Ken Chitwood of Houston Chronicle asked the following questions about the intra-faith dialogue in Houston and here are my responses to the questions;
INTRA-FAITH DIALOGUE BETWEEN
SUNNI, SHIA, AHMADIYYA AND WD MUHAMMAD DENOMINATIONS
Describe the outline of the event at the Asia Society. Who will be involved? What is the schedule? What is the format? What is the expected outcome?
The Intrafaith Dialogue on Islam is a presentation of Boniuk Center's Bridge-Builder Series to be held at the Asia Society Texas Center,1370 Southmore Blvd, Houston, Texas 77004 on Thursday, Feb. 21st. There will be a reception @ 6:30 P.M. and the event will start at 7:00 P.M. Registration required due to limited seating at - InfoDeskASTC@AsiaSociety.org
The event will be opened by Mike Pardee, the Executive Director of the Boniuk Center for Religious Tolerance; he will introduce the officers of the Boniuk Center, Rice University and Asia Society.
The moderator Mike Ghouse, Religious and Cultural Pluralism Commentator, President of the Foundation for Pluralism and America Together Foundation will take the dialogue forward. The event will be graced by a panel of four Imams representing four different traditions within Islam.
Imam Azhar Haneef, Vice President of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community of the US, Silver Spring, Maryland. Imam Wazir Ali, Masjid Warithud-Deen Mohammed and Masjid Al-Qur'an, Houston, Texas. Imam Moustafa al-Qazwini, Founding Director of the Islamic Education Center of Orange County, California, and Imam Dr. Zia Shaikh, Author and resident scholar of the Islamic Center of Irving, Texas.
This is an extraordinary event in the United States, if not the first, it certainly is a rare event of intra-faith dialogue among Muslims. Islam is a universal faith that has embraced every race, ethnicity, language, tradition and culture. Indeed, the Quran opens with gratitude to the lord of the universe and ends addressing the whole humanity as well in the last chapter. Our esteemed Imams will share about how they deal among themselves and with others. What makes one a Muslim and who sets the theological boundaries and its impact on generational differences? Is there a need for reform and what should be the focus in building cohesive Societies within and without?
We will touch upon the dynamics of Muslim societies here in the United States, as it resembles with the interactions within Asian societies. According to the latest Pew Survey 61.7 % of all Muslims reside in Asia and it behooves for the Asia Society to have a model dialogue to understand the dynamics. Conflict within religious tradition is no news to the Jewish and Christian traditions, but how they accept each other is news.
We hope to close the event by 8:30 including a few questions and answers followed by refreshments for the attendees. Arrangement for nightly prayers called Isha is also made for Muslims who wish to join the prayers.
WHO WILL BE INVOLVED?
The Boniuk Center for Religious Tolerance at Rice “is dedicated to nurturing tolerance among people of all and no faiths, especially youth, and to studying the conditions in which tolerance and intolerance flourish. Their mission is to understand the conditions that make peaceful coexistence possible and to promote these conditions locally, nationally and throughout the world.”
Asia Society has a similar mission, “?Asia Society is the leading educational organization dedicated to promoting mutual understanding and strengthening partnerships among peoples, leaders and institutions of Asia and the United States in a global context. Across the fields of arts, business, culture, education, and policy, the Society provides insight, generates ideas, and promotes collaboration to address present challenges and create a shared future.”
Together, the Boniuk Center and the Asia Society have facilitated meaningful inter-faith and intra-faith dialogue series to promote understanding from within the diverse family of faiths and with other faiths. Indeed, they have had meaningful dialogue within the Christian and Jewish traditions, and now they are extending the opportunity to the Islamic tradition.
This is a pilot project, first of its kind in the United States. The panelists and the moderator take this responsibility seriously, and will lay the best possible foundation for future dialogue.
We hope to have consensus on a few issues, and acceptance of difreferences as well. The dialogue will be carried in the examples set by Prophet Muhammad, we will learn to respect the otherness of other and accept the uniqueness of each tradition with due respect.
You are a self-described "pluralist." Explain that position in your own words…
A pluralist is someone who respects the otherness of others. Indeed, if we can learn to respect the otherness of others and accepts the God given uniqueness of each one of the seven billion of us, then conflicts fade and solutions emerge. In religious terms, pluralism is respecting every which way one appreciates or worships the creator.
Religion is about humility and not arrogance, humility builds bridges to create a better world, whereas arrogance is destructive and generates conflicts and resentment. After all God has not signed a deal with any one behind others back to claim superiority of one belief over the other. The purpose of religion is to bring peace to an individual and live in balance with what surrounds him or her; people and the environment.
My role as a moderator of the event is to facilitate the panelists to respond to the questions asked, and address some of the toughest issues with grace. We need to understand how cultural and generational nuances manifest themselves in various communities; the role of grace, fellowship, and forgiveness in their traditions; the effects of theological differences within family of faiths and if there is a need for reform, and what should be the focus?
I will be invoking the practices of Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) in how he dealt with the conflict and refer to the ideals embedded in Chapter 109 of Qur'an that I teach in conducting a civil dialogue.
Why are you hosting this event?
This event is critical to setting the tone of dialogue among Muslims, and as a pluralist activist Muslim, who regularly interacts, speaks, writes and visits Mosques of every denomination with no prejudice, this is a God-given opportunity for me to moderate this event and I thank Michael Pardee for this opportunity.
I hope to educate, and motivate people in creating a cohesive environment to work, socialize and function effectively, and offer pluralistic solutions on issues of the day.
The deep commitment I have in building cohesive societies, where no human has to live in apprehension, discomfort or fear of the fellow human is matched by my extensive work in inter and Intrafaith. I have been teaching and conducting workshops on every religion including Atheism, have done 520 hours of radio talk show on every religion, and write weekly at Dallas Morning News and each one of the article weaves through at least three religions in a given article, I write regularly at Huffington post, and many periodical around the world. Additionally I have a strong presence on National and Local TV and Radio media.
My dream is to initiate a course and teach pluralism and co-existence, and a book is in the making as a text. Pluralism is our future, and as a futurist, based on the trends, I foresee, that two generations from now, we would be comfortable in saying, my religion, culture or life style is one of the many choices, and further down the road, a significant number will proclaim that my way of life is not superior or inferior to any.
By the end of 2020, there will not be a major work place in America or other places, where you will not find people of different faiths, cultures, ethnicities, races, nationalities and social backgrounds working, eating, playing, marrying, and doing things together.
They will consider ‘claiming superiority’ would be sheer arrogance and religion (a major part of life to many) is believed to imbue humility that builds societies, communities and nations in creating that elusive kingdom of heaven where all of us can live without apprehension or fear of the other.
We need to prepare ourselves for those eventualities to prevent possible conflicts and lay a good foundation for nurturing goodwill and effective functioning of the societies. Exclusive communities will become a thing of the past. (Foundation for Pluralism, Pluralism Center)
Being a Muslim, I am deeply committed to nurturing the pluralistic values embedded in Islam (World Muslim congress). The role of a Muslim is to mitigate conflicts and nurture goodwill, most people get that, a few don’t, just as with any other religious group.
Mike Ghouse is a speaker, thinker and a writer on pluralism, politics, peace, Islam, Israel, India, interfaith, and cohesion at work place. He is committed to building a Cohesive America and offers pluralistic solutions on issues of the day at www.TheGhousediary.com. He believes in Standing up for others and has done that throughout his life as an activist. Mike has a presence on national and local TV, Radio and Print Media. He is a frequent guest on Sean Hannity show on Fox TV, and a commentator on national radio networks, he contributes weekly to the Texas Faith Column at Dallas Morning News; fortnightly at Huffington post; and several other periodicals across the world. His personal site www.MikeGhouse.net indexes all his work through many links.
What do you think Asian Muslims have to add to the general conversation regarding Islam in the U.S.? Texas? Globally?
Muslims like all humans are designed to be free; a majority of Muslims live in Asia and nearly 2/3rds of them live in democratic environments. They deeply believe in freedom of speech and pluralistic values taught in Qur'an and the prophet. They grew up in an environment where they interacted, went to school, worked with and inter-married Christians, Hindus, Buddhists and others. Respecting the otherness of others comes naturally to them.
Most Muslims feel Americans live a more Muslim life than Muslims in the Muslim majority nations. The biggest value is the sense of equality and humility imparted in every ritual aspect of Islam, which they see it practiced in America every day, even the president stands in the line to take his (hope her some day) food when he is with our soldiers. Justice is the other most important value to them and they love the American Justice system.
Muslims have much to contribute to the well being of the United States through the Islam they practice and of course, Texas has one of the largest Muslim populations in the United States. The Asian Muslims have a great potential to affect the outcomes of the world in shaping pluralism and co-existence. The late Gus Dar of Indonesia, where the largest number of Muslims live, has done remarkable work in Pluralism, and his highness Aga Khan of the Ismaili Muslim community (predominantly Asian) has dedicated a center for pluralism in Canada. In the United States, Dr. Eboo Patel, and I, Mike Ghouse (both Asians) are relentlessly pursuing and nurturing pluralism and its value in building effective societies where no human has to live in apprehension or fear of the other.
Why is such a conversation as this panel will be having timely?
At this precise juncture in history, the Ahmadiyya Muslims are persecuted in Pakistan, Indonesia and Bangladesh, and the Shia Muslims are harassed and killed in Pakistan daily, and oppressed in Bahrain, Iraq and other places. The Saudis and Iranians are at odds and refer to each other as Shia and Sunni, Ahmedinejad was cautiously received in Egypt, and he was treated as an outsider. These developments are getting worse by the day and there is a need for a way out.
I am glad the Asia Society is living up to its mission, “generates ideas, and promotes collaboration to address present challenges and create a shared future.” Indeed Boniuk center is nurturing tolerance through these dialogues. I thank them for facilitating this. I am deeply committed to pluralism and have been working on it for the last twenty some years and it’s a joy for me to mitigate conflicts and nurture goodwill. Indeed that is how I have defined the role of Muslims at my other organization; world Muslim Congress.
This dialogue is a small step for the Muslim kind, but a giant leap for humanity. I hope it will encourage more dialogue and full day conferences with a single goal; mitigate conflicts and nurture goodwill, the theme in every action of Prophet Muhammad (pbuh).
I hope this conversation becomes a catalyst for positive changes that the two organizations and the foundation for pluralism and world Muslim congress aspire to achieve.