Islam and America, Three Years After 9/11

Far from being incompatible, Islamic values and American values are very similar, says a Muslim leader.

BY: Interview by Laura Sheahen

 
Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf is the Imam of Masjid al-Farah in New York City and the founder of the American Sufi Muslim Association. A popular interfaith speaker, he teaches Islam and Sufism at the Center for Religious Inquiry at St. Bartholomew's Church in Manhattan and at the New York Seminary. He spoke with Beliefnet recently about his book "What's Right with Islam: A New Vision for Muslims and the West."



The name of your book is "What's Right with Islam," and sections of it address "What's Right with America." What is right with both?

What's right with Islam

is

what's right with America, in the sense that the fundamental ideals of Islam, the idea of what the right society should be, are very similar to what the American idea of what the ideal society should be, as expressed in our founding documents.

When Jesus was asked what are the greatest commandments, he said "love God with all your heart" and, co-equal to that, "love thy neighbor."

Islamic jurors basically expanded it. They said all the law--how God wants us to live--is to protect and further five fundamental human rights: the right to life, freedom of religion, family, property, and mental wellbeing. What I do in the book is map that to the American Declaration of Independence.

It's interesting that you call America a sharia-compliant state.

It really means there's a religious commandment to build the right society, to have a sense of social justice and a social safety net, to have laws that take care of human beings, that aren't prejudiced against people.

You say that, contrary to what some non-Muslim Americans believe about Muslim countries, such societies can be religious and yet respect other religions and not be dominated by one religion.

Absolutely. To a large extent that's what happened in much of Islamic history. It may not have been ideal. But, for example, [during] the Ottoman caliphate, Greeks lived throughout Turkey. Two-thirds of Smyrna was Greek until 1922.

So there are definite precedents for a Muslim country to be more tolerant than perhaps some people today perceive.

Yes. But in the 20th century, the Muslim world created a vision of religious nationalism. Turkey, for example, had to be ethnically Turkish. Kurds, Armenians, other minorities didn't have a place in such a vision of a nation-state.

Towards the end of book, you outline a solution for the apparent conflict between the West and Islamic nations. What are the highlights?

The ultimate vision is to instate in the Muslim world the notion of multiculturalism, which is part of our heritage and history, part of the fundamental, mainstream ideals of Islam. We also have to improve the separation of powers [idea] that we have developed in the West. What's brilliant about the United States system of government is separation of power. Not only the executive, legislative, judicial branches, but also the independence of the military from civilians, an independent media and press, an independent central bank.

Continued on page 2: »

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