Rauf, Khan work to promote US engagement with Muslim world

Kahn and Rauf

Jessica White | Staff Writer

For Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf and Daisy Khan, this election season is relatively calm.

Two years ago, the couple was at the center of a national media frenzy over Park51, an Islamic community center Rauf planned to build in lower Manhattan. The community center — originally named Cordoba House and referred to by critics as the “ground zero mosque” — stirred controversy during the 2010 election season.

Now, more than ever, Rauf and Khan commit their time to fighting Islamophobia and promoting interfaith dialogue, causes which Khan said are especially crucial in an election year.

“It’s important to interact with the Muslim community in a much more effective way here in the homeland where fear is so rampant,” Khan said. “We want to ensure that any presidential candidate understands the importance of protecting religious freedoms for all.”

Rauf and Khan will explain why the U.S. should engage with the Muslim world at 2 p.m. Tuesday in the Hall of Philosophy. They will also talk about democracy in the Middle East and the recent wave of revolutions, or Arab Spring, in Arab nations. Rauf’s lecture is titled “Moving the Mountain: A Bolder Vision for Peace in Plurality,” and Khan’s is “Facing a New World: America’s Responsibility as a World Power.”

Rauf is the founder of Cordoba Initiative, an independent, multi-faith and multinational project that works to improve Muslim-West relations, and he has won numerous international awards for his peace-building work. In 1997, he founded the American Society for Muslim Advancement (ASMA), the first Muslim organization committed to connecting Muslims and the American public
by talking more about Islam in educational outreach, interfaith collaboration, culture and arts.

Rauf is a trustee of the Islamic Center of New York and vice chair on the board of the Interfaith Center of New York. Offices in the U.S. Department of State, members of the U.S. Congress and representatives of foreign governments all have sought his expertise.

Khan is executive director of ASMA. Also a recipient of many awards, she created programs in the aftermath of Sept. 11 to emphasize commonalities among the Abrahamic faith traditions, such as a play titled Same Difference and the interfaith Cordoba Bread Fest. To prioritize improvement of Muslim-West relations and advancement of Muslim women globally, Khan has launched two interfaith programs to inspire change among two disempowered majorities of the Muslim world: youth and women. Muslim Leaders of Tomorrow and Women’s Islamic Initiative in Spirituality and Equality work on an international scale.

The couple’s work and personal lives as Muslim-Americans changed drastically after Sept. 11 and again after the controversy surrounding Park51.

“9/11 had a very profound impact on our nation, and for Muslims, it was deeply personal because not only was my city attacked and my country attacked, but also my religion was hijacked,” Khan said. “And then a couple of years ago when (Rauf and I) found ourselves in the midst of a national crisis surrounding the community center, we felt that our country was being taken from us. We were being told that we were not welcome here; this was not our country; we didn’t have the same rights. So, it’s important to understand what is at stake and fight for that.”

Even in a country like the U.S., with its mature democracy and “perfect” constitution, Khan said, religious freedoms can be challenged. Because the U.S. is increasingly of different faiths, she said, it’s important for communities to become interfaith.

“A majority of us agree that we all have the same foundational values — that we all worship the same God — though we do it differently with different names and different ways,” she said. “But there is an acknowledgment in communities of those who are engaged in interfaith dialogue that these common values must be the underpinnings of any future work that we do in creating a just society for all.”

Chautauqua, Khan said, is the perfect example of such a community. She and Rauf said they even hope to be part of building a Muslim house on the grounds soon.

“Chautauqua is a haven and vivid reminder of God’s intent. As you cascade down the brick roads and see those beautiful houses of worship and the perfect setting of nature and everyone sort of coexisting — respecting one another and honoring one another — that’s what the world should really be like,” Khan said. “It recharges my batteries and reminds me that there is a solution to many of the world’s conflicts. Here is an example of a model community that should be replicated in other places.”

Khan said she is looking forward to the Q-and-A portion of today’s lecture because she anticipates a focus on the impending elections. Her ultimate goal is that people leave with a better understanding of who Muslims are.

“In a world where America is such a superpower, we as Americans need to be fully informed of what’s going on and what our engagement in the world means.”