Saturday, September 16, 2006

In recent years, interfaith efforts in Minnesota have been positive and promising.

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Zafar Siddiqui: Not only did the 9/11 attacks cause death and destruction of enormous proportions, they also brought up some painful questions and fears. People wondered whether the clash of civilizations as foretold in the 1990s by Samuel Huntington was finally coming to pass.

In these past five years, the Islamic Resource Group, which I lead, has spoken to over 50,000 Minnesotans of various backgrounds. These conversations have convinced me that Huntington's clash of civilizations theory is a myth. People come away with the realization that we have more in common than we thought.

Many Muslims and peoples of other faiths have come closer in profound ways. For instance, the Islamic Center of Minnesota is part of an interfaith group involving several faith communities, and it is also part of the Joint Religious Legislative Council.

Masjid An-Nur of Minneapolis has been active in interfaith efforts with downtown clergy, holds monthly food donations for those in need, and invited representatives from various faith communities to its groundbreaking, including a rabbi and a priest who spoke glowingly about their experiences with the mosque.

American Muslim Community Center (AMCC) prides itself on an unmatched relationship with Pax Christi Catholic Community in Eden Prairie. Minnesota's only Islamic School, Al-Amal School, has a partnership with Totino Grace High School (a Catholic school), and has just embarked on a long-term youth project with a local Talmud Torah school. The Islamic Resource Group has worked with hundreds of different organizations.

While the experiences and interactions between American Muslims and Americans of other faiths have been positive and promising, challenges remain. Many self-styled terrorism "experts" made haste to announce the "inevitable" war with the world of Islam. Some well-known clerics took this opportunity to declare Islam as something "evil" and "wicked," deserving no place in a country like ours. The Internet proved too convenient a medium for many who distributed virulently anti-Muslim material to gullible recipients.

This resulted in a backlash against innocent people. A USA Today poll in August indicated that 39 percent of those polled admitted to being prejudiced against American Muslims. An equal number would want the Muslims to carry special identification.

Muslims have been confronted with no end of demands to "condemn terrorism," even though they have done so and continue to do so. The combined American Muslim leadership has issued a fatwa, or religious ruling, against terrorism. Constantly demanding that American Muslims condemn terrorism overseas over which we have no control or influence is neither fair nor conducive to bridge-building.

The 7 million American Muslims have an important role to play in this increasingly dangerous world by serving as a bridge between the East and the West. Five years after 9/11, let us come together in a spirit of open hearts and open minds and work to heal the wounds of humanity.

Zafar Siddiqui, Blaine, is president of the Islamic Resource Group. StarTribune


I wonder how many at Pax Christi or at Totino Grace will have read the Pope's Regensburg speech and the Catholic commentary on it be the time of their next meeting with the Islamic Resource Group. I hope and pray that they all have. But the track record says that Catholics are rarely prepared when discussing their faith with those of different faiths.





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