On Friday morning, Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf spoke at the UUA General Assembly on the topic “A Spark of Freedom in the Muslim World.” Imam Rauf is author of What’s Right With Islam and has been Imam of the Masjid al-Farah Sufi mosque in New York City since 1983.
The increasing desire for democracy in the Muslim world is heartening to Imam Rauf, who regards the inalienable rights expressed in the Declaration of Independence as harmonious with Islamic principles.
“It is these rights that are being expressed the Arab world,” Rauf said. “What we call the spark of freedom that people are looking for is something that has been a common yearning in humankind from the very beginning: the desire for a government that is—in the words of Abraham Lincoln—of the people, by the people, and most importantly, for the people. A government that serves the people, not a government that regards the assets of a nation as belonging to the elite, and regards the masses as being there to serve the elite.
“This is what we mean in America by democracy. A government that serves the people, that upholds justice, that helps provide safety nets for the poor, that protects people’s rights, protects their freedoms. It is this kind of governance that people seek in the Arab and Muslim world today.
“This is why when we speak of American principles, and we speak of Islamic principles, we should not see them as being opposite. We should see them as being commensurate with each other.”
Imam Rauf is also founder of the Cordoba Initiative, which recently received national attention for its involvement in plans for Park51, an Islamic community center being developed two blocks away from Ground Zero in Lower Manhattan. The Cordoba Initiative is an interfaith project dedicated to improving understanding and building trust among people of all cultures and faith traditions.
“The truth is, most people don’t understand their [own] religion, let alone another religion,” said Rauf. “Most of the problems we have today come from people who don’t understand their religion. The greatest tragedy that has befallen the Muslim world today is that we have many young people who are very passionate about their faith, but whose passion is not equally balanced by a deep enough understanding of their faith. And therefore their misunderstandings rule them.
“So we need to educate ourselves, and educate others on their faiths. It is in my interest that the Christian is the best possible Christian, that the Jew is the best possible Jew—and it is in their interest that I am the best possible Muslim. If we adhere to the deep principles of our faiths—to love God and love one another—then all of the conflicts will disappear.”
Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf’s entire talk can be viewed on the UUA’s Livestream channel.