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September 8th, 2010
06:00 AM ET

My take: The Imam Feisal I know

Editor's Note: Eboo Patel, Founder and President of Interfaith Youth Core, a Chicago-based organization building interfaith cooperation and is author of Acts of Faith. Follow him at @EbooPatel. CNN's Soledad O'Brien has an exclusive interview with Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf on "Larry King Live" Wednesday at 9 p.m. ET. Submit questions for the imam via iReport here.

By Eboo Patel, Special to CNN

The first time I saw Imam Feisal - the man behind the proposed Islamic center in New York - speak was at a church.

He opened with the line, “My dear brothers and sisters.” His message was clear and simple: Islam is a faith of peace and pluralism, that above all Muslims believe in loving God and in loving our neighbor and that this is the most powerful common ground Muslims share with Christians and Jews.

He quoted from the Quran, the Constitution and the Bible.

The second time I saw Imam Feisal speak was at a Jewish conference.

He opened with the lines, “My dear brothers and sisters.” His message was clear and simple: Islam is a faith of peace and pluralism, that above all Muslims believe in loving God and loving our neighbor and that this is the most powerful common ground Muslims share with Christians and Jews.

He quoted from the Quran, the Constitution and the Hebrew scriptures.

The third time I saw Imam Feisal speak was at a Muslim conference. He opened with the same line, quoted the same sources, got the same response: love and respect.

I have seen Imam Feisal speak a dozen times, from largely Muslim audiences in London, to largely Christian audiences in upstate New York, from an audience of grassroots interfaith leaders in Louisville, to an audience of political heavyweights in Washington.

His message is always the same. His demeanor is always gentle. His audience always leaves enriched and inspired.

I have prayed with Imam Feisal, waking up at dawn to face Mecca and repeat, “In the name of God, the All-Merciful, the Ever-Merciful.”

I have envisioned the future of Islam with Imam Feisal, talking about the emergence of a distinctly American Islam, a faith community that is simultaneously true to its tradition and making significant contributions to its country.

“This is what happened to Catholics and Jews in America,” Imam Feisal would explain. “The change was good for those religions and it was good for this nation.”

He would talk about Jewish hospitals and Catholic universities as models, institutions that had been founded by faith communities but that served the common good of the country.

This is what Muslims have to do in America, too, he would say. We need to put the spirit of our faith - peace, pluralism, mercy, generosity, beauty - into the form of an American institution, one that serves people of all backgrounds.

Imam Feisal has spent much of his time with young Muslim professionals, counseling couples considering marriage, coaxing Muslims to learn more about their own faith and conveying the privileges and responsibilities of American citizenship.

He has lived all over the world and has a deeply personal sense of how special the United States is. Imam Feisal believes that God wants the human family in all its diversity to flourish, that America is the world’s best opportunity to realize this divine possibility and that Muslims have much to contribute to the American project.

Looking back, I can see glimpses of the vision of Cordoba House - Imam Feisal’s proposed Islamic Center in Lower Manhattan - in my conversations with him over the years.

Patterned after a Jewish community center, the Islamic center is meant to be the American institution into which Muslims could pour their energies and serve their country.

It has been shocking to watch that vision twisted, its founder smeared.

But Imam Feisal is not the first person in history this has happened to. Mahatma Gandhi was called seditious, the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Nelson Mandela branded dangerous communists.

Each of them, in the spirit of their respective religions, forgave their tormenters and achieved their dream.

I have no doubt that Imam Feisal will do the same.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Eboo Patel.

- CNN Belief Blog

Filed under: 'Ground zero mosque' • Houses of worship • Interfaith issues • Islam • Mosque • Muslim • New York • Opinion • United States

soundoff (145 Responses)
  1. Joe from Cairo

    Another gem from the Hadith:

    2 Anas reported, The Prophet, peace and blessings of Allāh be on him, said:

    "Hear and obey though a Negro whose head is like a raisin is appointed (to rule over you).

    Can the Iman comment on whether this type of rubbish will be taught in the mosque he plans to build?

    September 8, 2010 at 7:06 pm |
  2. Joe from Cairo

    From the Hadith:

    2 Miswar said, I took up a heavy stone, and whilst I was going along (with it), my garment fell down. So the Messenger of Allāh, peace and blessings of Allāh be on him, said to me: "Don on thy garment, and you should not walk naked."

    Wow. What a profound comment from the illiterate prophet of Islam.

    September 8, 2010 at 6:58 pm |
  3. Mohammy El Wasabi

    What's so peaceful, sensitive and brotherly about an Iman stubbornly refusing to build his mosque elsewhere when the majority of New Yorkers and others around the world are angered and offended by this? Would Faisal the Iman, in the name of peace and brotherly kindness, dare to petition the Saudis, Egyptians, Yemenis, Algerians et al. to allow churches to be built on THEIR soil? How about asking those governments to STOP butchering non-muslims? But maybe the Iman is clinging to his right to build the mosque in NY because he's afraid that backing down could bring the wrath of fellow practitioners of this so-called "religion of peace " down on his head?

    September 8, 2010 at 6:44 pm |
  4. LALA

    Everyone named Lynn is a BIGOT!

    September 8, 2010 at 4:24 pm |
  5. joe marcuson

    There may be more than one path to take for the Muslim Center near Ground Zero. This is an opportunity for the Muslim community to open a center that welcomes Jews, Christians and all faiths and creates an environment where anyone can come to ask questions and get straight-forward answers, no strings attached. With that as a reference point, having this "Center" at Ground Zero makes all the sense in the world.

    September 8, 2010 at 3:50 pm |
  6. Lynn

    The writer is a Muslim also which is not even mentioned anywhere in the article. No wonder he has nothing but good things to say about the Imam. Why is there not tolerance for Christians or Jews in many Arabic countires? Why do they burn down churches, urinate on Bibles, and kill and torture non-Islamic infidels in Africa and elsewhere? Why is the Community Center named the Cordoba House? Everyone who reads this needs to look it up for a history lesson as to why it is named the Cordoba house. If you notice the building has since had its name changed to Park Place. There is a reason for this. Check it out. Get educated before its to late. We need to stop being Politically Correct.

    September 8, 2010 at 2:19 pm |
    • Mick

      True, back in may a group of orthodox jews burned bibles in Israel, it was vaguely mentioned in the news.

      September 9, 2010 at 2:41 pm |
  7. noor virani

    Mr. Eboo is quoted to have said "Muslims are not and can never be full Americans" (TIME issue of 8/30/10).

    In the wake of carnage in Mumbai (India) killing 165 innocent people, Muslims came front and center by joining the rallies strongly condemning the barbaric acts.

    Can Mr. Eboo cite one example where Muslims stage rally in face of innumerable terroists acts throughout the world?

    September 8, 2010 at 2:13 pm |
  8. Dan

    I find all of this religious fervor to be off point. I also find the author's comparisons of the Iman to great humanitarian leaders of the past to be quite ridiculous based on his own description of the Iman's limited accomplishments.

    The proposed mosque is opposed because it offends many people who were impacted by the events of 9/11... right or wrong, that is the core of this. Let's not make it a religious tolerance issue and instead be sensitive to people's feelings, (remember, we can't tell people how to feel). This is not about tolerance and democratic principles... this is about people who were hurt, and right or wrong, they deserve consideration. The Governor has suggested that the State would provide incentives to move the location to help calm the storm. I just don't understand why this needs to be in this particular location... does it provide something that another location can't?

    I find the insensitivity to people who have had their lives torn apart in the interest of ANY religious, political, ethnic or racial agenda to be dispicable.

    I also FIRMLY BELIEVE that moving the location, based on my barometer of right and wrong, IS THE RIGHT THING TO DO.

    September 8, 2010 at 2:01 pm |
    • Kate

      @Dan

      I find that curious.

      I wonder your opinions on what it says about the sensitivities of politicians who jumped on this and fanned the flames in order to gain votes in November off the backs off of the victims of 9/11.

      If you don't know where the buzzphrase "Victory Mosque" came from, or why there was a sudden shift in the way this was being argued when it became obvious that the first amendment was being used to counter those politicians at the beginning, I strongly suggest you look up "Frank Luntz" – and ask them about the focus groups they were running just before this turned into a media event – and the one they're running this week.

      Just sayin'

      September 8, 2010 at 2:08 pm |
  9. Shi

    Im Muslim, and I know about 500 Muslims in my community. I have not met ONE person who has NOT Condemed the acts of those like the Taliban, Hamas, Hezbollah...etc... We love peace, we respect our Christian and Jewish Neighbors. There is very popular verse in the Quran that states something along the lines of " You go your way and I will go mine" basically saying that respect and tolerance is a right you give to everyone... regarless of their religious or lack of religious beleifs! Please America dont base all your opinions of ISLAM on a few people who are crazy and mentally ill... all they do is twist the words of gods to serve their own selfish purposes.... Many Muslims consider them nothing but hyprocryites (which is one of the worst thing to be in Islam). May Allah ( simply "GOD" in the arabic language) grant you all peace in your hearts, and guide you in the direction of love, equality, and tolerance for eveyone. Dont let America loose the foundation it was built upon

    September 8, 2010 at 1:56 pm |
  10. Sarah

    I've been reading these posts and I'm in shock at how hateful and spiteful people can be. 9/11 happened and it happened because of an extremist who preyed on those stricken by poverty and used religion as a guise. Those who followed him and committed those terrible acts were murderers driven by lies and perceived vengence. The U.S. retaliated by attacking Iraq – this was also fueled by lies and the idea of vengence.

    Last time I checked – lies & vengence are considered sins (in the torah, the bible, and the quran). We can overcome this by showing acceptance, tolerance, and seeking the truth. Or, we can continue down this path of anger and vengence.

    I know it's not easy to turn the other cheek. But, we really need to rise above this. Why not have a mosque near ground zero? If anything it is a display of how free and great America really is.

    September 8, 2010 at 1:53 pm |
  11. Sherri

    But the fact remains that the Muslims intend to make America an islamic country by 2050 or sooner. I have HEARD them say it. I have seen them on TV saying "the Quaran is very clear, we are to terrorise them" (meaning infidels). Watch the movie the Third Jihad and hear for yourself what they plan. You should be scared to death. I am. We will be living under sharia law. We will be forced to become Muslim. That is what they do every time they invade a country. Convert, subjugate or kill. Educate yourself. Do a google search "takeover of America " + Muslim. read it yourself

    September 8, 2010 at 1:44 pm |
  12. Stephen Charchuk

    Religion, in general, is the greatest evil ever created by Man, because of its insidious nature. Its how Man creates god in his own image. Even within a religion they can't get along for long. That is why there are so many different sects and denominations. i.e. Christianity currently has around 3000 where all throughout its history there have been over 30,000. Something like this "cooperation" is seen mainly as an opportunity to gain converts, nothing else. To get a toe in the door.

    Before you accuse me of anything you should know that I'm not talking about god here. I'm Agnostic. Religion is solely a creation of Man.

    September 8, 2010 at 1:31 pm |
  13. Don Alexander

    As a concerned Christian, it seems to me that we've committed a similar offense in places like Iraq when sending in our Christian workers and missionaries in the wake of our armed forces.

    September 8, 2010 at 1:30 pm |
    • Christopher

      DING! DING! DING! We have a winner folks. Don Alexander, that is exactly what we have done.

      September 9, 2010 at 3:35 am |
  14. JAMIL ARSHAD

    YOU KNOW FOLKS I TELL ALL MY FRIENDS I 'M BY MY CHOICE AMERICAN BY CHANCE PAKISTANI ORIGIN AND BY GOOD LUCK MUSLIM, I STRIVE TO BE A BETTER PERSON BECAUSE ITS THE QUALITY OF A GOOD MUSLIM. .. I NEVER HAD THOUGHT OR HOPED THAT AMERICA WOULD BECOME THIS WAY BUT STILL I KNOW THERE ARE GOOD PPL WHO LIKES ME REGARDLESS OF MY RELIGION AFFILIATION. I ALWAYS TEACH N TELL MY FRIENDS WAY TO COME CLOSER TO THE SUPER POWER WHO HAD CREATED US IS BY LOVING HIS CREATURE REGARDLESS OF COLOR RACE N BACKGROUND..I AM THANKFUL STILL IN KANSAS WHERE MY CHILDREN ARE BORN, THEY GOES TO SCHOOL WITH THEM, PLAY WITH THEM, GO IN THEIR CHURCH IF INVITED N THERE CHILDREN COMES TO OUR MOSQUE IF INVITED. ANY RELIGION IS NOT AFRAID OF OTHER RELIGION THAT IT WILL OVERCOME IF U R A GOOD PERSON REGARDLESS WHAT UR BELIEFS IS U MUST B RESPECTFUL N HELPFUL TO OTHERS AND TRY NOT TO HURT ANYONE INTENTIONALLY ..

    September 8, 2010 at 1:26 pm |
    • nachooooo libre

      2 things.....
      1. on left side of the keyboard is a button called "caps lock" – press it once....
      2. it is ok per islam to lie to infidels.... so, keep on talking with you peace rhetoric

      September 8, 2010 at 1:42 pm |
    • Chris R

      Nacho, you keep missing the minor fact that Christian and Jews aren't infidels under Islam.

      September 8, 2010 at 1:52 pm |
  15. Mikey17

    "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances."

    Either you support the Constitution or you don't. I'll bet a lot of the people out there bashing Muslims describe themselves as "strict Constitutionalists" – that is, when it suits them.

    September 8, 2010 at 1:26 pm |
    • Christopher

      Personally, I think that part of the Constitution is old hat and it's time to rewrite/amend it. We now have PROOF that religion is nothing more than lies, by more and more scientific facts blowing away the lies in the various 'holy books'! Time to get rid of religion and keep it totally OUT OF OUR GOVERNMENT AND LAWS!

      September 9, 2010 at 3:34 am |
  16. shorepound

    Build the mosque. I am all for it. Just build it somewhere else. Done.

    September 8, 2010 at 1:24 pm |
    • Mikey17

      ...and should they have to move the Mosque that is only four blocks away from ground zero? Oh, and by the way, the central purpose of the proposed facility is not as a Mosque, but a community center that is modeled after the Jewish community centers (they worked with the people who run the JCC's when designing this facility). There is prayer space (Mosque) in the building because when you are called to prayer 5 times a day, you need prayer space in your community center. Oh, and by the way, the JCC's were modeled after the YMCA.

      September 8, 2010 at 1:34 pm |
  17. Eric

    Islam is the only major world religion that has not undergone a period of reformation or enlightenment. Thus, the stoning to death of the woman in Iran is absolutely condoned by strict adherence to Sharia and Islam, but Jews and Christians have amended their religion to demonstrate compassion and love. Indeed, in the Koran, it is stated that none of it may ever be altered, and the name "Islam" literally means "to submit." When it is said that Islam is a religion of peace, I would say "ok, show us." Come out with international statements that says that Kuffirs or nonbelievers have the same rights as Muslims and should be treated equally. Sly Islamists will say that Islam rejects the killing of "innocents." Yet the Koran and the Hadiths specifically say that if one does not accept Allah is God, he/she can not be deemed "innocent."

    What is needed then, is an unequivocal statement from moderate Muslims, that leaves no doubt that : 1. they accept the rights of non-Muslims to be equal to their own. 2. There must be a reformation of Islam that condemns the medieval stoning and other practices as being just. 3. It must be clear that Jihad or the "inner struggle," does not mean or imply that a Muslim may not rest until Islam and Sharia are the law of the land.

    These issues are what would separate a peace loving Muslim from a hateful terrorist. And the world has NOT seen enough proof from Moderate Muslims that there is such a thing as a "moderate" Muslim.

    September 8, 2010 at 1:24 pm |
    • nachooooo libre

      why is it that the non extremist muslems dont turn in the extremists?

      September 8, 2010 at 1:27 pm |
    • Stephen Charchuk

      That's easy, nachooooo libre. They're sheep. They give their consent by their inaction to put a stop to them at home. Look at their reaction to a stupid little cartoon as well. It was the same with Christianity during its Dark Ages..

      September 8, 2010 at 1:36 pm |
    • Chris R

      Nacho, what makes you think that they don't turn in the extremists? Think back if you would do the 'surge' in Iraq. Do you know why the surge worked? I'll give you a hint – it wasn't because we put more troops into Iraq but because the local leaders in Iraq had gotten sick and tired of all the extremists and jihadis destroying their country. They turned on these violent foreign extremists and turned them in, removed their base of support, and battled them to the death. Don't believe me? Look up the "Iraqi Awakening'

      September 8, 2010 at 1:51 pm |
  18. Amit

    There is a huge effort going on by Muslims (more so in the US) to SUGAR-COAT ISLAM for gullible Americans.

    Until & unless the moderate Muslims (who quite frankly are a miniscule minority!) sieze their religion from the hardliners, and reform it to make it TRULY more inclusive, there is NOT a chance that Muslims can ever build bridges with others................alas we may never see that day!

    September 8, 2010 at 1:21 pm |
  19. marcia

    Mr Imam is a jerk! Plain and simple!

    September 8, 2010 at 1:17 pm |
    • Chris R

      Tell me Marcia, what exactly do you know about Islam? Have you studied it? Tell me what Ramadan is about. How about the five pillars of faith. Tell me anything you actually know about Sufism. Anything at all. Do you even know what a Sufi is? Do you know the difference between a shia and sunni? Do you even know when Islam started? Didn't think so. You are hating something you know nothing about.

      September 8, 2010 at 1:47 pm |
    • marcia

      Chrissy Poo...I didn't say I hated anyone.Those are words out of your mouth. Idiot!

      September 8, 2010 at 2:01 pm |
  20. Pete

    The comments are all too reminicent of what was heard in Germany during the 1930s. Embrace the diversity which has made America great, not the racism that leads to persecution and genocide.

    September 8, 2010 at 1:13 pm |
    • nachooooo libre

      ask the american indians about the greatness of diversity they were welcomed with....

      September 8, 2010 at 1:26 pm |
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.