US President Barack Obama has yet to arrive, but Feisal Abdul Rauf, the imam behind the planned Muslim community center close to Ground Zero in New York, is already here to lecture members of Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono’s Cabinet on religious tolerance.
After meeting with Yudhoyono on Friday, Rauf delivered a lecture on “Promoting Moderate Islam and Striving for Harmony Among Civilizations in the 21st Century” at the Presidential Palace in Jakarta. The lecture was attended by several Cabinet ministers and religious leaders.
Rauf addressed several issues, including the relationship between Islam and the US, growing Islamophobia, the nature of moderation in Islam and how to promote it, and his experiences in trying to realize the plan to build the Park51 Islamic center and mosque close to Ground Zero.
Rauf said Muslims needed to “expose” people to the best quality of Islam, including kindness, compassion and tolerance, to address Islamophobia.
“Only through the right behavior can we change the minds of Americans on Islam,” said the Egyptian-American Sufi and interfaith activist, who is also the imam of the Al-Farah Mosque in lower Manhattan.
Rauf also shared his experience in dealing with protests over his plan to build Park51, which was originally named Cordoba House.
He said not only was the plan supported by New York’s Jewish mayor Michael Bloomberg as well as Obama, it was also supported by Jewish and Christian leaders he had been working with in interfaith dialogs for years.
Rather, Rauf said, the plan was protested by radicals in the communities, citing Terry Jones, the leader of a small church in Gainesville, Florida, who announced plans to hold a Koran-burning day.
“It shows us that the real battleground is not between Islam and the West, between Muslims and Jews, nor Muslims and Christians.
“The real battle ground is between moderates of all religions and radicals of all religions. And we have to understand the science of what happens; that radicals fuel radicals,” Rauf said.
Responding to Rauf’s remarks, Yudhoyono said Islam was the most misunderstood religion, saying Muslims needed to prevent extremism among themselves as well as fight a growing Islamophobia.
“Indonesia is trying hard to maintain harmony and tolerance, although we continued to face challenges and problems. I have to admit there will always be problems in this globalized era with the global network of extremism,” the President said.
JP/ Erwida Maulia