Islam in the Public Square
Town Hall Seattle
October 29, 2016
By Randolph Urmston, Attorney
Our first speaker on Understanding Islam and our Muslim Neighbor is Mohamed Jawad Khaki of the Ithna-asheri Muslim Association of the Northwest (IMAN) in Kirkland, which he helped found and lead. Jawad was born in Tanzania, studied in England and excelled at Microsoft. He is an entrepreneur, philanthropist and activist. The title of his talk is From a clash of ignorance to a dialogue of civilizations!
From a Clash of Ignorance to a Dialogue of Civilizations!
By Mohamed Jawad Khaki, Founder, Ithna-asheri Muslim Association of the Northwest (IMAN)
I begin with prayer from the opening chapter of the Holy Qur’an.
In the name of God, the Lord of Mercy, the Giver of Mercy!
Praise belongs to God, Lord of the Worlds,
the Lord of Mercy, the Giver of Mercy,
Master of the Day of Judgement.
It is You we worship; it is You we ask for help.
Guide us to the straight path:
the path of those You have blessed, those who incur no anger and who have not gone astray.
I express deepest gratitude to Bishop Rickel and all members of the Bishops Committee for their continued dedication and commitment to security, justice, and equal rights. Not only is their leadership inspirational but it also gives me hope and confidence in a better future. I am humbled and am thankful to God Almighty for opportunities like the one today to join hands to build a better America and a better world.
In a recent conversation with a dear friend from a different faith, I was made to realize that many a times when we engage in conversations to develop mutual understanding, we tend to expend more energy engaging the minds and much less in engaging the hearts.
I hope our gathering today will engage the hearts as much as the minds if not more so.
Your average Muslim colleague or neighbor goes through a myriad of complex feelings each day as he or she witnesses world events unfolding whilst struggling, like fellow Americans, to provide for a stable home and future for the family.
Your Muslim neighbor like me, loves his faith, his country, the rule of law, his neighbors and wants peace, security and well-being for all of humanity without any discrimination across ethnic, racial, religious or gender divides. He/she shares the universal values that define the human family. He/She is committed to preserving and protecting faith, life, intellect, progeny, and property. A practicing Muslim in his daily prayers repeats the phrase “the Compassionate, the Merciful” at least seventeen times a day. In the words of an American Muslim scholar, Professor Abdul Aziz Sachedina, “Muslims believe that they live under the God of Abraham, Moses, Jesus and Muhammad. That God is a Trustworthy, Merciful, Compassionate and Loving God who cares for all human beings more than their own mother. Islam does not encourage turning God into a political statement since humans cannot possess God. They can simply relate themselves to God by emulating God’s compassion and forgiveness.”
Just like you, your Muslim neighbor is saddened, shocked and horrified at the wanton violence that continues to take innocent lives and uproot families — whether it is here in the USA and or in any other part of the world. There are no words that can adequately express the anguish and feelings of grief for all those who are deeply struck by the barbarism of our times. These attacks, often chillingly executed before the whole world, have the sole aim of killing and maiming innocent human beings and can never be acceptable to any human civilization. These are tragedies of our times that can be felt in the hearts of all upstanding human beings who inhabit our world.
Your Muslim neighbor is outraged at the criminals who create mayhem in the name of a great faith. A faith that inspires more than a 1.5 billion around the world. A faith that teaches closeness to God is only possible through service to humanity. A faith that holds all life as sacred. A faith that teaches upholding universal values universally. A faith whose followers are required to greet all in peace!
Your Muslim neighbor is perplexed how civil societies and our media allow Islam and Muslims to be looked at through misinformed and biased sources that regurgitate historical prejudices. Imagine being the family of Salman Hamdani. The 23-year-old New York City police cadet, a part-time ambulance driver, an incoming medical student and a devout Muslim. When he disappeared on September 11, law enforcement officials came to his family, seeking him for questioning in relation to the terrorist attacks. They allegedly believed he was somehow involved. His whereabouts were undetermined for over six months, until his remains were finally identified. He was found near the North Tower, with his EMT medical bag beside him, presumably doing everything he could to help those in need. His family could finally rest, knowing that he died the hero they always knew him to be.
Your Muslim neighbor might have difficulties in drawing a distinction between the American foreign policy and the fellow Americans — the diversity of people, religion and culture who make up the civilization, and are symbols of progressive thinking and accommodating pluralism.
Your Muslim neighbor is extremely concerned by the rising hateful rhetoric and divisive politics that use demagoguery by misrepresenting a religion to drive a wedge between our shared humanity, even here in western societies.
Your Muslim neighbor is seeking to or is at a loss on how to best engage colleagues and neighbors in a secularized society that desires to purge any sign of religion from the public sphere. One, which can come across as having a dogma against people of faith. Such an attitude contaminates the public space and prevents us from discussing rationally and without fear what inspires billions around the world to be a force of good.
It is events like the one today, and the efforts of all those who continue to work tirelessly to build bridges across our comfortable segregated islands of familiarity, that instill hope in all of us. Together we can chart a better future provided we have the courage to act to bring people together to develop cross cultural bonds and mutual understanding and appreciation.
Every one of us must make important choices as we engage in respectful dialogue in these challenging times. This will require us to do things that we have not done before.
Samuel Huntington hypothesized in his book that people’s cultural and religious identities will be the primary source of conflict in the post-Cold War world. He called it a “The Clash of Civilizations.”
I never understood how is it possible for civilized people to clash?
Former Iranian president Mohammad Khatami re-introduced the idea of Dialogue Among
Civilizations as a response to Huntington’s thesis of a Clash of Civilizations. One of the first places where Dialogue Among Civilizations took place was in Isfahan, Iran more than a century ago in 1902. It was a place where Muslims and Christians talked about their religions with each other.
Our commitment to dialogue and celebrating diversity as a plus is what will enable us to avoid conflicts of the future.
But we must combat ignorance! Thomas Jefferson said, “An educated citizenry is a vital requisite for our survival as a free people.”
At a recent TED event, with shocking evidence, hilarious anecdotes, heart-wrenching personal stories, and brilliant insights into world events, Professor Shafique Virani, an award-winning author and internationally recognized public speaker, urges us to confront the Clash of Ignorance between the West and the Muslim World, replacing walls of misinformation with bridges of understanding. Appealing to the best in human nature, Dr. Virani presents a visionary path forward, and inspires hope for a better future. Let us watch what he had to present: The Clash of Ignorance | Shafique Virani | TEDxUTSC.
We must not forget that the human family has a connected existence. Something a very accomplished farmer very clearly understood.
A farmer who grew award-winning corn.
Each year he entered his corn in the state fair where it won a blue ribbon.
One year a newspaper reporter interviewed him and learned something interesting about how he grew it.
The reporter discovered that the farmer shared his seed corn with his neighbors.
“How can you afford to share your best seed corn with your neighbors when they are entering corn in competition with yours each year?” the reporter asked.
“Why sir,” said the farmer, “didn’t you know? The wind picks up pollen from the ripening corn and swirls it from field to field. If my neighbors grow inferior corn, cross-pollination will steadily degrade the quality of my corn. If I am to grow good corn, I must help my neighbors grow good corn.”
He is very much aware of the connectedness of life. His corn cannot improve unless his neighbors’ corn also improves.
So it is with our lives. Those who choose to succeed must help others to succeed.
Those who want to live meaningfully and well must help enrich the lives of others, for the value of a life is measured by the lives it touches.
And those who choose to be happy must help others to find happiness, for the welfare of each is bound up with the welfare of all.
Call it power of collectivity. Call it a principle of success.
Call it a law of life.
The fact is, none of us truly wins, until WE ALL WIN!!
What a great blessing and privilege it is for Muslims in America to live in a country where our success is determined by how hard we work – where we enjoy the liberty to live our faith more freely than in many other parts of the world – including many parts of the Muslim world.
Events of the recent times are giving all of us in America an opportunity to remind ourselves what has made us a great nation — under God with liberty and justice for all. In that spirit, I’d like to conclude with a prayer inspired by the verses in the Qur’an and from my engagement with civic institutions here in America.
Almighty God you created us from a single (pair) of a male and a female, and made us into different nations and ethnicities so that we may come to know and appreciate each other and you guided and inspired us to be socially responsible.
Lord we acknowledge goodness does not consist in turning your faces towards the East or West. The truly good are those who submit to the laws of creation; who give away some of their wealth, however much they cherish it, to their relatives, to orphans, the needy and to liberate those in bondage; those who keep up the prayer and pay the alms; who keep pledges whenever they make them; who are steadfast in misfortune, adversity, and times of danger.
Almighty God you enjoin us to pursue justice, and the doing of good, and generosity towards fellow men; and to forbid all that is shameful and all that runs counter to reason.
Creator and sustainer of all that is or will ever be, accept our thanks for this day and all its blessings. We ask that you continue to guide us, our leaders and our actions. Help us that we stay focused on the objectives we have for the world: Peace. Tranquility. A true fraternity that encompasses the whole of humanity. Freedom from hunger, from oppression, from sickness.
Grant that each of us may feel our responsibility to our community, to our country, and indeed to all countries and peoples.
As we gather here today, we pray that we are ever mindful of opportunities to render our service to our fellow citizens and to our community. Keeping in mind always the enduring values of life and to exert maximum effort to lay a strong foundation so that the future generations can build on with confidence. Help us continue to strive selflessly and with vigor to make our world a better world in which the whole of creation, including the environment can flourish and not be disfigured. Amen.
Thank you all for coming today and thanks again to Bishop Rickel and all members of the Bishop’s Committee, all the supporters and co-Sponsors for making this event possible. God bless!