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Welcoming a New Course for Relations Between U.S. and Muslim Communities
ING welcomes a new course for relations between U.S. and Muslim communities as set out in President Obama’s landmark speech in Cairo today. The tone and focus of the visit and speech is a breath of fresh air and gives promise to the vision and mission of ING’s work for the last 16 years, a world where people of all faiths and none are understood and respected and their contributions valued.
As he so eloquently states after acknowledging the long history and contributions of his host country and the venue where spoke, I’ve come here to Cairo to seek a new beginning between the United States and Muslims around the world, one based on mutual interest and mutual respect, and one based upon the truth that America and Islam are not exclusive and need not be in competition. Instead, they overlap and share common principles, principles of justice and progress, tolerance and the dignity of all human beings.
It is exactly that vision that has propelled ING’s efforts to counter stereotypes and prejudice that have long born their bitter fruits, both to those who hold them, and to those that are a victim of them. It is also part of ING’s core belief that is also reflected in Obama’s policy, that mutual understanding and respect brought about through dialogue and discourse can help promote peace and solve conflicts.
As the President emphasizes, There must be a sustained effort to listen to each other, to learn from each other, to respect one another, and to seek common ground. As the Holy Quran tells us, Be conscious of God and speak always the truth. It is telling that he emphasizes the importance in our dialogue that we include a truthful expression of the concerns we have with each other, rather than letting them fester within.
ING appreciates the long missing recognition from our leader that will hopefully inform discussions that have for so long focused only on the negative, that the relationship between Islam and the West includes centuries of coexistence and co-operation…and that it was Islam – at places like Al-Azhar University – that carried the light of learning through so many centuries, paving the way for Europe’s Renaissance and Enlightenment. It was innovation in Muslim communities that developed the order of algebra; our magnetic compass and tools of navigation; our mastery of pens and printing; our understanding of how disease spreads and how it can be healed. Islamic culture has given us majestic arches and soaring spires; timeless poetry and cherished music; elegant calligraphy and places of peaceful contemplation. It is to shed light on this hidden history that inspires ING speakers to deliver presentations on “Islamic Contributions to Civilization.”
But the President’s history lesson did not end there; he acknowledged too that Islam has always been a part of America’s story. The first nation to recognize my country was Morocco. In signing the Treaty of Tripoli in 1796, our second President John Adams wrote, “The United States has in itself no character of enmity against the laws, religion or tranquility of Muslims.” And since our founding, American Muslims have enriched the United States. They have fought in our wars, served in government, stood for civil rights, started businesses, taught at our Universities, excelled in our sports arenas, won Nobel Prizes, built our tallest building, and lit the Olympic Torch. And when the first Muslim-American was recently elected to Congress, he took the oath to defend our Constitution using the same Holy Koran that one of our Founding Fathers – Thomas Jefferson – kept in his personal library.
This is the very story of Muslim history in America that ING speakers relate hundreds of times a year across the country when they deliver presentations on “Getting to Know American Muslims,” or in great detail when they discuss “Root of Muslims in the U.S.”
ING hails President Obama’s emphasis on freedom of religion that has made this country from its founding a beacon of hope for the religiously oppressed. It is important to remember that it is that very principle as preserved in the First Amendment that guarantees the religious freedom of all the diverse religious groups in this country. We welcome his emphasis that it is part of this religious freedom that guarantees a Muslim woman’s right to wear the religious dress of her choice in this country: Likewise, it is important for Western countries to avoid impeding Muslim citizens from practicing religion as they see fit – for instance, by dictating what clothes a Muslim woman should wear. We cannot disguise hostility towards any religion behind the pretence of liberalism. He is right in pointing out that at the same time it is incumbent upon Muslims to practice this same religious freedom and respect which is foundational in ING’s interfaith work as based on the Qur’an’s principles or religious pluralism.
His call for equality for women balanced by his acknowledgement that women do not have to make the same choices as men to be equal, and his reference to the historical precedence of women heads of state in four Muslim-majority countries reflects the message of ING’s popular presentation on “Women in Islam” that has been delivered in universities across the country.
And finally, his assurance of the limited time line for Iraq and Afghanistan and his dedication to a fair and just peace in the Middle East based on rights for all parties based on legitimate aspirations and a two state solution is a welcome commitment to finally ending the violence and tragedy of the last 60 years.
The President puts forth the notion that ING has long worked towards, that putting aside our differences and emphasizing our commonalities is the only way forward: So long as our relationship is defined by our differences, we will empower those who sow hatred rather than peace, those who promote conflict rather than the cooperation that can help all of our people achieve justice and prosperity. And this cycle of suspicion and discord must end.
He so fittingly concludes with scripture, including the Qur’anic verse, O humankind! We have created you male and a female; and we have made you into nations and tribes so that you may know one another.
ING hails his statement that emphasizes our commonalities and humanity: …let there be no doubt, Islam is a part of America. And I believe that America holds within her the truth that regardless of race, religion, or station in life, all of us share common aspirations: to live in peace and security, to get an education and to work with dignity, to love our families, our communities, and our God. These things we share. This is the hope of all humanity.
ING and its affiliates welcome this new era of dialogue, respect, and new relationship between all the world’s people.