James Reinl, Foreign Correspondent
Last Updated: September 10. 2008 8:37PM UAE / September 10. 2008 4:37PM GMT
Feisal Abdul Rauf was the son of a prominent
NORTH BERGEN, NEW JERSEY // Like millions of people around the world on Sept 11 2001, Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf was staring goggle-eyed at a television, awed by the spectacle of the World Trade Center’s blazing twin towers billowing with smoke.
But, as the head of a mosque only a dozen blocks from
“You see a disaster that day and you think of the people in
the buildings and how tragic that was,” Mr Rauf said. “Then, over the
succeeding few days, hoping and wishing that it was like
“We knew that, should it be associated with Muslims, we
would naturally be seen as a national security threat – which is the way we
became seen, and still are, in some circles of the
Many lobby groups have criticised the treatment of Muslim
and Arab Americans after al Qa’eda agents hijacked jets and ploughed them into
The Arab American Institute reported on “grave civil
liberties concerns” following counter-terrorism initiatives, such as the USA
Patriot Act, which made immigration procedures stricter for people arriving
In May, Doudou Diene, the UN’s special envoy on racism,
began a three-week investigation of Islamophobia and other forms of racism
But for Mr Rauf, there is an “untold story” of support from
non-Muslim Americans that started when downtown
“It was about three weeks before I was able to visit our mosque, and there were letters taped to the door sending us wonderful wishes and expressing sentiments of unity and support,” said the father of four.
“That is the untold story, the many, many instances of non-Muslims reaching out to their Muslim neighbours. Teenage girls knocking on doors volunteering to go shopping for Muslim families that were too scared to leave their homes.
“You don’t hear about the letters of support; you only hear about the incidents of violence. But for any incident of violence, there were 100,000 incidents of support.”
Born in the Gulf and educated in
At that time, tensions between Muslims and non-Muslim Americans were heightened by a civil rights campaign in which Malcolm X delivered firebrand speeches for the Nation of Islam while demanding equality for black Americans.
Mr Rauf, the son of a prominent
In 1997, he founded the American Society for Muslim Advancement to “forge an American-Muslim identity from the tapestry of both immigrant communities and the local American community”.
The September 11 attacks, which took the lives of some of the members of the imam’s 600-strong congregation, spawned a surge in demand for lectures from Muslim leaders and saw Mr Rauf co-operate with US officials and investigators.
The campaign against Islamic extremists saw his mosque infiltrated by agents posing as worshippers to secretly record his sermons, he said. But the price was worth paying because the majority of New York Muslims were pleased to rid their community of hardline “rabble rousers”.
In 2002, he launched a second project, the Cordoba
Initiative, with offices in the
His time frame is ambitious – Mr Rauf hopes to bridge the
gulf between the civilisations within 20 years, he said during an interview at
his home in North Bergen, a leafy
His projects examine political issues that “have a very
profound impact on the relationship between Muslims and non-Muslims” such as
Israelis and the Palestinians,
Meanwhile, he is taking the message back to the Islamic world and challenging what he calls the “politicisation of Islam”, which has seen the religion merged with nationalism over the past century “to massive detriment”.
His book, What’s Right With Islam: A New Vision for Muslims and the West, argues that pluralism and tolerance are fundamentals of Islam, and was rated by the Christian Science Monitor among the top five non-fiction titles of 2004.
Harkening back to the multicultural and cosmopolitan Golden
Age of Islam – the centuries in which Muslims governed a vast region of diverse
faiths – Mr Rauf is enlisting the support of modern-day Muslim leaders to
deliver an Islamic renaissance. In his bridge-building enterprise, he counts
among his advocates such reformist leaders as Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi,
“We know that our societies are not what we want them to be, but we are trying. And that is one of the good things about our societies, we are trying to make them better,” Mr Rauf said. “The modern rulers of the Muslim world are increasingly of that mindset, that they are responsible to their communities.
“There is a famous saying from Imam Ali, the Fourth Caliph, which is, ‘Bring up your children for a time different from your own’. And that is what we must all do now. We must bring up our children for a different time.”
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