Rauf, Khan examine American responsibilities for the common good

Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, founder of the Cordoba Initiative, speaks Tuesday afternoon in the Hall of Philosophy. Photo by Michelle Kanaar.

Mary Desmond | Staff Writer

“Jesus Christ once said, ‘What does it profit a man to gain the world and lose his soul?’ I believe this statement is true not only for people but also for nations,” said Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, Tuesday at the 2 p.m. Interfaith Lecture.

“The question that lies before us this week is: What would it gain America to win the world but lose its soul?”

During the afternoon lecture period, Rauf and his wife, Daisy Khan, addressed Week Two’s theme, “2012: What’s at Stake for the Common Good.”

In the first half of the lecture, Rauf delivered a speech titled “Moving the Mountain: A Bolder Vision for Peace in Plurality.” Following Rauf, Khan focused on the topic “Facing a New World: America’s Responsibility as a World Power.”

“The question that has been discussed this week and has been raised this week is this very question: Where lies America’s soul? Where can we find it?” Rauf said.

Ethics stem from faith, and the common good must come from a common God, he said.

There are two commandments strongly held by each Abrahamic faith, and it is from those two commandments that the common good is defined, Rauf said. The first is to love the Lord with all your heart, soul, mind and strength. The second is to love your neighbor as yourself.

“In fact, it is from these two commandments that Islamic law, what is called Sharia, is built upon. Laws pertaining to love of God and laws pertaining to love of neighbor, which extends beyond just human beings to the animal kingdom, and to nature, and to our responsibility as stewards of God to take care of this Earth and develop it,” Rauf said.

The United States was built on the foundations of a social contract, which outlined that all men are equal and that all have certain inalienable rights, including life, liberty, property and the pursuit of happiness, Rauf said. Those rights, defined by the founding fathers, were not entirely original. Seven hundred years predating the Declaration of Independence, Muslim jurists defined a similar set of principles in Muslim law, or Sharia law. Sharia law can be reduced to the six principles that need protection: life, dignity, intellect, religion, family and property, Rauf said.

“We see here a great commonness between the foundational structures and worldview of Islam, of Christianity, of Judaism and of the American social contract. Which is why I say America, or the American social contract, is a very Sharia-compliant document,” Rauf said.

The two integral commandments also provide us with understanding of faith and work. Faith without action is not enough, Rauf said. Faith is the love of God, and action is the development of the common good. Rauf said one without the other would be like trying to build a cross with only one dimension.

“Faith without action is like having a vertical line without a horizontal line, you can’t build a cross that way. And actions without faith are like a horizontal line with no vertical line,” Rauf said.

Those commandments teach us to love God and humanity, which has been created in God’s image, Rauf said. But in life, there is often a gap between our ideal and reality. In our own country, that gap has been evident for generations. Even in the text of Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address, the distance between ideal and reality was clear. Lincoln said in his address that the U.S. was a country “dedicated to the proposition that all men are equal.”

“Look at the nuance of the words: ‘dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal,’ because the reality was otherwise,” Rauf said.

At the time of the Civil War, the U.S. was tested to see if a country built on the premise that all people are created equal could endure. Today, the U.S. is dealing with a similar test, Rauf said. Our country and its politics are so divided; it is fundamentally important that we remember what makes the heart of our nation.

Daisy Khan, executive director of the American Society for Muslim Advancement, speaks with audience members after her address, which followed Rauf’s. Photo by Michelle Kanaar.

In 1941, President Franklin D. Roosevelt delivered the Four Freedoms Speech. In it, he outlined that everywhere in the world there should be freedom of speech, freedom of religion, freedom from want and freedom from fear.

“I think we have a lot of fear in this country. Fear of having lost our position, fear of having lost our jobs, fear of maybe the supremacy of a particular demographic in our community; we need to address this fear,” Rauf said.

It is faith that will have to work to eliminate the atmosphere of fear in our country, Rauf said. At Chautauqua, he said, his soul feels at home, because the grounds define a community that does not have a sense of fear. Chautauqua is a community that loves God, and Chautauquans love one another, Rauf said.

“We Chautauquans have a call to action upon us, and this is the only way I can describe it succinctly. We have to ‘Chautauquize’ America,” Rauf said. “I see Chautauqua as the culture that can positively transform America, because here is the soul that makes America great.”

In Tuesday’s lecture, Khan focused her talk on the military retreat from Afghanistan and what that means for Afghan women. The promotion of democracy, human rights and women’s rights were all aspects of U.S. stated foreign policy goals before the invasion of Afghanistan. The end to women’s suffering and oppression at the hands of the Taliban was one of the most critical objectives of the U.S. in 2001, Khan said.

“Has this politicization of Muslim women hampered American foreign policy goals? I will tell you an emphatic yes,” Khan said.

Khan said there are three main issues that have allowed for that consequence. In Afghanistan, American foreign policy has worked in spite of Islam, Khan said.

“We have this church-state separation issue, which prevents us from acknowledging religion as a solution to the world problems,” Khan said. “Secular human rights efforts usually fall deaf on Muslim ears and consistently hinder social change.”

The second issue is that in the U.S., we blame Muslim women’s suffering on Islamic theology, Khan said.

The last issue is that many Afghans think we are intent on spreading and imposing Western values on them, she said.

“Often you see how some Islamic political parties, when they decide to impose their distorted version of Islamic state, the first thing that they will do is show you how they are upholding justice and what do you see: stoning of women, egregious violations of women, in fact, egregious violations against Islam,” Khan said.

She said that as an American Muslim woman, she can see how extremists use politics to constrain women. She said her identity as a Muslim living in country that promotes equality and freedom puts her in the position to show that gender equality is an important part of Islam.

“I wasn’t born here — I came here, and I took my oath, and I love this country, and I want to share the success of this country that has made me who I am with my fellow sisters,” Khan said.

There are four reasons why we must combat injustices against Muslim women, Khan said. There are 750 million Muslim women in the world, and five of the lowest-ranking countries in the gender index are Muslim countries.

“It’s simply unacceptable. Why should Muslim women have the biggest burden of all?” Khan said.

“And thirdly, the world is witnessing a religious revival, and Muslim women increasingly want to define themselves through their religion,” Khan said.

The most important reason is that America is a superpower with military bases and engagements in many Muslim countries, Khan said.

With those thoughts in mind, Khan said she founded WISE, Women’s Islamic Initiative in Spirituality and Equality, in 2005. Soon after the organization’s inception, it began a grassroots imam training program in Afghanistan, Khan said. WISE began working with a woman and her husband, on the ground in Afghanistan, teaching imams about the textual basis of women’s rights in the Quran.

“The program was so successful that the imams actually agreed not only to be trained, but they were so moved by what they were seeing, the textual basis for women’s rights gave them real evidence that they went and started giving these sermons,” Khan said.

We Chautauquans have a call to action upon us, and this is the only way I can describe it succinctly. We have to ‘Chautauquize’ America. I see Chautauqua as the culture that can positively transform America, because here is the soul that makes America great.

Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf
Founder, Cordoba Initiative

The imams working in the training program told the director in Afghanistan that the program provided them with a group support system, which gave them courage to preach the facts about women’s rights and equality written in the Quran, Khan said.

The initiative has been ongoing in Afghanistan since, but the U.S. retreat from Afghanistan has prompted a resurgence of the Taliban and stymied the program’s progress. In the face of the growing Taliban presence, Khan said, she asked the Muslim women in Afghanistan what advice they would give President Barack Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton for foreign policy in Afghanistan.

“They said: Understand the role religion plays in Afghan communities; civil and religious authorities are codependent. Where civil authorities remains weak, the religious authority fills the void,” Khan said.

If the religious authorities have been trained about women’s equality in the Quran, in programs such as WISE, they can be powerful and positive agents of education, protection and change.

“Furthermore, they said, Americans must unlearn any aversion to the Quran and Sharia as a valid source of governing law,” Khan said. “And appreciate A, that Sharia is founded on principles very consistent with Western principles; and B, that these are the sources of law Afghans want and view as legitimate.”

Americans must realize how fundamental imams are in Afghan communities. They act as community leaders, educators and facilitators of cooperation among people and lawmakers, Khan said.

“And then they told us that our imams are the only shield against Taliban. When you’re gone and Taliban is back, the only people who can defend us are our imams,” Khan said.

As U.S. forces exit Afghanistan, they leave a country with no institutions or infrastructure in place.

“I want you to understand the urgency of what’s going on: We’re leaving and Taliban is coming back, and nothing is in place,” Khan said.

Institutions that promote women’s rights and social justice must be developed before the U.S. leaves. Otherwise, the steps already gained and the developments in women’s equality will be quashed by the returning Taliban force.

The U.S. should use its force of Muslim women to fight for the equality of women and the end to women’s oppression in Muslim countries, Khan said.

“We have roots in those countries, we love the people, we love our motherlands. And we can make an enormous difference in helping achieve our foreign policy objectives.” Khan said. “Afghans, in turn, have told us they appreciate what we’re doing for them, they trust us and they genuinely believe we have no other agenda other than to help them.”

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