounced church burnings in Muslim countries, rejected Islamic triumphalism over Christians and Jews, and proposed to reclaim Islam from violent radicals such as Osama Bin Laden."
NY Times: Rauf “condemns suicide bombings and all violence carried out in the name of religion.” A June 23, 2004, New York Times article reported that Rauf “condemns suicide bombings and all violence carried out in the name of religion.” The Times further reported that Rauf “meets regularly with Christian and Jewish leaders, not only to forge a common front but also to explain his belief that Islamic terrorists do not come from another moral universe -- that they arise from oppressive societies that he feels Washington had a hand in creating.”
After 9-11, Rauf “categorically condemned suicide bombers.” A June 8, 2004, Newsday article (accessed via Nexis) reported: “Rauf has done little else since the terrorist attacks that pulled him from his mahogany pulpit in the shadow of Ground Zero. At the outset, he categorically condemned suicide bombers and, in fact, any violence committed in the name of religion.” The article further reported: “He also said that American policies 'were an accessory to the crime that happened' since they had armed a generation of jihadists to fight the Soviets in Afghanistan,” and quoted him saying, “Explaining is not justifying. ... I want people to understand the things that have fueled terrorism, because if we address them, that's how we eliminate terror.”
Rauf: “I can confidently assert that I am closer to my Jewish and Christian brothers here ... than the Muslim militants carrying a narrow view.” According to a September 8, 2002, Denver Post article (from Nexis), Rauf told congregants at his Manhattan mosque: “I can confidently assert that I am closer to my Jewish and Christian brothers here a [sic] than the Muslim militants carrying a narrow view.”
Daily News: Rauf “has a long history of opposing radical teachings.” A May 21 Daily News editorial stated that Rauf “has a long history of opposing radical teachings and reaching out across religious lines to Christians and Jews. He leads a mosque in Tribeca, several of whose members were killed in the collapse of the World Trade Center.”
Rauf denounced “destructive” response from Muslim world to Pope's controversial remarks about Islam. In 2006, Pope Benedict XVI quoted a Byzantine emperor's statement that Muhammad preached “evil and inhuman” things, prompting sometimes violent protests throughout the Muslim world. The Pope later apologized for his remarks. When asked by Foreign Policy about the speech and the controversy, Rauf stated:
My first thought was deep disappointment that the Muslim world reacted in such a destructive way. The burning of churches and things like that are completely antithetical to the teachings and principles of Islam. While we may have our grounds for disagreeingand some of us may disagree stronglywith the remarks that the Holy Father quoted, and while it might be offensive, destruction was not warranted by Islamic thought or jurisprudence.
To err is human, to forgive is divine. The need for an apology is less an issue than the duty and responsibility of religious leaders to be educated on other religions and to make sure we are responsible in what we say. One of the cardinal rules of interfaith dialogue is that we should not judge the best of our traditions against the worst of another. There are episodes of history in the Catholic Church, like during the Inquisition, which Muslims cannot regard as normative to the teachings of Jesus Christ. Neither should certain actions taken by certain Muslims be judged as normative of the faith of Islam.
Huffington Post: Descriptions of imam as radical “are frighteningly ... unhinged from reality” to those who “actually know” Rauf. In an August 17 article noting that Rauf worked with the FBI to “provide agents with 'a clear picture' ” of Islam, The Huffington Post reported that "[f]or those who actually know or have worked with the imam, the descriptions are frighteningly -- indeed, depressingly -- unhinged from reality." The article further noted that Rauf has served to “promote a more positive integration of Muslims into American society” and reported that "[h]is efforts and profile rose dramatically after the [9-11] attacks when, in need of a calm voice to explain why greater Islam was not a force bent on terrorism, he became a go-to quote for journalists on the beat."
Aspen Institute CEO Isaacson: Rauf “has consistently denounced radical Islam and terrorism, and promoted a moderate and tolerant Islam.” In its article, The Huffington Post quoted Aspen Institute president and CEO Walter Isaacson saying: “Imam Feisal has participated at the Aspen Institute in Muslim-Christian-Jewish working groups looking at ways to promote greater religious tolerance. ... He has consistently denounced radical Islam and terrorism, and promoted a moderate and tolerant Islam. Some of this work was done under the auspices of his own group, the Cordoba Initiative. I liked his book, and I participated in some of the meetings in 2004 or so. This is why I find it a shame that his good work is being undermined by this inflamed dispute. He is the type of leader we should be celebrating in America, not undermining.”
ADL's Foxman: Rauf “a moderate imam” who “certainly has spoken out against some of the extremism in the Islamic world.” On the August 5 edition of Fox News' Fox & Friends, Abraham Foxman of the Anti-Defamation League, which opposes the planned Islamic center, stated that Rauf “wrote a book about moderation and tolerance” and that “as far as we're concerned, he is what he is: a moderate imam. He certainly has spoken out against some of the extremism in the Islamic world.”
Colleagues have reportedly described Rauf “as having built a career preaching tolerance and interfaith understanding.” A December 8, 2009, New York Times article stated: “Those who have worked with him say if anyone could pull off what many regard to be a delicate project, it would be Imam Feisal, whom they described as having built a career preaching tolerance and interfaith understanding.” The Times quoted Rabbi Arthur Schneier, leader of New York City's Park East Synagogue, as saying, ''He subscribes to my credo: 'Live and let live.' '' The Times also reported that Joan Brown Campbell, former general secretary of the National Council of Churches of Christ U.S.A., is “a supporter” of Rauf.
Rauf: Declaration of Independence expresses an “Islamic ... ethic.” In his 2004 book, What's Right With Islam, Rauf argued that the “American political structure is Shariah compliant” just like any other political structure that “upholds, protects, and furthers” the “God-given” rights of “life, mind (that is, mental well-being or sanity), religion, property (or wealth), and family (or lineage and progeny).” Rauf writes that the Declaration of Independence “opens with the words 'When ... it becomes necessary for one People ... to assume ... the separate and equal Station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God entitle them' (italics added).” Rauf comments that "[t]o Muslims, the law decreed by God is called the Shariah, and therefore the 'Laws of Nature and of Nature's God' are by definition Shariah law." From What's Right With Islam:
Grounding itself in reason, just as the Quran and the Abrahamic ethic did in asserting the self-evident oneness of God, the Declaration opens with the most important line in the document: “We hold these Truths to be self-evident.” The language evokes the long tradition of natural law, which holds that there is a higher law of right and wrong from which to derive human law and against which human laws may be -- and ought to be -- measured. It is not political will but moral reasoning accessible to all that is the foundation of the American political system.
But “nature,” at least in the eyes of believers in God, is just another word for “God's creation,” and thus natural law must mean “the laws that God established and structured creation on.” These span the spectrum from the laws of the physical sciences such as mathematics, physics, biology, and chemistry to the sociological and psychological laws that govern human relationships, all of which are knowable to humans through reason. Thus the first paragraph of the Declaration of Independence opens with the words “When ... it becomes necessary for one People ... to assume ... the separate and equal Station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God entitle them” (italics added).
To Muslims, the law decreed by God is called the Shariah, and therefore the “Laws of Nature and of Nature's God” are by definition Shariah law. It is a law that has to appeal to human reason and be in accord with human nature, informing us that “a community based on ideas held in common is a far more advanced manifestation of human life than a community resulting from race or language or geographical location.”
In 1775, a year before the American Revolution began, Alexander Hamilton wrote, “The sacred rights of mankind are not to be rummaged for among old parchments or musty records. They are written as with a sunbeam, in the whole volume of human nature, by the hand of Divinity itself, and can never be erased or obscured by mortal power.” Almost fifty years later, in 1824, Thomas Jefferson noted in reminiscing about the drafting of the Declaration of Independence, “We had no occasion to search into musty records, to hunt up royal parchments, or to investigate the laws and institutions of a semi-barbarous ancestry. We appealed to those of nature, and found them engraved on our hearts.” Could the Abrahamic ethic as natural religion -- Muslims' din al-fitrah as the core definition of Islam -- be any more lucidly and evidently expressed?
What's right about America is its Declaration of Independence, for it embodies and restates the core values of the Abrahamic, and thus also the Islamic, ethic. [Pages 82-83]
Rauf: Islamic ideals allow for constitutional checks and balances. Rauf wrote in What's Right With Islam that Muslim jurists defined principles for “bay'ah,” or consent of the governed, to be valid, among them that "[c]onsent of the governed may not be coerced or obtained under duress" and that a leader must “maintain the government's legitimacy by securing, protecting, and furthering the inalienable rights of the governed.” Rauf continued:
We can see that in both Islamic and American ideals of government, a legitimate government allows a system of checks and balances on its rule. When the founders focused on drafting the new Constitution in 1787, they wanted a government strong enough to secure Americans' rights against domestic and foreign oppression but not so powerful as to be itself oppressive. To this end, they authorized a central government and gave it specific powers, then checked and balanced these powers through a series of extraordinarily thoughtful measures. [Pages 90-91]
Rauf encourages interfaith dialogue, emergence of “politically moderate, mainstream American Muslims.” From What's Right With Islam:
American Muslims, positioned as they are with a foot in both East and West, have a vital contribution to make. They are in a position to say not only that that no contradiction exists between Islam's theology and the longing of many Muslims for democratic values and equality of opportunity, but also that Islam's theology and jurisprudence demand it. Because they understand the aspirations of each side and have reconciled their American and Islamic identities, they have a central mediating role to play in building trust and brokering interreligious and intercultural communication between America and the Muslim world. By forging alliances and coalitions with other American religious groups, particularly major Jewish and Christian institutions, American Muslims can assist in crafting the best language, innovative approaches, and, perhaps most important, the right working perspectives with which our nation could help the Muslim world solve its problems. In so doing, American Muslims meet their obligation to play a critically important role as mediators between the 1.2 billion Muslims worldwide and their great nation.
The ability of politically moderate, mainstream American Muslims to play a leading role in healing relations between the Muslim world and the United States has been challenged by a complex of issues. Sixty percent of American Muslims are transitioning from a first, immigrant, generation into a second generation of emerging American Muslims. African American Muslims, who constitute the other forty percent, are American nonimmigrant Muslims evolving from a first generation of predominantly Black Muslims, who accepted Islam during the Civil Rights era of the 1960s and were shaped by its dynamic, into a second generation whose Islam is shaped more by religious and spiritual considerations and the sociological challenge of how to integrate with their immigrant colleagues.
A significant challenge today in the United States is the development of an American Islamic identity that can meaningfully encompass all the sundry immigrant Muslim identities as well as the local African American identity. The history between the Muslim world and the West (including America) has unfortunately led many Americans to equate being Muslim with being anti-American and anti-Western -- an unfair blanket categorization.
The work involved in developing an American Islamic identity has to involve, by definition, a high appreciation both for what it means to be American and what it means to be Muslim. It cannot be just the accidental experience of being a foreign Muslim living in America, each part at odds with the other. Nor can it be an American becoming Muslim in order to reject America. It requires unpacking the psychological layers of past individual and collective experience, separating history from essential humanity, shedding what is irrelevant, and building an identity based on what is eternal to the human condition in a new America and a globalized world.
One way to accomplish this goal is to engage with our predecessors in the immigration experience, Christians and Jews who had to develop an American Christian and American Jewish identity, learning from their experience as they evolved from being imported expressions of mainly European churches and synagogues into American expressions Judaism and Christianity. While each experience is unique, many aspects of the process are common and can afford meaningful and fruitful opportunities for interfaith dialogue. [Pages 257-259]
Rauf: Gender equality is an intrinsic part of Islamic belief. From What's Right With Islam:
The Abrahamic ethic is about the equality of all human beings before their creator, regardless of race or gender. But even after black men gained the right to vote in 1870, American women were still constitutionally prohibited from voting until August 1920, when Congress ratified the Nineteenth Amendment. Enfranchisement of women never attained the status of a major political issue until after suffrage had been won by formerly disenfranchised groups of the male population. This is what happened in America and western Europe, and it is what we see in some countries like Kuwait, where women have nearly but not quite joined men in winning the right to vote, which their sisters in Bahrain recently won.
Muslim countries too face challenges in fully expressing the Abrahamic ethic with regard to the roles of women and men in society. Americans often ask me about the status of women in Islam, believing that Muslim women are oppressed and have no rights compared to Western women -- and, further, that gender inequality is sanctioned by Muslim law. But something is amiss in the perceptions here. Four of the most populous Muslim nations have, or have had, women heads of state: Indonesia, Bangladesh, Pakistan, and Turkey. Could one argue, then, that the United States lags behind the Muslim world in granting equal rights to women -- and that the reason America has never had a female president is because of its Judeo-Christian ethic?
The problem lies in confusing cultural norms with religious belief or law. Unless we separate the theological from the sociocultural dimensions of the issue, we are likely to misread the situation. What complicates the understanding of the gender issue, even by Muslims, is that Muslim jurists regarded the custom (adah, 'urf), or common law of a society, as a source of law when the Quran or the sunnah was silent on an issue. Thus, what was custom in a particular time or place found its way into Islamic law.
Today, the Muslim world is a vast and varied cultural landscape; the realities of women in Malaysia, for example, are not the same as the realities of women in Saudi Arabia, Bosnia, or Senegal. So to investigate the status of women in Islam, one must start with a look at the realities of Muslim women from a theological perspective.
Gender equality is an intrinsic part of Islamic belief. The Quran says God has “prepared a forgiveness and a great reward” for “the submitting men and women, the believing men and women, the pious men and women, the truthful men and women, the patient men and women, the humble men and women, the charitable men and women, the fasting men and women, the men and women who guard their chastity, the men and women who remember God frequently” (Quran 33:35). [Pages 216-217]
Rauf: "[T]he Muslim world is following a similar trajectory as in the West" on women's rights. From What's Right With Islam:
In surveying the women who have been prominent in the history of the Islamic world, it becomes increasingly clear that there is a strong prototype for Muslim women and that women's rights are alive in the very theology of Islam. But, as in most countries the world over, the reality for women does not match the ideals we all know are right and just. As American women are fighting for equal pay for equal work, for reproductive rights and affordable childcare, Muslim women are fighting for compulsory education (in Afghanistan), the right to drive (in Saudi Arabia), and the right to cover their hair (in France and in Turkey). As American women are knocking through glass ceilings to acquire the rights due to them in the Constitution, Muslim women are doing the same to gain full access to their rights as laid out in the Quran and sunnah.
Many of the limits placed on women in Muslim (and non-Muslim) societies are the result of custom, and these limits continue because people have a hard time changing their customs. In terms of realizing social rights, the Muslim world is following a similar trajectory as in the West, and changing a society's notions of what is acceptable in gender roles takes generational change. Just as in America roles have changed dramatically, especially in the last hundered years as America has implemented the Abrahamic ethic to a greater degree, it is reasonable to expect that Muslim societies implementing the justice called for in Islamic theology will undergo parallel transformations.
This is why granting political rights is the most effective way to redress legitimate women's grievances. For as a nation becomes increasingly democratized, the ballot box becomes the means by which each constituent group in society attains its objectives. [Pages 219-220]
Right-wing media have attacked Rauf's remark that U.S. “policies were an accessory” to the 9-11 attacks. The conservative media have repeatedly attacked Rauf for his remark that “the United States' policies were an accessory” to the 9-11 attacks. For instance, Sean Hannity and Glenn Beck criticized Rauf for his, in Hannity's words, “troubling views on 9/11.”
Former chairman and vice chairman of 9-11 Commission: “We face a rising tide of radicalization and rage in the Muslim world -- a trend to which our own actions have contributed.” In a September 9, 2007, Washington Post op-ed headlined, “Are we safer today?” Thomas H. Kean and Lee H. Hamilton, former chairman and vice chairman of the 9/11 Commission, respectively, wrote: “We face a rising tide of radicalization and rage in the Muslim world -- a trend to which our own actions have contributed. The enduring threat is not Osama bin Laden but young Muslims with no jobs and no hope, who are angry with their own governments and increasingly see the United States as an enemy of Islam.”
Former vice chairman of the CIA's National Intelligence Council: U.S. policies and Muslim perceptions of them can lead to terrorism. In an August 24, 1998, Los Angeles Times op-ed, Graham E. Fuller, former vice chairman of the National Intelligence Council at the CIA, wrote:
There is no monolithic Muslim bloc, but a few deeply held attitudes among the public are quite evident. Broadly speaking, most Muslims feel helpless, weak and resentful in the face of external power at work in their region: The Middle East -- the center of world civilization for several milleniums -- is now beset with masses of poor citizens (apart from the oil states), bad social services, poor education, absence of democracy, constant abuse of human rights, widespread corruption, police states, often brutal rulers, no voice over their own fates; they are victims of truly bad governance in most states of the region.
And what do they perceive? U.S. support for almost any ruler willing to protect U.S. interests -- routinely identified in Washington as oil and Israel. They see a Washington unwilling to act evenhandedly in the Arab-Israeli peace process and infinitely tolerant of a hard-line government in Israel that denies Palestinians land, dignity and statehood. They perceive double standards that allow Israel to violate U.N. resolutions, but not Iraq; that Israeli nukes are OK, but not nukes in Muslim hands. They see routine use of U.S. unilateral military power against Muslim targets that is unparalleled elsewhere in the world. They see themselves routinely humbled by use of overwhelming Israeli military power. They see U.S. military forces in the Gulf as being there to protect ruling families and not populations -- the essence of Osama bin Laden's charge.
These perceptions obviously do not fully reflect reality, and counterarguments can be made in many cases. But perceptions matter mightily since they form the increasingly poisonous psychological backdrop against which distraught and angry Muslims end up championing those who overcome their impotence, stand up to the West and assert Muslim dignity.
Beck made similar comments to Rauf. Although Beck has attacked Rauf for his comments about 9-11, Beck himself said that while the U.S. did not “deserve 9-11,” the United States was “in bed with dictators” and “that causes problems.” Talking about “why do you think they hate us in the Middle East,” Beck said: “When people said they hate us, well, did we deserve 9-11? No. But were we minding our business? No. Were we in bed with dictators and abandoned our values and principles? Yes. That causes problems.”
O'Reilly noted Rauf's comments are similar to the views of many. On The O'Reilly Factor, Bill O'Reilly struck down Fox News contributor Bernie Goldberg's claims that Rauf's comments were somehow radical, noting that Rauf was “pointing to the U.S.' support of Israel, and its so-called occupation of places like Saudi Arabia, Kuwait -- where we have troops stationed -- which has been around. That theory has been around.” O'Reilly added: “So, it was couched in the -- America's foreign policy ignited this Al Qaeda phenomenon, which led to this death.”