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.