Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf: The battle is not Muslim vs. nonMuslim
Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, the Muslim leader behind the planned Islamic center and mosque near ground zero, discusses plans for Park51, underlying causes of Muslim terrorism, and the real battle between moderates and extremists.
Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf is chairman of the Cordoba Initiative, which is planning the controversial Muslim community center and mosque near ground zero in New York. He sat down to discuss the controversy with members of the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR), including Global Viewpoint editor Nathan Gardels, on Monday, Sept. 13. CFR president Richard Haass posed questions.Skip to next paragraph
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Exploring all options
Richard Haass: You have said that, “If I knew this controversy would happen, if I had known it would have caused this kind of pain, I would not have done it.” Given that, why don’t you undo your planned project, or at least do it differently from now on?
Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf: We are exploring all options as we speak right now. We are working through what will be a solution, God willing, that will defuse this crisis and not create any of the unforeseen or untoward circumstances that we do not want to see happen.
The real battle
Haass: If you were to go ahead with the center, and given the larger mission of interfaith dialogue and bridges between faiths that you’ve dedicated so many years to, what sorts of things can you do to heal the rifts that have come about?
Rauf: Let me speak about the larger context. The charge that has been thrown to me since 9/11 is how to improve Muslim-West relations. All of my work since then has been based on doing that.
For many years people have asked, “Where are the moderate Muslims? Where are they? Where are they?” But we moderates couldn’t get any attention. Now that we’ve gotten attention, I’m accused of being immoderate!
In any crisis there is an opportunity. The challenge we have together is how to deploy ourselves in a way that will capitalize on these opportunities within the window of time we have so we can leverage the voice of the moderates – not only to address the causes that have fueled extremism, but enable the moderates to wage a war against the extremists.
Ninety-nine-plus percent of Muslims all over the world, I assure you, absolutely, totally find extremism abhorrent. Let there be no mistake, Islam categorically rejects the killing of innocent people. Terrorists violate the sanctity of human life and corrupt the meaning of our faith. In no way do they represent our religion. And we must not let them define us. Radical extremists would have us believe in a worldwide battle between Muslims and nonMuslims. That idea is false. The real battlefront today is not between Muslims and nonMuslims, but moderates of all faith traditions against the extremists of all faith traditions.
What has been so heartwarming to me (during the crisis over the community center) has been the tidal wave of people all across America who have inundated us with offers of help.
Haass: Sometimes in order to achieve the larger goals one has to deal with the immediate challenges. Is compromise one of the tools you are prepared to deploy to defuse this crisis?
Rauf: Everything is on the table. We are really focused on solving the crisis in a way that creates the best possible outcome for all.
Haass: You said that the battlefield today is not between Muslims and non-Muslims, but between moderates of all the faith traditions and extremists of all faith traditions. Doesn’t this skirt over a real issue? You have said that 99-plus percent of all Muslims are not terrorists. Yet, 99 percent of the world’s most dangerous terrorists are Muslims. Why is that? What is wrong?
Rauf: There are a number of reasons for this, some political, some socio-economic, and some as a result of perceptions shaped by the media. Together they have created a witches’ brew.