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Thursday, May 5, 2011

Faisal Abdul Rauf Appears at UCLA



Reza Aslan                                     Faisal Abdul Rauf

Last night, (May 4) Imam Faisal Abdul Rauf appeared at UCLA's Royce Hall. I would estimate about five hundred people attended including myself. Also appearing as moderator was Reza Aslan, a young Iranian-American, who is an advisory board member of a group called National Iranian-American Committee, which is known as an apologist group for the Islamic regime in Iran and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Aslan has been quoting calling Ahmadinejad a "liberal reformer".

Rauf spoke for about 15 minutes, then was joined by Aslan, who posed a series of questions to him. In addition, three persons chosen previously gave their own questions from the front of the audience. They were a Christian pastor, a rabbi and a young woman from CAIR. I will describe their "questions" later. During the presentation, index cards were passed out to the audience to write down questions, collected and taken up to Aslan for his perusal and selection. (He only selected a couple out of dozens collected.) Often, while Rauf was answering Aslan's questions, Aslan would be reading through the cards rather than paying attention to the answers.

I should note at the outset that Rauf (in my view) is a very smooth operator. He has a soft-spoken, gentlemanly manner and comes across as a cross between Mohatma Gandhi and the Dalai Lama. He speaks in very spiritual terms about following God and loving eaxh other. Yet he said many things that I think are noteworthy. I did not record, so I am paraphrasing his statements except where I put quotation marks. The audience appeared to be mostly sympathetic to Rauf.

In his opening remarks, Rauf commented briefly on the death of Usama bin Laden and remarked that the time had come for (certain) Muslims to reject the notion that terrorism could work for Muslims.

He accused "the popular media" of associating Muslims with terrorism.

He stated and (later repeated) that we must reject the extremists who had hijacked all of our religions (Islam, Christianity and Judaism).

He also referred to the false perception by the media that religions are at war and that in his travels to Islamic countries, he observes that Muslims, by and large, love America and our values of freedom.

Aslan, in his opening remarks to Rauf, and in condemning terrorism, remarked that it is not found in the Koran, nor in the Hadith. He then talked about public opinion polls showing that some 50% of Americans have a negative view of Islam and that 25% believe that President Obama is a Muslim. He said that US Muslims work overtime to dispell  anti-Islamic images, but that anti-Muslim sentiment remains high in the US.

Rauf stated that a sector of American society is Islamophobic and "seeks to attack Islam". He also mentioned what he termed "residual racism" in the US and that some people "cannot accept the fact that we have a black president".

At this point, a young Muslim woman named Tahra Goraya was introduced by Reza. She is with Southern California CAIR and works for California State Senator Carol Liu. She stepped up to a microphone in front and  asked a softball question, which was so benign I didn't bother to write it down.

Rauf went on to repeat the theme that "we need a coalition" of moderates of all 3 religions to combat the extremists of those religions" (Islam, Christianity and Judaism).

Aslan then said that people always ask him, "Where is the moderate voice of Islam?", and that he had run out of answers (meaning he was exasperated constantly giving all his answers). Again, Rauf blamed the media. "They want blood", but then added, "What if there was a news blackout every time a suicide bomber blew himself up or someone burned a Koran"?

Aslan then asked Rauf about the role of Atheists and Agnostics in building bridges (applause from the audience). Rauf replied that what was important was a set of principles of human equality. He referred to the fact that Thomas Jefferson read the Koran. He then stated that The Declaration of Independence was a "very shariah-compliant document" (laughter from the audience-including me).

Aslan then selected a question from the audience asking about Rauf's reaction to the celebrations seen in the US upon hearing of bin Laden's death. He replied that he understood it, but was concerned it might make bin Laden a martyr.

Next came a question from  an Episcopal pastor from Los Angeles, Gwynne Guibord. She began by thanking Rauf for his presence and his "voice of reason". She then asked him for his reaction to the "plethora of misinformation" about violence in the Koran.

Rauf replied by reminding her about the peaceful words that begin every chapter in the Koran (suras). He said that one should not just look at the text, but the context, and that the words were written at different times. He stated that "verses could be misconstrued or taken out of context." It was more important to remember that Mohammed said to practice compassion. He went on to say that, until a century ago, other religions lived in peace under Muslim rule and that Muslims protected the other religions. He mentioned the Ottoman Empire in passing. Only in the past century had Muslims become less tolerant. * This was the only reference made to the persecution of non-Muslims going on in Muslim countries around the world.

Aslan then asked about the Cordoba House project (Ground Zero mosque) and why Cordoba was chosen as a name. He referred to Cordoba as a time (in Spain) of the flowering of cultures and arts as three religions all contributed in peace and harmony until it "was put to a violent end by the Reconquista".

Rauf said the name Cordoba was chosen because it was a name "that would be warm", a time when the relationship between all three religions was good. Scholars came from all over Europe and shared their knowledge and talent. He said he wished to see a Cordoba House "everywhere" -"in other places like Los Angeles".

Then came a progressive Jewish rabbi from Woodland Hills to the microphone, Steven Jacobs. He began by stating, "What an honor", then went on a tirade about the "worst incivility" coming from Rauf's opponents and asked how did he endure it. Rauf stated that he had felt like Jesus being crucified and that someone had gotton his "30 pieces of silver".

Aslan asked him what he "did wrong" (in the Ground Zero mosque project.) Rauf replied that he had done nothing wrong, but the issue had become politicized by the mid-term election and was held hostage by people like Sarah Palin.

Aslan then brought up the subject of women in Islam and their so-called subjugation. He asked about the work Rauf was doing with his wife (Daisy Khan). Rauf referred to some 700 women he was working with on his projects in the Muslim world. He said that the "subjugation" doesn't come from Islam, rather it comes from the culture of the specific societies and that he believes it will change over time. He acknowledged that the Muslim countries were lagging behind the West by  "a few decades". He also remarked that two-thirds of the university students in Iran were women. He described female circumcision as a horrible practice that is found in African countries including Egypt, but that it was not Islamic, only that some Muslims thought Islam required it.

Aslan then made a mocking reference to the old question of whether Rauf would condemn Hamas and asked him to state it for the record. Rauf replied in the affirmative and also replied that Israel has a right to exist.

After slightly less than two hours, Aslan closed the evening.

I will have more to say in a subsequent post about what was going on inside and outside during and after the event. There is much to say, but I will close here leaving it restricted to the event itself.

9 comments:

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the summary. It doesn't look like he said anything offensive. He may sugar coat history to a large degree with Muslims treatment of non-Muslims.

He also sounds like he blames culture and not Islam for some immoral behavior.

I always get a kick out of people who act like religious thought has no consequence. Do people like him sincerely believe religious beliefs have no role in the culture?

If people are acting poorly based upon the culture, religion should make people behavior in a moral way. At least, that is what I thought that was a role of religion. But when religion (or any dogma) is used to reinforce the immoral behavior, what is the point of the religious belief?

Siarlys Jenkins said...

If Rauf said that the golden age of Cordoba was ended by the Reconquista, he is a little fuzzy at best. The Umayyad Emirate of Cordoba, later a Caliphate, disintegrated about three hundred years after it was founded, and about 200-300 years before the Reconquista took over all of Spain. In between were the chaos of little Taifa states, the dominions of the Almoravids and the Almohades (the latter mystically anti-Jewish), and then the shrinking emirate of Granada. In between, there were periods when all three religions coexisted, albeit with the rulers always being Muslim, and periods when any given warlord or army might have soldiers of any or all religions. Even the legendary El Cid fought in the service of Muslim princes as often as he did Christian princes.

Rauf seems to fall into the same desire to make history neat and tidy, wrapped up with a bow, as those who announced that Islam has always been violent, anti-Jewish, and inclined to slaughter those who don't convert. You can find everything you want to find, if you just hunt for the right century. By and large though, Cordoba was a place where Talmudic scholarship flourished, as did Muslim art and science, and Christians generally were unmolested, even if they didn't have a high culture to offer.

He is correct that female circumcision is a practice of several cultures that predated Islam. It was not ENDED by Islam, but it was not promulgated by Islam, and is not practiced outside the areas where it already existed.

Reza Aslan... that name always tickles me. Is he a younger son of the Emperor Over the Sea? Or a Narnian collaborator who pacified Calormene?

jjk999 said...

There are multiple hadiths that proscribe female circumcision and Muhammad is quoted as explicitly endorsing it. If Mr. Rauf is knowledgable about Islam then he lied.

jjk999 said...

There are multiple hadiths that are taken as commands for female circumsision. Muhammad is quoted as explicitly endorsing it. Where it is practiced may or may not be dependent upon local custum but it is commanded in the Hadiths which are just as important to islam as the koran.

Mr. Rauf fibbed.

Anonymous said...

jjk999: Citation please?

Anonymous said...

"rabbi" Steve Jacobs is a passenger on the next Gaza flotilla, btw.

Siarlys Jenkins said...

I too would like to see a citation, including a specific haddith, the Islamic authority for that haddith, and the published source on which jjk999 relies. If he cited to the Qu'ran itself, I could look it up in my copy of Marmaduke Pickthall's The MEaning of the Glorious Koran, but a haddith is inevitably a bit fuzzier.

I had started to lampoon jj for repeating himself in an effort to render his assertion more believable, but I see he was actually clarifying an improvident first draft. Next we will see:

There are multiple web sites which make reference to the possible existence of writings which may or may not be hadiths, and may or may not be accurately translated, but which, if treated as symbolically coded, might be interpreted as justifying or mandating female circumcision, and which are commonly cited by people in cultures that indulged in this practice, to justify continuing the practice now that they are Muslim.

That would be like the devotees of Diana of the Ephesians who rounded up obscure references in canonical and apocryphal gospels to launch veneration of Mary Mother of God, because their silver smiths needed SOME reason to continue making little statues to sell to tourists, now that they were all Christians.

Anonymous said...

Islam hasn't always been antisemitic? Gee,
is the rabid antisemitism found in the Quran just a figment of my imagination? Is the genocidal antisemitism found in the hadiths also a figment of my imagination? Muhammad, the most holy, perfect and revered man in all of Islam had the Jews in the Saudi Arabian peninsula slaughtered and enslaved. Maimonides himself was persecuted by Muslims in the the mythical "Golden Age"
of Islam.

Siarlys Jenkins said...

Anonymous, you can find almost anything you want in the history of almost any religion if you cherry-pick enough history and writings.

Whenever anyone points out such Christian atrocities as the pillage of Jerusalem or the Spanish Inquisition (and the rampant persecution of Jews from the time of Constantine), someone says, "that was a long time ago, but look what Muslims are doing now." Fair is fair. If we are going to rule out consideration of Christian atrocities of 500 years ago, much less 19th century anti-Semitism, then surely we should overlook what Muslims were doing 13 centuries ago.

But, since you choose to go way back, the history of Islam, like the history of Christianity, or for that matter Judaism when there were Jewish kingdoms winning wars, sometimes slaughtering or enslaving the vanquished, is a mixed bag. That's why anyone saying Islam has ALWAYS been good/bad, peaceful/warlike, a haven for Jews or deadly to Jews, is inevitably wrong.

Christianity was blessed to be the faith of the downtrodden of a pagan empire for three centuries, before is was cursed with the status of Official State Religion. Christians were forbidden to serve in the Roman Army, before Theodosius decided that ONLY Christians could serve in the Roman Army.

Muhammed was at war, from the time he arrived in Mecca, with his own kinsmen in Mecca, and practically all the other tribes of the Arabian peninsula. He may well have been a bit paranoid, seeing enemies everywhere, not unlike Senator Joseph McCarthy, seeing communists under every bed. (There WERE communists in America, just not everywhere Senator McCarthy, known in his hometown as a notorious alcoholic, claimed to see them).

Some of the tribes Muhammed perceived, rightly or wrongly, to be military and political enemies, were Jewish. They were the only Jews Muhammed knew. He killed many of them. That had an influence on his writings, which were pulled together on little scraps after his death and complied as the Qu'ran.

Jews actively assisted in the Muslims capture of Jerusalem, were rewarded for it with a privileged and comfortable place in the Islamic order, and Talmudic scholarship did flower under the Abbasid Caliphate in Baghdad. Jews were already oppressed by the Visigothic kings of Iberia, were even more oppressed after those kings heard about the Jewish help given to Islamic armies further east, and again assisted the conquest of Iberia. The early emirs and caliphs relied upon Jews to help administer their dominions. The Fatamid caliphs of Egypt were more hostile, as were the Almohades, leaving a legacy that did indeed cause difficulty for Maimonides.

So don't talk blithely about whether Islam has always and everywhere been friendly or hostile to Jews. Talk about which school of Islam, in which territory, in which half-century, and why. Its a fascinating mosaic.