Imam Feisal: Not Islam vs West, But Moderates vs Extremists

“The real battlefront is not between Islam and the West, or Muslims and Jews, or Muslims and Hindus, etc. The real battlefront is between moderates of all the faith traditions against the extremists of all the faith traditions,” Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf told an IPI Beyond the Headlines audience on May 22, 2012. “The extremists really have the same mindset, the same attitude of superiority, exclusivity, think that they have the truth and that anybody who does not agree with them should be attacked, should be marginalized,” he said.

Imam Feisal, who has been a New York City Muslim leader for over 30 years and the man behind the Cordoba Initiative, that sought to build an Islamic community center close to the Ground Zero site, was speaking about his new book, Moving the Mountain: Beyond Ground Zero to a New Vision of Islam in America.

“The purpose of the book, as my editor said…is to be my calling card to Americans…how I introduce myself to Americans,” he said. “One of the key themes is the congruence of Islamic values, Christian values, even secular humanist values. People think Islamic ethics, values as fundamentally opposed to the ‘Judeo-Christian’ values of the United States of America, or that it is something so alien and odd. The fact of the matter is the exact opposite.”

Imam Feisal spoke about his vision for the role the Muslim American community can play in the country, and its relations with the Muslim world. We have to “evolve an American Islamic identity,” he said, citing that such a journey has historical precedent in other religious communities in America.

“It is definitely in the cards for an evolvement of a robust American Islamic community that sees itself as naturally, culturally, institutionally as American,” he said. “Orthodox Muslims, in the deepest sense of the term of authenticity, will play a very important role in mediating between the United States and the Muslim world at large. This is something I already believe is happening and I would like to encourage its evolution.”

He explained why he thought that the American state and governance system share the values of Islam. “The American social contract, the American Declaration of Independence, expresses values which are completely congruent with Islam and Islamic law. The statement of our Declaration of Independence, which reads, ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident that all men are created equal and endowed by the creator with certain inalienable rights’…these few lines and what comes later expresses the values of Islamic law very powerfully,” he said.

“This country [America] expresses the values of an Islamic state probably as well, if not better than, many countries in the world,” he said.

He also argued that the concept of moderation is inherently Islamic. “Muslim scholars have written about this concept of wasatia as meaning moderation, and they’ve also quoted sayings of the Prophet, in which the Prophet condemned those who were extremist…It is a very definite concept that has been written about and developed by Muslim theologians,” he said.

Referring to the 9/11 attacks, Imam Feisal, who has been an imam in downtown Manhattan since 1983, said “We were just as much impacted as the broader community…We understand the pain of this tragedy, we were part of this tragedy, we were part of the story, but I believe it is important for Muslims to be part of the healing and part of the change.”

Asked about why more Muslim voices do not condemn terrorism, he said, “We have condemned that. The problem is we do not get media attention when we do it. The media does not consider it newsworthy. I was involved with a group right after 9/11 of Muslim leaders in the city, we did a press conference to condemn 9/11, that it has nothing to do with Islam, it didn’t get any media attention.”

He also explained that fatwas had been issued by leading Islamic clerics around the world condemning 9/11 as a capital crime. “I begged them [the media] to put it on the cover, that this is a very important news item, important not only for American Muslims to see this, but also for American non-Muslims to see this is a major fatwa condemning the act of 9/11…It was buried on page B8.”

“When we condemn acts of terrorism, when we speak about moderation, it’s very hard to get media attention.” “Little by little,” however, he said, “I believe we are winning the war. Little by little people know that Islam isn’t the enemy, terrorism is the enemy, that terrorism is a common enemy, an enemy of all of us.”

The event was moderated by Warren Hoge, IPI Senior Adviser for External Relations.

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