A bit disappointed; Jon’s brilliance; and our Sufi allies

A bit disappointed with Brian, Harry, and Barack

A segment on tonight’s NBC Nightly News urked me a little bit.  The segment was about Obama’s statements regarding the construction of the Cordoba House in Lower Manhattan, and how Muslims have the same religious rights as anyone else.  When introducing the story, Brian Williams describes the situation as a “fight” into which Obama waded.  Why use this word?  True, combativeness does hike up ratings, butit does not help us to better understand the nuances and details of the situation.  It further perpetuates the simplified “us vs. them” mentality that infects important and complicated political, societal, and cultural debates happening within our country.

As the piece continues, the “mosque” in question is not referred to correctly.  It is not simply a mosque–and even if it was a mosque, big deal!  The Cordoba House (it is hardly referred to by its proper name) is a cultural and community center, dedicated to bringing people of all faiths together, as well as providing swimming pool, workout facilities, and a place of worship.  Basically, it is a beefed up YMCA or JCC open to anyone.

Major news outlets must begin referring to this place as the Cordoba House.  Generalizing the Corboda House as a “mosque” or “Islamic center” only mystifies it and allows people to place their own views or ideas onto it.

I am also sad to see that Harry Reid is against the Cordoba House.  Many Democrats look up to him for guidance about their political and social views, and his denouncement of the Cordoba House encourages more Americans to do the same.

I was initially thrilled with Obama’s remarks at the White House Iftaar this past weekend.  (An iftaar is the meal with which Muslims break their fast during the holy month of Ramadan.)  But since he expressed his support for the Cordoba House and received backlash from some politicians and pundits about it, he has moved backward on that statement of support.  Obama has tried before to distance himself from the Muslim community when conservatives claimed he was Muslim during the 2008 election.  That was an opportunity to have an important national discussion about Muslims in America, and he failed to take it.  Again, Obama is missing an opportunity to play a key part in a dialogue that must happen in our country.  I am disappointed by his choice to back-off his support of the Cordoba House, and I hope he chooses to reverse that position soon.  If he truly wants to see Americans’ religious rights protected, he must step in.

Jon’s brilliance

The Daily Show recently did an awesome segment about the opposition to mosque construction in the U.S.  I’ll let the video speak for itself.

Our Sufi allies

This op-ed contribution discusses how as Americans we must work with those within Islam, particularly those in the Sufi tradition, to fight extremism.  One of these Sufis is Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, the Muslim whose initiative is building the Cordoba House. Sufism is a version of Islamic mysticism, not a separate religion.

16th-Century Miniature Painting Depicting Dancing Dervishes, Image by © Archivo Iconografico, S.A./CORBIS

This line of poetry, written by the famous Sufi saint, Rumi, is crucial for us to remember and implement during this time.

Your task is not to seek for love, but merely to seek and find all the barriers within yourself that you have built against it.

In today’s America, those barriers are fear and misunderstanding.  Only when we recognize them can we begin understanding, befriending, and loving our neighbors.

“Mayor Bloomberg stands up for mosque”

Today, the New York Landmark Preservation Committee voted unanimously to not grant landmark status to a Manhattan building, the site at which an Islamic and interfaith community center is to be built.  If landmark status had been given to the obscure building, the plans to build the Cordoba House would have been put to a halt (because the new center will demolish the older building to erect its new one).  The request to get this older building landmark status was an attempt by the organization Stop the Islamization of America and others to prevent the center from being built.  It was a futile effort because that building, once a Burlington Coat Factory, had no reason to be considered a landmark. Thankfully, the status was not granted and the building of Cordoba House can continue.

Still, there are many who oppose the creation of the Cordoba House, a center which takes its name from the Spanish city where Jews, Christians, and Muslims lived in peace for hundreds of years.  Despite the fact that the center hopes to foster dialogue, tolerance, and understanding between these groups, many Americans are still fighting it.  Overcome with a fear of Islam perpetuated by cable T.V., organizations like Stop the Islamization of America, and Europe’s recent actions toward Muslims, many people mistakenly believe that this center is a symbol of Muslim conquest.  Some have even claimed that those supporting the center have the same motives as the terrorists who destroyed New York on 9/11.

New York City Mayor Bloomberg today gave a fantastic speech defending the Cordoba House.  He choked up a bit while giving it, and I did while reading.

You should also check out Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf’s op-ed in the Washington Post’s On Faith section.

http://nymag.com/daily/intel/2010/08/mayor_bloomberg_ground_zero_mo.html?f=most-commented-24h-5

Why ‘witness’?

Welcome to my blog, Witness.

For the past several months I have been hoping to launch this blog.  Throughout my freshman year of college, many thoughts have come to mind that I have wanted to share with a wider audience.  These reflections have been spurred by classroom discussions, campus events, interactions with friends, and incidents in world news during the past year.

Over the summer, I will finally have time to put to paper (or virtual Word Document) the things I’ve learned and the experiences I’ve had.  I’ve been putting off a lot of writing that needs to be done, and I hope this blog will give me the incentive to write and continue posting into the upcoming school year.

You can expect the topics discussed here to be wide-ranging.  My previous posts on Facebook are a good indicator of what will appear here shortly–posts about news and writing, politics, culture, and religion, both in the U.S. and abroad.  Some days I’ll merely post links with short blurbs, and occasionally I’ll write longer reflections on an article, a news event, or an experience from my life.  I would love this blog to become a place of discussion, where we all can express our thoughts on issues we find significant.  I welcome you to challenge my positions, correct my mistakes, and share your own thoughts in the comments section.

I wanted to come up with a theme and title for this blog that brings my passions–specifically journalism and the relationship between Christianity and Islam–together.  ‘Witness’ seemed perfect.  Let me explain.

For several years, I was a member of a youth journalism organization in Indianapolis.  Along with other factors, my time spent in Y-Press convinced me to pursue a career in journalism.

The word witness connects directly to journalism.  As journalists, we witness and document an event to bring it to those who are not present to experience it.  But journalism is not a passive state of watching; it is an intentional engagement that transcends passivity and requires questioning, challenging, and immersing ourselves into our subject.  All of this is done with the goal of seeking truth, providing greater understanding and knowledge to our readers, and for me, ultimately creating more human connections between reader and subject.  (More on this topic in future posts.)

Another one of my interests is religion–specifically Christianity and Islam–and how it influences or is influenced by culture, politics, economics, location, etc.  Aside from its impact on world events, I am also concerned with religion’s intrinsic value–what it can do for us individually and spiritually. I enjoy learning about the theological similarities and differences and how those things are translated into ritual practice, cultural traditions, etc.

The word witness has had a significant impact on both Christianity and Islam.  It appears in similar contexts in the Bible and the Quran, and the evolution of the word has developed almost identically in the respective religions.

In Isaiah 43:10, the Lord says, “You are my witness…and my servant whom I have chosen, that you may know and believe me and understand that I am He.”  In Surat al-Baqara, God also says, “And thus have We willed you to be a community of the middle way, so that [with your lives] you might bear witness to the truth before all mankind.”

God calls on His people to be witnesses, but what does the role of witness entail?

In the Bible, the word martus (Greek for witness) refers to someone “who testifies to a fact of which he has knowledge from personal observation…[A] witness of Christ, is a  person who, though he has never seen nor heard the Divine Founder of the Church, is yet so firmly convinced of the truths of the Christian religion, that he gladly suffers death rather than deny it.” 1

In Islam, a shaheed (شهيد, Arabic for witness) “sees the truth physically and thus stands by it firmly, so much so that not only does he testify it verbally, but he is prepared to struggle and fight and give up his life for the truth.”  A witness’ goal is “struggle and sacrifice for the sake of the truth.” 2

Today, the English word “martyr” has replaced “witness” in translations in both religions, and sometimes carries a negative connotation.  However, a martyr is simply a person who struggles to defend a greater truth, and is prepared to die in the protection and promotion of that truth.

The religious role of a witness and martyr relates well to the role of a journalist.  I have already discussed how a journalist seeks to uncover and testify to certain truths.  But the journalist also must be prepared to sacrifice.  Not necessarily sacrifice life–though many parts of the world where journalists report are quite dangerous.  As with any work that attempts to benefit the common good, some form of self-sacrifice is necessary and ultimately positive.

Practitioners of journalism, Christianity, and Islam are all seekers of truth.  I see this blog as a way for me and others to continue searching for truth, truth that not only occurs on factual and historical levels, but also on religious and human ones.  I hope you too will participate in that process.

Peace,

سلام

Jordan

جوردن

“… You shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria and to the end of the earth.” Acts 1:8