Who’s optimistic about America’s future? American Muslims

I’m off for the next two weeks but will return around Aug. 22 with my annual report on religious elements in my beach reading.

I think I’m starting with “A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man,” which I’ve been trying to get to for years.

Come fall, I’ll try to post a bit more often than I’ve done of late. It’s tough, being that I’m mostly covering education these days, we have a lot of 9/11 anniversary stuff in the works, and there are plenty of other demands on our small, but committed-as-ever staff.

One interesting note: A new study from the Abu Dhabi Gallup Center, a partnership with Gallup polling machine, finds that American Muslims are more satisfied with their American lives that members of other faith groups.

They say they face discrimination, but that they are thriving in general.

According to the Washington Post:

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…almost two in three Muslims said their standard of living is improving, up 18 percentage points from 2008 and higher than any other faith group surveyed. This is the same period that Muslim leaders say has been the most oppressive for Muslims in this country, with rhetoric against their faith group appearing to rise.

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An LA Times write-up includes this:

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The polling also indicates significant common ground between Muslims in America and their Jewish counterparts. The two groups largely share similar views on resolving the decades-long conflict in the Middle East. Eighty-one percent of Muslim Americans and 78% of Jewish Americans support the creation of an independent Palestinian state alongside Israel. A majority of Jewish Americans, 70%, also said they didn’t believe American Muslims sympathized with Al Qaeda. The only respondents more likely to agree were Muslim Americans themselves.

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The Forward also notes the similarities between Muslim and Jewish thinking:

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What may be surprising is the Gallup poll’s finding that in many respects, Muslim Americans most resemble… Jews. Sixty percent of Muslims say they are thriving here; ditto, American Jews. Almost all (93%) of the Muslims in Gallup’s survey believe that other Muslims are loyal to America; Jews (80%) are the religious group most likely to agree with that statement. Jews are also among the least likely religious groups to think that Muslim Americans sympathize with al Qaeda, and both groups consider the war with Iraq a big mistake.

There’s more. Muslim Americans are the most likely of any major religious group (80%) to approve of President Obama’s job performance. And who is next on that list? Yep, the Jews.

Those mosque controversies

These are tough times for proposed mosque developments in NYC.

The pastor of a Catholic parish on Staten Island has withdrawn his support for the sale of an old convent to a Muslim group.

Since a contract was signed last month to sell the property to the Muslim American Society, the move has faced fierce opposition at meetings and rallies.

Of course, plans for a big mosque just two blocks from Ground Zero have also drawn cries of indignation, including from people who lost loved ones on 9/11.

The downtown project is being run by the Cordoba Initiative led by Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf.

Since 9/11, many people have called on moderate Muslims to condemn terrorism and forge new relationships with the West.

Rauf appears to be that guy.

The Cordoba Initiative is all about improving relations between Islam and the West. Rauf pursues this goal internationally and at home.

I got a chance to talk to him in 2005 in Yonkers, when he came to an interfaith lunch convened by the American Muslim Women’s Association. He told me about behind-the-scenes work he was doing to get Muslim and Jewish leaders to dialogue in several countries.

He also told me about his work to gather young American Muslims, potential future leaders, to talk about crafting a new American Muslim identity. In fact, he oversaw a Muslim Leaders of Tomorrow retreat at the Garrison Institute.

When I spoke with Rauf, it was apparent that he knew a tremendous amount about Judaism and Christianity and that he knows numerous American leaders from both worlds.

He told me then: “Because we believe that God created humankind in the divine image, to love your fellow human beings is to love God.”

In 2003, when the popular God Squad — Monsignor Thomas Hartman and Rabbi Marc Gellman — spoke at Purchase College and several other local spots, Rauf joined the squad to add a Muslim perspective on things. In the picture, that’s him on the right.

At Purchase, Rauf talked about trying to persuade a major American newspaper to print a religious edict declaring that American Muslims were religiously justified in participating in a war against Afghanistan.

The first mention of Rauf in the Journal News’ digital library is from 1998, was when he came to Valley Cottage to help celebrate the end of Hanukkah and the beginning of Ramadan with a gathering of Muslims and Jews.

I also interviewed Rauf for my book about natural disasters. I remember him as being gracious, insightful and funny. He told me then:

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We should care for each other and care for the planet, utilize our smarts and our resources to take care of the planet so it takes care of us. We should be reminded of our primal relationship to the creator and of the two basic commandments of the Abrahamic religions: to love God with all of your heart, mind, soul and strength; and to love your fellow human beings.

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The guy doesn’t sound like a bad potential neighbor, does he?

Of course, any time I’ve written about Muslims, people write or call and ask me how I can know their ultimate motives. I can’t, obviously.

But Imam Rauf reminds me a great deal of the more impressive priests, ministers and rabbis I’ve met over the years.

If the Muslim community in New York is going to continue to grow — and it is — Rauf sure seems like the guy you want in charge.

Catching up on 9/11

It’s been a few days since I posted, as I’ve been trying to transition to my new life as a GA — general assignments — reporter.

I’ve been busy roaming around around, talking to people about the war in Afghanistan. Should we increase troops, pull the troops out or what? My story is out today, on the anniversary of 9/11 (which I’ll get to in a moment).

I have to say that I really appreciate the many emails and phone calls I’ve gotten from people about the demise of the religion beat here at LoHud/The Journal News. It means a lot to hear that people appreciated my coverage of religion for the last 12-plus years.

I understand that people feel it’s a mistake for LoHud/TJN to stop covering religion. But I also understand the very difficult challenges facing this business. We’re cutting back in many ares and trying to do other things well. Sometimes, there are no easy answers.

This is a tough week for me because the Religion Newswriters Association is holding its annual conference, in Minneapolis this year, and I’m not there. I’ve been to 8 or 9 conferences and  really enjoyed getting to know a group of reporters dedicated to covering religion as best they could.

It’s a smaller gathering this year, as many newspapers have been cutting out their religion coverage. The Boston Globe’s Michael Paulson, who is in Minneapolis, writes on his blog about the religion beat being “endangered” (and has a few nice words to say about me).

So today it’s 9/11.

It was in the days after the attacks — and the weeks and months — that many people wrote and said that religion coverage was especially important to highlight and explain everything happening in the world today.

And explain we did.

Much of the coverage has focused, of course, on Islam, which was still a pretty mysterious (world) religion to most people before the attacks. I think it’s safe to say that people who want to know something about Islam now do.

Covering Islam has been no easy task for most journalists in this country. Why? We talk to and write about Muslims in America, who often see the world very differently from Muslims in Saudi Arabia or Afghanistan or Iraq.

Many of the outrageous things we read about Muslims in the world — people being stoned, people being arrested for converting, a woman facing trial for wearing pants — are outrageous to Muslims who live and work in the U.S. And I can tell you, American Muslims are beyond tired of having to explain and apologize for the actions of people far, far away.

A new study from the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life shows that Americans, by and large, see Muslims as facing a great deal of discrimination — more than any group in society other than gays and lesbians.

Forty-five percent of the public says Islam is no more likely to encourage violence than other religions. Thirty-eight percent say that Islam is more likely to encourage violence.

But which Islam are we taking about? How it’s practiced in Pakistan or in Ohio?

A surprise to me: 45 percent of Americans say they know a Muslim personally. I would have expected 20 percent or something like that.

But get this: Only 41 percent of those polled could identify the name Muslims use for God (Allah) and their holy book (the Koran). I mean, what have you been doing for the last eight years?

Regardless, if you want to relive the emotions that Americans felt after 9/11 and the many questions that people asked, check out some of the video excerpts and interviews that made up the PBS special “Faith and Doubt at Ground Zero.”

Monsignor Lorenzo Albacete, the prominent theologian from NY, said this:

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What does that mean? It means a boundary has been broken that opens up the floodgates to unstoppable horror, because human is all we are, all we can be, all we can appeal to. It’s our safety net. … But here, the more you show your humanity, the more you’re hated. I’ve never seen anything like this. And I saw it.

To me, to distract one from this, to look for explanations, is obscene. It’s an offense against the reality of what happened — an offense against our humanity — to look for political explanations, economic explanations, diplomatic explanations. “Oh, it’s American foreign policy. It is the arrival into our shores of the Palestinian-Israeli fight. It is globalization. It is the cultural wars. It is American imperialism.” All of that is proposed by the “Yes, but” brigade who got to work immediately after the explosion. It is obscene and irresponsible, because we were facing an attack, a hatred of humanity which is what we all have in common. It’s our line of defense, our only one. And now that was gone. …

The people who did this, who planned it, who brought it about, I don’t know what their theology or their ideology is. I take them at their word; they died with the name of God on their lips. People say they were sincere; well, yes, they were. They believed. This is an act for them that was a sincere act, the worship of their God. I take them at their word. Does that make them any less evil? Oh, but no, that precisely is the monstrosity. If they were not sincere, it would be a terrible thing, but … it is the sincerity, it is the free will. I mean, they willed this to happen. They willed the destruction of humanity, of humanness, of everybody in that place on that day at the World Trade Center. This was a freely willed act, very sincere. And this sincerity is one of the horrible characteristics of the face of evil I saw that day. …

Pretend ‘mosque’ in Illinois used for emergency drill

Muslim advocacy groups are not that happy that an emergency preparedness drill in Irving, Ill., targeted a pretend mosque.

A community facility was renamed “Irving mosque” for the day.

According to the local paper, the pretend mosque was supposed to be “the home-base for a radical, heavily armed group with suspected terrorist ties.”

There were “explosions” and “casualties,” “hostages” and “suspects killed.”

The Council on American-Islamic Relations says that the exercise sends the wrong message.

Ahmed Rehab, executive director of CAIR’s Chicago chapter, said in a statement:

The use of a fake ‘mosque’ in this type of drill sends the wrong message to law enforcement officials who may now view mainstream institutions, such as Islamic houses of worship, as potential security threats. Officials must be trained in dealing with hostage-taking and responding to chemical, biological or bomb attacks. We are only questioning the wisdom of linking the American Muslim community and its institutions to such incidents.