Building bridges from Muslims to non-Muslims, in Cleveland and the world

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SHAFAQNA – In Pakistan recently, Muslim students formed a human shield to ensure that their Hindu friends, whose religion makes up a minority in this Muslim-majority nation, could celebrate their spring festival of Holi in peace.

Didn’t hear about it? Such acts of friendship and cooperation between religions rarely get mentioned in the news media. It’s hard to compete with news about Islamic extremists killing 148 Kenyans, most of them Christian students.

But in Norway in recent weeks, more than a thousand Muslims created a ring of peace around the city’s main synagogue. In Finland, the government broadcast a reading of the Quran on public radio so that Finns could better understand Islam.

And in New York City, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced that the two major Muslim holidays — Eid al-Adha and Eid al-Fitr — would be included in the city school calendar.

Peaceful cooperation between Muslims and non-Muslims is breaking out all over the world. But when just a handful of extremists can capture international headlines with their barbaric acts, it’s hard for anyone to appreciate the progress.

Muslims are still perceived almost universally as viciously dangerous, locked in a 7th century conflict among themselves and targeting the West in response to grievances dating back to the Crusades.

The ability of Muslims to change this perception is undermined by extremists who manipulate the tenets of Islam beyond any recognition of its peaceful girders to justify their atrocities. Every time another horror is committed in the name of Islam, Westerners ask, “Where are the moderate Muslims?”

The answer is they are everywhere, but their message is drowned out by a news media that focuses only on the chaos that just a handful of extremists are able to provoke.

As a Muslim imam and leader, this is extremely frustrating.

For years I have deplored and denounced every terrorist act committed in the name of Islam. But it does little good for me to say that violent extremists such as the Islamic State, or ISIS, do not represent the 1.7 billion Muslims in the world. Most people seem to know that.

Sometimes I feel I am just giving the extremists the satisfaction of putting the vast majority of Muslims on the defensive.

Of course we can’t stop condemning them. But we must do something different to change the course of the dialogue so that true Muslims can undercut the extremist message and dry up their support among easily persuadable recruits.

We cannot stop telling the world about the true message of Islam and about the positive work Muslims are doing to build peace and prosperity.

As a monotheistic religion based — like Christianity and Judaism — on the Abrahamic tradition, Islam encourages peace, gentle treatment of fellow humans and an unshakable belief in one God. It believes in the dignity of all people. That’s the message that must be repeated until it reaches all Muslims who are looking for a way to fulfill their lives.

To this end, the Cordoba Initiative, an organization I founded in 2004 to bring reconciliation between the Muslim world and the West, is striving to support the vast majority of moderate Muslims and to promote this message.

We seek to build these bridges by focusing on the commonalities of all religions, not their differences. The Cordoba Initiative helps young Muslims understand the spiritual part of their religion so that they act as positive forces for Islam. We help emerging Muslim community leaders in the United States to understand what it takes to thrive both as an American and a Muslim.

Countless Muslims are making these positive contributions both in the United States and around the world. They want to be part of rebuilding the Middle East from the wreckage so that it can be part of the modern world while still embracing Islam. And Muslims in Cleveland and the rest of the United States want to live in harmony with their neighbors.

We need your help in changing the deep-seated, negative perceptions of Muslims and Islam. I want you to understand what is really happening in the world.  Together, we can play a role in bringing sanity back to the world.

writer : Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, founder and chairman of the Cordoba Initiative, will be speaking in Cleveland with the Rev. Dr. Joan Brown Campbell on April 22 as part of South Franklin Circle’s Dialogue Series. For more information, visit www.southfranklincircle.org.

Source : http://www.cleveland.com/

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