Delivering the We Stand With American Muslims Petitions
Daisy Khan, Aylin Karamehmetoglu and other leaders of the Cordoba Initiative this week expressed deep appreciation to everyone who signed FCNL’s “We Stand With American Muslims” statement. “When I first saw all of those names, it almost had me in tears,” said Aylin Karamehmetoglu, who is chief of staff for the Cordoba Initiative Project that is the lead organization behind plans for the Islamic Cultural Center in New York City.
FCNL’s Director for Communications Alicia McBride had arranged for the names of the 8,000 people who signed the statement to be printed on four large posters. On Wednesday, October 13, I delivered the large posters to the offices of the Cordoba Initiative in New York City and spent about an hour talking with the leaders of that project about the petition, about Quakers, about our FCNL efforts to build bridges of understanding with American Muslims and the future plans for the cultural center.
Standing in front of the four posters, Daisy Khan, who is Executive Director of the American Society for Muslim Advancement, asked “who are all of these people?” I explained “These are people from all over the country who wanted to offer a statement of support for your efforts.” Here at FCNL – I said – we knew immediately that there would be many people across the country who would want to add their support for this effort and that’s why we developed this petition. As we spoke in the bustling offices of the Cordoba Initiative, several other staff filtered in and out of the room. “So many names, so many names,” said another person.
As I entered the offices of The Cordoba Initiative with a friend who came along to take some pictures, we saw volunteering sitting in chairs, perched on couches, and occupying almost every empty space and table. Some typed on computers while others answered phones or sorted through the stacks of mail and other correspondence that has flowed into their offices since the public controversy over plans for the center first erupted this summer.
“We see the center as a collaborative effort for all,” explained Daisy Khan. “The center is about collaboration, about peace and tolerance.” She expressed concern that the debate about the community center had come down to which side are you on? Are you against the center or in favor of it?
I explained that we at FNCL hope that the conversations, interactions, and exchanges that are sparked by this proposal offer an opportunity to get beyond the discussion of do you support the cultural center or oppose it? I told my hosts that we at FCNL have heard that some of the 8,000 people who signed the petition have also been organizing forums, or writing letters to the editors of their local newspapers making the point that this moment could provide an opening for Christians, Muslims and people of other faiths to learn more about each other and find out what they have in common.
We spoke for some time about the Koran’s teaching that the spark of God is in everyone, a perspective, I said, that sounded remarkably similar to the Friends perspective that the Light of God is in every person. Daisy Khan, who is a leader of the Women’s Islamic Initiative in Spirituality and Equality (WISE), expressed a particular interest in learning about the spiritual grounding of the Friends who were active with the Suffragette movement in this country. I suggested that when she visited the FCNL offices here in DC, we might also go across the street to the building that was the headquarters of the National Women’s Political Party.
Pointing to several of the names on one of the posters, Daisy Khan asked if I could say a little more about the individuals who had added their names to the statement. Fortunately, I recognized the name of one Friend who I knew of. “Oh, he’s a war tax resister,” I said. “A war tax resister, what is that?” said Daisy Khan. I explained that many Friends objected to paying taxes that would go to pay for war. As a matter of principal, some of our constituents refuse to voluntarily pay the proportion of their taxes that go to pay for the Pentagon and other war fighting. “I think some Muslims could support that as well,” she said with a smile.
While we were talking, Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf called in to add his appreciation to the 8,000 signers of the petition. “We know the Quakers. You have been with us,” he told me. “Thank you.” In was in his role as Imam of Masjid al-Farah, a mosque 12 blocks from the site where the World Trade Center had once stood, that Imam Feisal first proposed the building of the cultural center. We spoke for several minutes more before I returned to the conversation with his colleagues in the office.
The Cordoba Initiative and the American Society for Muslim Advancement have been overwhelmed by the reaction to their proposal. No one could have anticipated the hate speech and the stereotyping. Sitting in their offices I was amazed at the humanity I saw from my hosts who have endured, in the last month, more insults, and slanders than most people have to confront in a lifetime. As we spoke, Aylin returned to the challenges of how to get out their message in a media environment that seems sometimes to focus only on the controversy and the protests.
Yet Daisy Khan added that the awareness that 8,000 people could come together to stand with American Muslims was also a part of the untold story of this moment. “We feel the interfaith community standing behind us,” she explained. “This is the untold story. We would not have been able to survive the full fledged onslaught without the aid of the interfaith community.” She added that when the attacks first started coming in through the media they wondered how to respond. “But when we turned around, we realized that we had all of these interfaith people behind us, supporting us.”
“Thank you,” she added. “And please express our thanks to all of the people who have added their names to this statement.”
See other photos posted on the Cordoba Initiative’s Facebook page