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The Debate over the Proposed Park51 Community Center in Downtown Manhattan

Speaker: Daisy Khan, Executive Director of the American Society for Muslim Advancement
Moderator: Irina A. Faskianos, Vice President, National Program and Outreach, Council on Foreign Relations
August 25, 2010
Council on Foreign Relations

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IRINA FASKIANOS: Good morning from New York, and welcome to this special Council on Foreign Relations conference call.

I'm Irina Faskianos, vice president for the National Program and Outreach here at CFR.

We are delighted to have Daisy Khan with us today, and all of you on the call. This discussion is on the record, and the audio file will be available on our website, www.cfr.org.

Ms. Khan is executive director of the American Society for Muslim Advancement. It is a nonprofit organization dedicated to developing a U.S. Muslim identity and building bridges between the Muslim community and the general public.

She lectures throughout the United States and internationally, has appeared on a variety of news networks, and in May of 2007 she became the first Muslim woman to speak at the National Day of Prayer.

Daisy, thanks very much for being with us today. Our goal is to provide a nonpartisan forum for discussion on this issue as it relates to the broader foreign policy context.

We all know that the Park51 community center has sparked a heated debate. And you have been at the forefront, so I thought you could give us a brief overview of the project, the issues that you see at the heart of the matter, and what you think the main domestic and international implications of this debate will be for us.

So, Daisy, I'll turn it over to you.

DAISY KHAN: Okay. Thank you very much, and I welcome everybody who has joined this call. And I hear there are many people that have joined this, and I think it's an indication of what's at stake in our nation today.

I'm Daisy Khan and I have, you know, found myself in a firestorm. We are members of a congregation in Tribeca. My husband, Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, is the imam of a mosque in Lower Manhattan which has, you know, recently seen overcrowding and there was not sufficient prayer space for Muslims -- (audio break) -- in Lower Manhattan.

And our -- one of our congregants, Sharif Gamal, took it upon himself to look for a more suitable prayer space that people could, you know, congregate in. Our congregation does meet on Fridays, and so you see an, you know, unusually large number of people coming to prayer spaces.

This is -- this is a little bit of the history, how this site came about, having been in Lower Manhattan. And its genesis goes back much further, almost more than 10 years. When --

Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf believes genuinely that, you know, religions evolve over time in America. And they evolve and they Americanize themselves through certain forms of institutions, and -- just like the Jewish and the Christian communities evolved from just churches and, you know, places of worship and then went into places of service, such as the 96th Street Y, the YMCA or the JCC, Jewish Community Centers -- that this inevitably would also happen to the Muslim community, that a Muslim community would Americanize itself over time by building these kinds of institutions.

And so a model that takes into consideration the needs of the Muslim community but also the needs of the broader community was the combination of what was the plan for the center.

Very simply, the center is to dedicate pluralism, which is the heart -- which is at the heart of Islamic theology -- and its service. But it's also education and empowerment of our youth and empowerment of women, but also the appreciation of our (community ?) that has, you know -- that is very diverse and very robust. So this is kind of like the core of what we were trying to do with the center.

The proximity to Ground Zero was never planned; just so happened that the building was in the neighborhood that we already are in. And so establishing the center in the very neighborhood that they were in was something that never really, you know, thought of the location as being close to Ground Zero. Because it was our neighborhood; it was our tragedy as much as it was anybody else's tragedy.

As Muslims, as New Yorkers and as Americans, we feel that it's part of our, you know, obligation and our responsibility to be part of building Lower Manhattan. And to another point, since this was done -- 9/11 was done -- in the name of our religion, we have an added responsibility to disprove those who have distorted our religion and our scripture.

The center is also meant to be part of the transformation against extremism, as it will combine the best of what it means to be Muslim and what it means to be American, whose core values we feel are totally compatible.

We also believe that the voices of the moderate, mainstream, majority Muslim has been drowned out by actions of the extremists -- (audio break) -- center like this will amplify the voices of moderate Muslims and give voice and be -- simply be a blow to the extremists.

Because the very theology that the extremists promote is a theology of exclusivism, it will be the exact opposite of the values that the center will promote, which is one of pluralism not only within Islam, but pluralism within all religions. So the center will be open to people of all religions, including those who have no religion.

We have -- the purpose and the mission of the center has, unfortunately, been distorted at recent times, and we are, you know, deeply distressed by what this has, you know, culminated in.

There are two serious implications that we are worried about. We are worried about what this means for religious freedom in this country, particularly pertaining to the nascent Muslim community, which is -- which, you know, the numbers are 6 (million) to 8 million, who are trying to find, you know -- they are trying to build their own institutions, evolving very rapidly. It is a community that is a well-situated community, and the impact, or the negative impact, of the center would invariably affect the national community as well.

We have been in consultation with Muslim community leaders, and there is deep concern that this has opened up, you know, free-for-all Islamophobia, and it has also given rise to other mosques coming under attack.

Internationally, if the center does not succeed or we are put under pressure, this could have serious implications because it would be seen as a win for the extremists to -- they would -- you know, they would be able to say that we always knew that America was intolerant; we always knew that America had double standards. And it would be a gift to the extremists.

It would set back the interfaith relations that have developed since 9/11 amongst the faith communities who have, you know, worked very hard to create a peaceful and harmonious atmosphere. And in fact we just have -- (audio break) -- meeting our interfaith leaders here in New York, and we are looking at developing certain strategies -- (audio break) -- couple of weeks of how the interfaith communities can come together in solidarity for religious freedom, the right of the -- (audio break) -- to establish their place of worship wherever they may be.

I would like to end here, because I'm sure that in the Q and A I can describe specifically -- well, let me not end here. Let me just tell you a little bit about what the center's programs will -- are supposed to be, the wide-ranging programs.

The center will have a prayer space. It will also have about six prongs of programmatic areas. It will have recreation, which means a swimming pool, gymnasium, have culture and arts exhibition space; performing arts -- a theater which will be a 500-seat theater.

It will have social cohesion, which means booking classes and -- kinds of weddings and party space. It will have education, so lectures, forums, classrooms. It will have religion. Religion is a lot of interfaith activities with the faith communities that we've been interacting with, sort of solidifying those programs into actionable programs.

And -- I now don't know what the last is -- there's a sixth prong. Yes, global engagement will be another area, and global engagement will be everything from trends that are trends in the Muslim community worldwide. For instance, how are, you know, which country are women doing better and all (with all the polls ?) that exist out there, so that somebody who's interested in understanding where the Muslim community is headed globally, it will be that -- the trending of the Muslim community there as well.

So these are the different areas. And in addition to that, there will be prayer space, as I mentioned. And so the center is meant to be open to everyone of all religions, and is meant to have a multifaith board which will, you know, basically spearhead the direction and -- (audio break) -- sure that the mission of the center -- strategies are always obtained. (Inaudible.)

No funding has been raised for the center yet. The 501(c)(3) for Park51 is -- (inaudible). And any discussion about funding is too premature.

So with that I will close, and open up to Q and A.

FASKIANOS: Daisy, thank you very much for that eloquent presentation. Tally (ph), let's go to questions and answers.

And just to the people on the call, as you saw, we have an extremely high number of participants, so I ask that you keep your questions short and concise, and keep it to a question rather than a presentation.

So with that, let's open it up.

OPERATOR: At this time we'll open the lines for questions. If you would like to ask a question, please press star-one on your telephone keypad now. Again, that's star-one on your telephone keypad to ask a question.

And we'll hold just one moment while I wait for questions to queue.

Our first question will come from Sally Quinn with The Washington Post.

QUESTIONER: Hi, Daisy. One of the questions that keeps arising is how close is too close to Ground Zero? Some people say Ground Zero is at Ground Zero; some people say it's two blocks away, which is where you propose to put the site. Then there are other mosques four blocks and 10 blocks away.

Has anyone who's opposed to the mosque actually given you a line across the sand where -- how far away you can actually build this?

KHAN: No. We met with the 9/11 families just recently, a group of 27 people, and we explained to them the intent of this project. We explained to them the significance of this, and particularly the preservation of American ideals and American values and how important it was to preserve those.

When we had that kind of a discussion, seven people left -- (inaudible) -- and 20 people came to us and said it's really, really important that the center be built exactly where it is right now.

So there is -- I think it's a question of educating people about what the intent of the center is. And nobody in that room was able to tell us what the line -- what, you know, where do we draw the line in the sand.

FASKIANOS: Thank you. Next question.

OPERATOR: Our next question will come from Charles Wolf, with Rand Company.

QUESTIONER: Thank you.

One word that's been missing from the volleys of rhetoric on this subject is empathy. And it seems to me it's surprising that it hasn't come up, in light of the fact that the two appointments by the president to the Supreme Court included in the encomia on their superb qualifications that they are empathetic.

Has that term and all it implies with respect to American values and other -- and Muslim values -- been considered directly and carefully? Thank you.

KHAN: Well, I have not, you know, heard that spoken, you know, quite that way, and I appreciate that.

The work of Muslims right now in America is to -- is to show that, first of all, a new Western Islamic identity is in the making, and the new voice of Islam will change the world. And that Islam is an American religion too, and is --

You know, these are the big questions that are somehow people think that Islam is -- Islam and Muslims are separate from, you know, America, American values. And so therefore we are still seen as outsiders, even though, you know, our community is 8 million. Most of us are law-abiding; you know, integrated into the society. But still the Muslim community is seen as an outsider.

I think it is the job of American Muslims, and maybe this is the time in our history where we do begin to make that case very strongly that Islam is an American religion too.

FASKIANOS: Thank you. Next question.

OPERATOR: Our next question will come from Martin Raffel, with the Jewish Council for Public Relations.

QUESTIONER: The Jewish Council for Public Affairs.

Daisy, first of all, I would just like to say on behalf of JCPA that we deeply regret the anti-Muslim expressions that this controversy has spawned. And everyone of good will should be standing up and repudiating them without equivocation.

My question has to do with an item I saw yesterday. The Israeli journalist and author Yossi Klein Halevi -- who, by the way, expressed great admiration and respect for your husband -- indicated that regardless of the intentions, the original intentions of the project, it's now associated with Ground Zero.

And he thought that the -- we all might be better served if the project would reflect the essence of American religious pluralism, and thought that perhaps a Muslim center and prayer space alongside a church and a synagogue with a common space for the community has a whole might be a better reflection of the values that are seeking to be projected here.

Wondering whether you think that is an idea that is worthy and -- of considering and is at all realistic.

KHAN: Well, the original intent of the project was to have very strong interfaith programming with partners that we have already begun, you know, working with. Especially in New York, we work with many churches and with many synagogues.

And to bring those, for instance, we do a twinnings program with Rabbi Schneier and where we pair off mosques and synagogues annually and we speak at each other's places. And that would be the kind of program that we would bring together, including Jewish-Muslim studies, Christian-Muslim studies kind of programs.

But we had never really imagined that, you know, another group of -- a Christian group or a Jewish group might want a place of worship within the center. That was not something that we originally thought, because I know that there are many synagogues and many churches in New York.

However, we have said that we would not only have a 9/11 memorial within the space, but that we would certainly consider having (contemplation ?) space for all religions.

And we are meeting very shortly, on Imam Feisal's arrival, with interfaith leaders in New York, and we will be discussing with them the potential of what they think is the wise thing to do.

This project has -- is now in the public domain. It is a project that will evolve, as we begin to speak with various stakeholders. And all we can say right now is that we have dedicated our lives to interfaith work, and if that is the direction that the public wants us to go into, it will certainly -- (off mike).

FASKIANOS: (Off mike) -- next question.

OPERATOR: Our next question will come from Terence O'Neill, with the City of Houston.

QUESTIONER: Hi. Can you hear me?

OPERATOR: Yes.

QUESTIONER: Hi. This is Terence O'Neill, in Mayor Annise Parker's office in the City of Houston.

MS. FASKIANOS: We can hear you.

QUESTIONER: And one of the -- one of the questions that I have is how are you dealing with the security issues? I would imagine even though this is going to be opened up to the community and it's supposed to be a safe space, I would think that there is a risk that, you know, something tragic could happen and that might interfere with people using the space.

Have you dealt with that issue and, if so, how?

KHAN: Well, that's a very good question, and I have to tell you I have right now, you know, Ray Kelly has been a hero for us, for the Muslim community. He is -- his various chiefs have -- are taking a personal interest in this project.

And we are working with not only the chief of the community division but we're also working with people who are in the hate crimes division, as we have received our share of hate crimes -- I mean, hate mail.

And so the center has become the place where a lot of demonstrations are taking place on a regular basis, pro and anti. So the police department is providing a lot of resources, you know, with personnel and police officers routinely, you know, being present at the site.

So we are -- we feel that we are getting the kind of protection that we need from our law enforcement, and we are also being prepared by them in terms of incidences and how to deal with the specific things that come up and dangers, including, you know, personally for Imam Feisal and me.

The police department is at our disposal, and so we feel very secure because they have made themselves completely available to our community.

QUESTIONER: Thank you.

FASKIANOS: Thank you. Next question.

OPERATOR: Our next question will come from William Swing, with United Religion Initiative.

QUESTIONER: Yes. Daisy, I was very touched by your comment about dedicating your lives to interfaith work, you and your husband. And there are a lot of interfaith groups across the country who would love to give you support and show you support.

Is there a collecting place for names for people to affirm what you're doing and affirm you all and to show solidarity? Is there any website or something?

KHAN: Yes. The CordobaInitiative.org is the website that is -- that has the list of supporters on it already, and the list keeps growing. And if anybody wants to lend us support, they can e-mail us at www.cordobainitiative.org, and they can, you know, say that they are a supporter and we will list them on the supporter list.

QUESTIONER: Thank you.

FASKIANOS: Thank you. Next question, please.

OPERATOR: Our next question will come from Mark Edington, with Harvard University.

QUESTIONER: Good morning. Thanks for taking my question.

Ms. Khan, a couple of questions from the perspective of someone in the progressive Christian wing who has been supportive of this, but is curious to know from you, of the sort of support you're now receiving from the interfaith movement, what have you found helpful and what have you found unhelpful?

KHAN: The most helpful thing has been moral support. And the fact that the interfaith community is acting as our spokesperson.

We have members of the interfaith community we have worked with for many years who have become surrogates on television shows. We physically can't be on every show; we are, you know, very, very small and did not expect this kind of media attention.

So a lot of our interfaith partners are speaking on our behalf, clearing the imam's name as he has been -- his character has been blemished.

And one of our interfaith partners circulated a speech that the imam gave at Danny Pearl's memorial, which is a very, very moving speech, and that has made it -- you know, that has been circulated widely. Our other interfaith support found a speech that Imam had given at his installation, Robert Chase, and that is now on YouTube.

So this is where the interfaith community can come to each other's aid and support one another and has been the most useful.

What has been difficult is when interfaith communities try to pressure us into making a decision that we are not prepared to make yet.

QUESTIONER: Thank you.

FASKIANOS: Thank you. Next question.

OPERATOR: Our next question will come from Burton Visotzky, with JTS.

QUESTIONER: Hi. This is Rabbi Burt Visotzky at the Jewish Theological Seminary. And I wanted to address the question of empathy. Because as a Jew, I have a great deal of empathy for what the Muslim community and the Park51 founders are going through.

Jews in New York have been told in the past that you can't build your synagogue here. In fact, Peter Stuyvesant said it to us. And we take it as a very serious matter of First Amendment rights.

Is this going to be part of the ongoing campaign? We actually feel that Daisy and Imam Feisal are actually defending First Amendment rights for all of us. And my question to Daisy is will you make this a part of your campaign? Are there other groups that are focusing on the First Amendment issue here?

KHAN: Well, there are -- we have been consulting with -- we haven't begun the campaign yet, but one of the things that I think, in addition to the First Amendment rights, is there is, I believe, a conversation that has never been had, and that is a conversation about 9/11.

And this is why we find ourselves in this situation right now, is because its close proximity is tied so much to 9/11 that all the other -- you know, whether we talk from a point of view of constitutional right or we speak from the point of view of amendment rights, it always goes back to, but yes, you have the right. However, it's just too close for comfort.

So I believe besides, you know, openly discussing the First Amendment right, we also have to discuss the conversation about 9/11 that has never really been had. Because right after 9/11 we went to war, and we've been engaged in war. And, you know, the national conversation that we should have had about 9/11 has really not been had properly.

QUESTIONER: Thank you.

KHAN: (Inaudible) -- in the (polls ?) as well. The public sentiment is, even though the public knows that we have a First Amendment right, even though they know we have a constitutional right and most people would agree that of course they should not be forced out; of course we should have, you know, continue to remain there. But the public perception is shaped by the event of 9/11.

FASKIANOS: Thank you. Next question.

OPERATOR: Our next question will come from Elizabeth Enloe, with the American Friends Service Committee.

QUESTIONER: Good morning. Thank you, Daisy, and thank you all.

First I'd like to think, Daisy, that you and your husband have a circle of friends that are keeping your safety and your centeredness close to their hearts and giving you support in that way as you move into a leadership role in this country that you probably never imagined.

My question has to do with how you might see some of us being of service to you in structuring the conversation that you have indicated you wanted to have with groups that are expressing their opposition. It may not be an answer you have right now, but we know that you have wanted to do that; you've started to do that. It can't be easy initiating it on your own, but you have.

Might there be some way in which other entities could be of assistance to you in having those conversations with people who have indicated their opposition?

Thank you.

KHAN: Thank you. Well, I think that at this point we do need the support of many people because we are -- don't have sufficient resources within our organization to be able to take this -- take this nationwide conversation.

We are forming advisory committees. If anybody from this group is willing to be part of that advisory committee, you may send an e-mail directly to www.cordobainitiative.org and say that you would like to be on the advisory and you'd like to help with this shaping of conversation nationally.

And we will -- we will be able to, you know, reach out to you and see how you might be able to help us. That would be -- that would be the first step.

QUESTIONER: (I'd be ?) happy to join an advisory committee.

KHAN: Yes.

FASKIANOS: Daisy, just to clarify, I think you're saying the website of the Cordoba Initiative, what is the actual e-mail address? Is it CordobaInitiative@?

KHAN: No. CordobaInitiative, there is a place where you can go in where you actually put in an e-mail.

FASKIANOS: Okay, great. You can go on the website and send an e-mail from there.

KHAN: Yes.

FASKIANOS: Terrific.

Next question, please.

OPERATOR: Our next question comes from Lawrence Wright, with the New Yorker Magazine.

QUESTIONER: Thank you.

Daisy, many Muslims around the world have misgivings about this project. And one thing that most Muslims keep in mind is the responsibility not to stir up fitna, which means discord.

And here we have fitna on a massive scale. I wonder what your thoughts are about that.

KHAN: Well, that's a -- (chuckles) -- a theological term. Yes, fitna means chaos. And -- but we didn't set out to create this chaos. Our intent was always to do the opposite, which was to create harmony, tolerance and mutual respect and exchange.

So the fitna has primarily been created by people who have not -- who have misconstrued our intent.

Yes, it is very important. The success and/or the failure of this project will directly not only impact the national Muslim community, it will also reflect on the American Muslim community worldwide and how we are perceived within America and how we will, you know, be perceived by those who also do not understand our intent.

We are very concerned that the mission that we have set out for ourselves is -- continues to -- continues to, you know, to -- that we continue with the mission and not have to remain in this -- in this controversy.

This is why we are seeking the counsel of various stakeholders, and meeting regularly with people to -- (audio break) -- right decision.

FASKIANOS: Thank you. Next question.

OPERATOR: Our next question will come from Suhag Shukla, with the Hindu American Foundation.

QUESTIONER: Hello, Daisy. This is Suhag Shukla, from the Hindu American Foundation. And, you know, I just wanted to hear your thoughts on what kind of internal discussions are going on in the Muslim community nationally.

We've seen some with some voices in the Baltimore Sun or The Washington Post asking you to consider moving. What would you say, you know, if there were a way of maybe putting a percentage split or some type of gauging of what kind of dialogue is occurring within the Muslim American community?

KHAN: well, we have been meeting with the Muslim leaderships around the country via conference calls like this one. And the prevailing sentiment is that whatever decision we make at the local level is a decision that they will support.

And however, you know, there is an impact on the national community. And the conversations are about the biggest concern is about the rise of Islamophobia and certain kinds of, you know, mosques that are trying to establish themselves who may not have the level of political support and the level of interfaith support that we have in New York City. And that those mosques are not equipped to defend themselves and are largely having to relocate to other sites.

This is the biggest concern that occupies -- (audio break) -- community. We have to worry about that, because whatever we do is -- (audio break) -- we do.

As far as is there a split, I think that the people who are opposing the center right now or are asking us to relocate is very, very significantly small.

FASKIANOS: Thank you. Next question.

OPERATOR: Our next question will come from Salam Al-Marayati, with the Muslim Public Affairs Council.

QUESTIONER: Thank you. As-salaam alaikum, Daisy.

KHAN: Wa-alaikum salaam.

QUESTIONER: Just -- I wanted you to talk a little bit about the issue of understandable apprehensions by Americans who may be opposed to the project, but not out of bigotry. I think we know that there are bigots that exploit the pain and suffering of 9/11, and anyone who meets you and Imam Feisal, you know, just within a minute knows that these lies that are made about you are just that.

But there are other issues, as you talk about the bigger picture in America, that people really don't understand where we come from in terms of the American Muslim identity, that America is our home. And even when we travel to the Middle East, we're pursuing American interests as a bridge of peace and understanding.

So could you comment on, you know, what you would like to say to other Americans about our concept of the American Muslim identity?

KHAN: Yes. American Muslims are as diverse as the world Muslim population, and is already part of the American quilt. You know, they are small contributors to armed forces; they're doctors, businesspeople, engineers. I myself am both Western and Muslim, and I really don't accept a value-based distinction. Core values of Islam, faith in God -- and hard work are completely resonant with Western values.

And if you look at the United States, American Islam cuts across cultural boundaries. As American Muslims are able to combine the best of what it means to be Muslim and American. That's why we don't feel that there is a war between us and them.

I also believe that it's important to now note that the clash-of-civilization framework is behind us. There are 25 million Muslims living in the West. And I don't think that it retains any appeal for ordinary citizens, yet, you know, yes, some misunderstand political conflict as a cultural or religious one. But the vast majority of us in the West recognize these differences.

And as a community, American Muslims are flourishing in this country. They are -- you know, they represent statistically, in fact, we are overrepresented in innumerable professional fields. We practice our faith freely and openly.

And this is one of the ways that the opposition has misconstrued Imam Feisal's words that he wants to bring Shari'a to this country, is because we practice our faith freely and openly as protected in the American Constitution, we have embraced our American culture and our Islamic faith and we recognize there's no contradiction between the two.

This is what -- and in the development of the American Muslim identity is similar to the development of Muslim identities that have developed over time over the last 1,400 years in innumerable cultures. So Islam, you know, was -- gave birth in Saudi Arabia, in the Arabian Peninsula; it moved to ancient cultures like Persia, Egypt and India and Southeast Asia, like Indonesia and Malaysia and Turkey and -- you know, and restated itself in those cultures.

And Islam is now restating itself in the Western culture. And our best hope is America, because America is a country whose Constitution protects all religions. And this is why American Islam has flourished, in the true sense of the word. It's flourishing, and a center such as this one would give birth to a true American Islamic identity, one that is culturally American, but authentically Islamic.

FASKIANOS: Thank you. Next question.

OPERATOR: Our next question will come from Robert Marus, with the Associated Baptist Press.

QUESTIONER: Hi, Daisy. Thank you so much for doing this.

My main question for you, I think, extends to -- you've kind of addressed this, but I would like to hear you address it in greater detail.

The experience of the Park51 project has been couched in this sort of terminology, or a debate between, well, there's no -- (inaudible) -- question among the serious, you know, legal thinkers here about whether you have the right to build. It's simply a prudential argument, whether it's wise for you to build here or not.

However, a lot of the mosque debates going on around the country in places like Murfreesboro, Tennessee, and Temecula, California, are -- (chuckles) -- the question is really -- (inaudible) -- are far from being agreed upon and settled by all the actors involved.

How much of a role does just sort of base Islamophobia play in the rest of these debates around the country, and how do you see the confluence of all these debates together? Does that sort of give the lie to the opponents of the Park51 project, that it's not really about Muslims' freedom of religion?

KHAN: Yeah, I'd like to take us back to, you know, what has happened to other religions. It's the only way I can make sense of this.

I think that if we look at all American religions, I think there has been -- the struggle of Muslims is the struggle of all religions in this country. It's one of acceptance.

And it happens over time, and if we look at, you know, what the Catholics went through where -- I remember that at one of our community board meetings Father Mattingly reminded us that Saint Patrick's Church had to have a fence around it because it was supposed -- you know, they had said that they would burn it. And it wasn't so long ago.

And as one of our speakers just mentioned about Stuyvesant preventing, you know, schuls and synagogues from going up. And I think it took the act of Congress to get a synagogue established in -- (audio break) -- D.C. or in New York; I don't remember where, but somewhere.

I think it's -- I think this is the trajectory of religions in America. And I am certain that other religions will face similar challenges as we have. And I believe now it's -- the time has come for American Islam or American Muslims to be accepted as equals -- (off mike).

FASKIANOS: Thank you. Next question.

OPERATOR: Our next question will come from David Greenhaw, with Eden Theological Seminary.

QUESTIONER: Thank you very much. I very much appreciate this call and what you're doing.

I've been struck -- not, unfortunately, surprised -- by the speed with which a momentum has arisen that I would call really Islamic hatred. And I wonder if the steps that are being taken to address this momentum on the other side are moving quickly enough and if there are ways -- and I know we've mentioned this a little before -- that we might work to create counter-momentums, and quickly and firmly.

Any other suggestions you might have on that?

KHAN: I think the most important counter-momentum would be if politicians began to -- spoke out. And also interfaith communities and thought leaders began to speak out. Because we are not sufficiently equipped to be able to counter single-handedly this -- what has now become a political issue.

And we recognize that it's no longer about the center. We have become an issue in the election cycle. To combat something like that would require a political -- (word inaudible) -- strategy, but it would require the thought leaders of America to step up and to start speaking out for American -- you know, for the preservation of American ideals.

And it can be done through religious leaders; it can be done through thought leaders. And some of the journalists have done a remarkable, remarkable job with the kind of op-eds, with the kind of opinion pieces that we are seeing in the press.

I think that is the strongest counter right now, is for ordinary Americans and for thought leaders -- like CFR right now, doing what we're doing -- to speak up and to create a national dialogue about this issue.

Because even though the center is a symbol of this, I think there is a bigger conversation that we need to have about acceptance and respect. And the country is deeply polarized, and it could get further polarized. And to prevent that kind of polarization from taking place, I think everybody has to do their share.

FASKIANOS: Thank you. Next question.

OPERATOR: Our next question will come from Charles Strohmer, with the Center on Public Justice.

QUESTIONER: Hi. Thank you very much for taking my call and for being with us this morning, Ms. Khan.

I just want to revisit the relocation issue and perhaps approach the issue from a different question. It's just been so interesting listening to this, because it's stirred up so much in my mind about this question.

You know, why not, just for the sake of healing a bit of the 9/11 wound that's still in America and to defuse some of the fitna that's around and that started up, even though it's other people causing it, et cetera and so on, why not just maybe work with the City of New York to find a place that's a little bit further away? And maybe that's like a higher law of love or something, or empathy then, just trying to hammer away at the rights issues. I don't know if I'm saying that right, but -- important, I think.

KHAN: Yes, and I think that's a -- that's a good question.

First, I think that the important question is no one should be driven out of his or her own neighborhood, especially for religious reasons. It is unconstitutional and un-American.

Our congregation has been peacefully worshiping in this area for almost three decades. Our neighbors have encouraged us to remain there, and the city and the community board have encouraged our continued presence there. The community is backed by, you know, the community board approving every resolution and challenge in the center's favor.

What -- if there is to be a relocation and it has to be a decision that we have to make with those who are stakeholders in the center, including the 9/11 families -- so because making a rash decision and making a very quick decision to just relocate might have adverse effects, long-term adverse effects that might not be in the interest of not only our nation, the interests of our Muslim community nationally, but also globally.

FASKIANOS: Thank you. Next question.

OPERATOR: Our next question comes from Adrienne Medawar, with Town Hall Los Angeles.

QUESTIONER: Yes. Thank you, Ms. Khan, for being with us today.

You refer -- very often you refer to the American Muslim culture. And as we all know, Catholics and Episcopalians alike, there are many issues which bring culture clashes within religions.

Do you foresee any culture clashes within the Muslim religious community in the U.S., and also with the -- between the U.S. Muslim community and the international community of Muslims?

KHAN: The Muslim community is the most diverse Muslim that exists -- in America, the Muslim community in America is the most diverse Muslim community that exists in the world. It is the nucleus of the world Muslim community. And if you visit a mosque or you even visit, you know, some of the mosques in Lower Manhattan, it even gets more diverse, that area.

But with that diversity come some challenges. And the challenges have primarily to do with different expressions or different interpretations of theology. However, those differences have more to do with small acts of worship and they are -- they are not within the actual belief system or the practice.

They -- what unifies the Muslim community is its adherence to the five pillars and its adherence to its beliefs. Every Muslim believes that there's only one Koran. How we interpret the Koran and might -- that's where the differences lie.

I believe that a center like this would have been the -- would be a catalyst for what would become the expression, the first expression of an American Islam where it would be very diverse, but it would be united at the same time around certain values.

And, of course, the core value being pluralism, because this is the one thing that the extremists are against, the pluralism within the Muslim community as well as pluralism outside the Muslim --

QUESTIONER: Thank you.

FASKIANOS: Thank you. Next question.

OPERATOR: Our next question will come from Elias Mallon, with Franciscans International.

QUESTIONER: Hi, Daisy. It's good to hear you.

In dealing with this, I -- while I recognize there is a certain specialness to the particular area of downtown -- and I happen to live not far from where the World Trade Center was -- that I understand that.

But then, when I see, for example, the sale of a property on Staten Island that was rescinded because people resisted a mosque being put up there, what's going on in Murfreesboro in Tennessee, that I find the same arguments that are being used for Park51 are being used in other places around the country. So that in one sense that Park51 may be a focal point, but it's a much broader thing that's going on here.

In addition, the -- I'm a Roman Catholic. The Roman Catholic Church and the churches of the National Council of Churches have tried to get a Muslim-Christian dialogue going for (years ?). But obviously some of the people in our congregations are the ones who are out there saying some pretty hateful things about Islam.

So, I mean, my question is how can you help us to get -- who are Christians from different churches and denominations -- help us to get a message, a better -- or obviously a clearer message of understanding, tolerance and dialogue to the people in our own congregations?

KHAN: This is a conversation I just had a week and a half ago with the representatives of Archbishop Dolan about the importance of dialogue between the Catholic-Muslim community.

And even they know that all the opponents that are speaking -- the majority of opponents that are speaking against this project and its close proximity to the World Trade Center site are Catholics of Irish and Italian descent. They are painfully aware of that.

We have decided to work with one another to begin a dialogue between the Catholic community and ourselves so that we can bring some, you know, healing to those people who are rejecting us on the grounds of -- (audio break) -- seeing this primarily through the lens of the extremist factions.

QUESTIONER: Mm-hmm. (In acknowledgement.)

KHAN: But how quickly that can get ramped up is a discussion that we need to have, but we are already in conversations with the Church.

QUESTIONER: Okay. Thank you.

FASKIANOS: Thank you. Next question.

OPERATOR: Our next question comes from Leonard Rodgers with the Evangelicals for Middle Eastern Understanding.

QUESTIONER: Good morning, Daisy. Salaam alaikum.

KHAN: (Off mike.)

QUESTIONER: It's a pleasure to hear you and those speaking.

I would like to ask why there is not a stronger voice from moderate Muslims in marginalizing Islamic fundamentalists. I noticed that one of the objectives that you have is global engagement.

We support what Mayor Bloomberg said about the rights of religious freedom anywhere in the U.S.A. Our Founding Fathers would support this without any question.

Too few American Muslims seem to be concerned about the rights of minorities in the countries of their origin. There appears to be little recognition by those who want and demand their rights in America to understand the rights of these voiceless minorities in Muslim lands.

I think I'd like to ask you if you feel that more work needs to be done by liberty-loving Muslims to champion the rights of minorities in the Middle East, including the 15 million indigenous Christians?

KHAN: This is, I think, one of the things that our friends and allies are saying, is that, you know, every American wants to know where is the moderate Muslim voice and why are they speaking up. That a center like this was supposed to be a counter against extremism, and was to amplify the voices of the ordinary Muslims who are law-abiding citizens and give a platform to amplify those voices; that our voices get crushed in the process.

So it is a perennial problem that Muslims have had, especially since 9/11, that our voices get drowned out by the actions of the extremists.

And the important thing to remember is that right after 9/11, there was a major, major fatwa that was issued by -- (audio break) -- scholars of Islamic law from around the country and -- defining the act of 9/11 as a terrorist act and giving permission to -- (audio break) -- armed forces to go fight in Afghanistan.

Now, this is -- this was a very educational fatwa, because it described what terrorism is. It described the right of Muslims to go fight fellow Muslims, and it was a fatwa that my husband pleaded with the press, especially certain -- the print press -- to please print this -- (audio break) -- in its entirety, because the Americans need to see this and so do Muslims.

Unfortunately -- and it would have -- it would have given strength to the Muslims, you know, ordinary Muslims who were leaders in their communities to speak out and use Islamic law as a justification. Unfortunately, it didn't, and I know my husband published it in his book. It's an appendix to his books, because he really wanted the public to see it.

Our problem is twofold. The extremists, you know, have theater. They use theater, they use these actions that create a lot of excitement. And everybody who is on this call who's from the press knows that, you know, sensationalism sells. And us moderate Muslims are just the ordinary folks, and we don't -- we don't have the kind of story to tell.

However, we also have an added complexity which is that we are not a centralized faith. We are a decentralized faith, and to organize the Muslim community and to have one voice speak on behalf of the Muslim community is almost like saying who's going to speak for the Jewish community?

Certain kinds of institutions have been established by the Muslim community, and they do speak out every time there is a terrorist attack. When Mr. Nidal went and killed 13 people, there was a immediate response from the entire Muslim community. I must have received, you know -- we all received each other's press releases.

We are trying to speak out, but unfortunately, you know, our -- when we do, it doesn't get sufficient coverage, unfortunately. Not nearly as much as the coverage that al Qaeda and their actions get.

So it is one of perception, and Muslims are speaking out, but as long as the public does not see us speaking out, they will not know that we're speaking out. And people like yourselves will think that ordinary, you know -- (audio break) -- leadership is not speaking out.

But it is something that we've recognized. We know that we have to form some sort of a coalition around the country which can speak with, you know, one voice. And maybe this is the time when that sort of a coalition gets formed.

QUESTIONER: Thank you, Daisy.

FASKIANOS: Thank you. I think we have time for one more question, and I know that there are many people still on the call who have questions. I apologize that we cannot get to you.

I think today's conversation has demonstrated that we have really brought together, as part of our outreach initiatives, providing a forum for cross-denominational conversations with religious leaders and state and local officials and whatnot across the country. So Daisy, thank you for doing this.

Let's take that last question, and again, my apologies.

OPERATOR: Our final question will come from Stephen Prothero, with Boston University.

QUESTIONER: Thank you so much for having me; I appreciate it. And thanks for speaking today.

I want to go back to the compromise question. Mayor Bloomberg said last night at the iftar dinner that there would be no compromise, that to move the site is to cave in and to give up on -- not just on First Amendment, but on a real proper understanding of America.

I've heard you speak a couple times about this question of the shape of the center and determining it in conversation with stakeholders, and also about the question of the location of the center.

And I'd just like to know sort of straight up from you if you are open to moving it, or if that is off the table as far as you're concerned.

KHAN: It's off the table for now.

FASKIANOS: Thank you, Daisy. And thanks to all of you.

Daisy, is there anything you would like to close with?

KHAN: I'd just like to thank everybody, and I think that we are at a very critical time in our nation's history. The Muslim community is a valuable asset to America. It is a community that can define, you know, certain types of -- I mean, through its pluralism it can -- it can spread that pluralism around the Muslim world where pluralism does not exist and is not accepted.

I think it's a community that needs to be respected and accepted wholeheartedly and embraced, because not only is it a community that becomes a buffer between the extremists, but also a community that is making a vital contribution to America in its -- its standing in the world.

We are a community that is directly tied to every, you know, Muslim nation. We are in close contact with people abroad, and we become great ambassadors for American ideals.

FASKIANOS: Thank you, Daisy. This was a terrific hour. And thanks to all of you. I encourage you to visit our website. We are featuring an expert roundup on this topic, including a piece by our president, Richard Haass, who is -- who is the brainchild of our outreach initiative to religious leaders and state and local officials.

To that end, we have a specific site for both constituencies, so I hope you will check our portal at cfr.org/religion and cfr.org/ (statelocal ?). And I encourage you to go to Cordoba Initiative's website if you want to be part of the conversation and a supporter of Ms. Khan and Imam Feisal

So thank you all, and we look forward to our next session, after Labor Day.

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Transcript

Islam in America

Speakers: Daisy Khan, Eboo Patel, and Mohamed Younis
Presider: Calvin Sims

Experts examine myths regarding American Muslims and address fears of Islam in the United States.