My Work With Imam Feisal Rauf and Daisy Khan
A United Methodist Perspective
As I listen to the debate about the proposed Cordoba House community center at 51 Park Place in Manhattan I find it painful to see two highly regarded interfaith leaders dragged through the mud by news commentators and politicians who don’t really know them or their work. I, along with many Methodists in the New York City area, do know their work.
In 2003 I worked with Daisy Khan and Imam Feisal Rauf on a project that expanded my understanding of interfaith relationships in ways I never would have expected. The project was predominantly sponsored by the United Methodist Committee on Relief. It was called “Same Difference.”
“Same Difference” brought together Christians from my church, the Church of St. Paul and St. Andrew United Methodist, Jews from Congregation B’nai Jeshurun and Muslims from the American Sufi Muslim Association. We interviewed residents across the city—from the Muslim Pakistani cab driver in the Bronx, to the Hasidic family in Crown Heights, to the Korean Christian in Queens, to the Jewish literary agent from the Upper West Side, to the African-American Muslim from Harlem, to the Catholic firefighter’s family from Staten Island.
After hundreds of hours of interviews, we shaped them into a theater piece with music and dance that we presented free to the participants, their families and the public. Many interviewees came and returned again. They said that being able to hear their own words shared by actors in a safe space was incredibly cathartic and healing.
We learned such a great deal about one another’s traditions and ways of practicing our faith, and we heard honest hopes and fears since 9/11. Our dreams for our families and our world were much the same; it was only the paths we were choosing that were different. Often these divergent paths are misinterpreted.
In one of the open discussions after the play, a young member of Imam Feisal Rauf’s group explained that like the Bible, the Torah and many other religious books, the Koran had often been greatly misinterpreted and used for those with their own, often violent, agendas. She said the Muslim faith was being used just as it was used the day terrorists attacked the World Trade Center.
I have been thinking about this comment as I watch the current debates devolve. To oppose the Cordoba House one has to first believe that the Muslim religion itself encourages violence. It is a wrong and prejudicial belief that we can’t afford in a free country.
The United Methodist Church continued its interfaith involvement as United Methodist Women staff attended and sponsored the making of a short documentary-style version of the play for their series on “Creating Interfaith Community,” one of the Mission Studies for United Methodist Women’s 2003 Schools of Christian Mission program.
Since “Same Difference,” I’ve worked with Daisy on other Cordoba interfaith initiatives with my church, and recently she helped United Methodist Women find a female Muslim “voice of vision” for the organization’s 2010 Assembly in St. Louis, Mo., with more than 7,000 women in attendance.
Daisy Khan has also initiated a project called the Women’s Islamic Initiative in Spirituality and Equality (WISE), one goal of which is to enlist women scholars to reinterpret the Koran for a new kind of Shariah law. This great moderate Muslim woman is walking right into the center of female oppression in her faith, going to the core of the problem and trying to make changes.
As this debate continues many “Same Difference” quotes come to mind today. A Muslim diversity educator said, “What those 19 hijackers did was not only hijack these planes but they also hijacked Islam for me.” The almost violent reaction by Sarah Palin, John McCain, Newt Gingrich, Fox News and many Democrats to the building of the Cordoba House only proves how, since 2003, the fear expressed by these faithful Muslims is well founded. The media has fueled this reaction to extremes.
Among the most powerful words in our interviews were spoken by a Pakistani cab driver and a local rabbi. The cab driver said, “I have very easy philosophy. Sometimes I lose something and solve the problem. This is a form of peace. You’ll not be losing if you win the peace. If you’re stubborn, then you’re losing. Your children will lose. Your grandchildren will lose. If you lose to win the peace, you’ve won everything.”
The Rabbi said, “Out of this place, which suffered this attack … out of this can come a new paradigm for the 21st century. Which is, how are we going to be together and work together?"
Are we ready to lose a little of our fear to gain some peace for our city and our country? Could we not have the courage to allow for a space where moderate Muslim voices can be heard from the most powerful place imaginable, lower Manhattan? What is the new paradigm for the 21st century? How will we work and be together?
New York City needs a place where real transformation can take place. If the news commentators and politicians could take a moment to really get to know the work of Daisy Khan and Imam Feisal Rauf like I do, perhaps they could also see a path for peace.
See the short documentary of "Same Difference."
*Sarah Brockus is a wife, mother, United Methodist Christian and a member of The Church of St. Paul and St. Andrew, United Methodist Women and the Same Difference Interfaith Alliance. She is trained in theater production and consulted for United Methodist Women for the “Same Difference” video project in 2003 and for their Quadrennial Assembly gatherings in 2006 and 2010.