Dunedin Abrahamic Interfaith Group And Otago Tertiary Chaplaincy 2013 Annual Peace Lecture
The University of Otago - Dunedin, New Zealand
August 18, 2013

In the Name of God, the Merciful, the Compassionate

May God’s peace and blessings be upon all of you, and may God give wisdom and courage to all those who work for peace. 
I am deeply grateful to the Dunedin Abrahamic Interfaith Group who sponsor this annual Peace Lecture and who work with open-hearts all year round to contribute to a culture and pedagogy of peace.  I am grateful for the invitation and support of Rev. Greg Hughson, University Chaplain, whom I met at the 2012 Global Chaplains Conference at Yale University. I also wish to take this occasion to congratulate Dr. Mai Tamimi, Chair of the Group, for the awarding of her Ph.D. this past weekend.  I am especially pleased to be reunited here in Dunedin with friends of the Group - and my very dear friends – Zarghona and Dr. Najibullah Lafraie, who have long inspired me by the way they have lived their faith with integrity, generosity, and courage through many difficult circumstances.


Most Muslims Welcome Interfaith Engagement

The questions we must begin with today are first, does Islam support the claim that interfaith engagement can contribute to peace and second, have Muslims themselves embraced this idea?  The latter question is, of course, not unrelated to the first.  For when we speak about what Islam does or does not say, we find ourselves necessarily in the field of contested claims.  By saying this, I am not approaching Islam as an anthropologist, such as Clifford Geertz might, looking at Islam as a cultural system, or even as a religious studies professor might, simply describing the variety of beliefs held by Muslims without evaluating their truth-claims.  This is not to say that there is no value in these approaches, for even believing Muslims could certainly better understand the context in which they live and better communicate with their fellow Muslims by understanding their diverse approaches to Islam through such study. However, my perspective on this issue today is that of a believer, of a Muslim who seeks God’s guidance and who holds the conviction that some beliefs and practices are theologically and ethically correct, while others are incorrect.
I say this with confidence, having studied Islam for many years and having engaged in deep discussions with Muslim scholars from diverse schools of thought from across the globe. At the same time, I acknowledge that it is reasonable for non-Muslims to ask whether the perspective on Islam I am offering is shared by most other Muslims.  After all, interfaith engagement will not be successful if it is done only among intellectual and religious elite, or by individuals alienated from their faith communities.  My response to this question is that my experience as a scholar and leader engaged with Muslim communities across the world is that, despite some ideological opposition by a minority, most people in our community, from ordinary believers to influential scholars, believe that interfaith engagement is important.  Further, over the course of the last two decades I have lectured and taught the concepts I present to you today to diverse Muslim audiences whom I have found to be receptive to these perspectives.
Many Muslims have become more interested in interfaith engagement in our time as a response to the increase in extremist religious and political ideologies which assert an essential and irreconcilable hostility between Muslims and others.  Muslims are eager to show that Islam itself is not an obstacle to peace; indeed, they argue to the contrary that an authentic practice of Islam fosters peace.  Some Muslims argue further that the roots of positive interfaith engagement are found in Islam from the beginning.  The Qur’an is deeply concerned about the relationship between the Prophet’s Muslims community and the communities of believers with whom they were living in Arabia.  In 2007, Professor Abdullah Saeed was your Peace Lecturer, and he gave a fine talk on the importance of Muslims teaching a more inclusive view of the religious other. Importantly, Professor Saeed argued that this is not just a practical necessity, for the sake of avoiding religiously justified intolerance, but he argued that this position reflects the most authentic and coherent interpretation of the Qur’an.
For my part today, I will focus on the importance of interfaith engagement in our time from an Islamic theological, ethical and practical perspective.  I will argue that interfaith engagement for Muslims is necessary to fulfill some of our major religious obligations, including the prevention of harm and the promotion of the common good.  I will further argue that interfaith engagement helps ensure a place for sacred space in our increasingly secular societies; taking a page from nature conservationists, if we do not fight to preserve the places – including our own bodies – where the beautiful diversity of religious expression is manifest, we might lose these places to whoever can leverage them for profit.  Finally, I will strike a note of caution about the need to be mindful that, as long as our discussions take place here on earth and not in heaven, we must be sensitive to the ways in which power, influence, and privilege generally structure our discussions, including who is invited to participate, and what issues are prioritized.

Preventing Unintended Harm Caused by Religious Difference

The Prophet Muhammad is reported to have said, “It is not permitted to cause harm or to reciprocate harm” (la darara wa la dirar).  This is an authenticated statement of the Prophet, known as a hadith, which was later adopted by Muslim jurists as one of the five major maxims of Islamic law.*  Such maxims are used by scholars to assess the morality and lawfulness of any action within the realm of society (mu‘ammalat) as well as in ritual matters (‘ibadat).  For example, a person should not construct a fence so high that it casts an enormous shadow on his neighbors’ lawn, depriving them and their garden of sunlight.  The maxim also prohibits reciprocal harm, so that the negatively impacted individuals are not justified in tossing trash over the fence onto their neighbor’s lawn in an act of retaliation. 
What this example demonstrates is that it is not necessary, in the first instance, to intend another harm to cause that person harm. Our intention, rather, might simply be to care for our own interests.  In the case of the fence, we might want to protect our property or provide some privacy for our family.  Yet, in building the fence, we unwittingly cause harm to our neighbor.  The neighbor, in turn, interprets our actions as ill-intentioned or selfish; retaliation, and a cycle of harm and counter-harm, ensues.
There is no doubt that in most cases, the cycle of harm could have been interrupted, and antagonism avoided, by a simple act of communication at various stages.  In the first place, the person building the fence should be aware of the potential for its deleterious impact on his neighbor.  Knowledge of our environment and the people around us, then, is necessary to avoid causing unintended harm.  After knowledge, it is necessary to embrace the ethical principle that other’s interests are as important as one’s own.  This, of course, is the Golden Rule, articulated in the Islamic tradition by the Prophet Muhammad’s statement, “None of you believes until he loves for his brother what he loves for himself.”*  At the same time, if we experience harm from our neighbor, we should at the outset extend the benefit of the doubt and assume no ill-intent on his part unless we have evidence to the contrary. This is in accordance with an early Islamic teaching which says, “Extend seventy excuses to your brother.”* 
Knowledge of the needs, interests and motivations of one’s neighbor can only be attained through mutual communication. Most of the time, there will be little need to say much, while a wave of the hand and a daily friendly greeting help maintain a sufficient connection that when there is something to discuss, there will be a level of trust and engagement as a starting point.  At a minimum, at least you will know each other’s names. 
In our religiously diverse societies, interfaith dialogue is necessary, then, to provide at a minimum, a line of communication that can be employed to prevent mistrust, hurt feelings, and unintended harm.  For example, administrators who issue zoning laws, workplace uniforms, nursing home meal plans and university exam schedules have a primary focus on interests such as efficiency, functionality and budget.  Administration is conducted within the context of a majority culture, however, that often has little awareness that this culture is neither universal nor neutral.  In a historically Christian society, for example, an exam would never be scheduled on a Sunday, * despite the fact that the majority may no longer observe the Sabbath, or even attend Church; it is the Christian calendar that established the holidays which later generations inherited as part of their culture.  Similarly, whether pants or a skirt (and whether that skirt falls above the knee or to the ankle) are issued as part of a woman’s uniform will depend on what seems suitable to the dominant culture represented in the bureaucracy at a particular point in time.  Members of minority communities, faced with such regulations, will be required to request “accommodation” from a purportedly neutral standard.
Bureaucrats and officials sometimes interpret such requests as “complaining” or “demanding special treatment” and they might become defensive if they believe they are being accused of deliberate discrimination.  From the perspective of the person whose religious practice has been restricted by the regulations, on the other hand, having to approach a bureaucracy to request accommodation is intimidating enough; if their request is dismissed as unimportant or worse, this can cause resentment.  In such cases, the presence of institutional chaplains knowledgeable about religious diversity can prevent many problems, as can knowledge gained by lay public servants, teachers, and officials through multifaith education.

Removing the Harm of Being Afraid and Being Feared

The rise of violent extremists acting in the name of Islam while they employ brutal terrorist tactics has traumatized societies across the world for about two decades.  The scale and audacity of the 9/11 attacks on America created a high level of fear among civilians – one of the key goals of the attackers.  Al-Qaeda and their affiliates have for years now made persistent threats of violence to Americans, Westerners, Christians and Jews as well as Muslims who they claimed to having betrayed what they define as the interests of Islam.  These threats have been followed up with numerous acts of brutal violence against civilians in churches, mosques, cafes, shopping centers, on buses and trains. Tragically, some of the responses of the American government to the attacks, such as the invasion of Iraq and prolonged occupation of Afghanistan, helped recruit nationalists who oppose U.S. occupation of their countries to the extremists’ organizations and tactics.    
The Muslim community has experienced multiple levels of harm since 9/11.  First, more Muslims than non-Muslims, including children, teachers, nurses, workers, students, traders and worshippers have been killed and wounded by these terrorists who invoke the name of Islam.  Second, Muslims have experienced the harm of shame at having their religion being used to justify this violence. Third, innocent Muslims have been treated with suspicion, fear and hatred by those who associate them with or hold them responsible for the actions of the extremists. Fourth, innocent Muslims are the “collateral damage” of retaliation against those suspected of terrorism.
Muslim communities have taken responsibility to address some of these harms. In particular, scholars, leaders and ordinary people from across the Muslim world have repeatedly and publicly condemned the religious justifications of the terrorists.  Fatwas, public statements, lectures, conferences, and training programs have been issued and produced by Muslims to reiterate time and again that terrorism is not permitted in Islam. *
But the Prophet’s prohibition of harm and reciprocating harm extends beyond bodily harm and property damage to include psychological and emotional harm. Perhaps there is no psychological harm more pervasive in our societies today than fear.  Numerous attitude studies that have been conducted since 9/11 show that that many Western people believe that Islam teaches Muslims to be intolerant, violent and misogynistic.* Given that about half of American Muslims in 2010 reported having experienced discrimination in the previous year, it is likely that there are few Western Muslims who have not had this experience. My daughter jokes about me being “a tiny white woman” but I am normally identified by people as a Muslim because I wear hijab and I have had the experience of people crossing the street when I approach or looking overly anxious when I walk towards them to ask for directions. This is very painful. I do not want to cause anyone to be afraid. And it is also painful to be feared.  Anything I have experienced, however, is insignificant compared to the experiences of many Muslims of colour, especially young Muslim men, who persistently face a response of suspicion and fear in Western societies.
Ordinary Muslims are not responsible for the fear that others hold towards us, yet we must extend some compassion to our neighbors as well.  We have to seek to understand the reasons why fear can cloud the judgment of good people, and we need to process this reality through the lens of the ethical teachings of the Prophet Muhammad who said, “Whoever believes in God and the Last Day should be generous with his neighbor.”*   This tell us that Muslims should be generous to our neighbors by helping remove the psychological harm that fear of Muslims causes them.  At the same time, it is equally important that ordinary, law-abiding Muslims do not accept the fear of others towards them as our fault.  Accepting this can result in guilt and self-hatred; this is unjust as well as particularly damaging to young people during their extended period of identity formation.*
But just as Islam directs us to try to remove the harm experienced by our neighbors, there is no doubt that Christianity and Judaism teach the same.  And indeed, for American Muslims after 9/11, the solidarity expressed by mainstream Christian and Jewish organizations for their Muslim neighbors has been extraordinary.  Within less than six months after 9/11, the National Council of Churches (NCC) published a second edition of Rev. Marston Speight’s sympathetic introduction to Islam for Christians called, God is One, the Way of Islam.  In the publication, the NCC called on Christians “to confront their prejudices and inform themselves about Islam.”*  Over the next few years, churches all across the country invited Muslims into their sanctuaries and meeting halls to talk about Islam and their experiences in America.  Many Jewish congregations did the same, and major Jewish or Jewish-led organizations initiated projects to help their own communities better understand their Muslim neighbors.  To this end, the Foundation for Ethnic Understanding launched the Mosque-Synagogue Twinning Project, the Union for Reform Judaism partners with the Islamic Society of North America to launch the Children of Abraham adult education program, and the Jewish Theological Seminary led a three-year Carnegie sponsored program on Judaism and Islam in America.* 
Of course, not all Jewish and Christian congregations and organizations shared this positive attitude toward their Muslim neighbors.  To the contrary, some actively worked   to expand the negative view of Islam.  And after a number of years of advocacy with interfaith allies to combat anti-Muslim prejudice, many of us realized that providing accurate information to dispel misconceptions about mainstream Islam would never be enough to eliminate the fear that leads to prejudice.  This is because the misinformed person is much harder to reach cognitively than the ignorant person. Muslim scholars make a distinction between two kinds of ignorance: “simple ignorance (jahl basit),” which signifies a lack of knowledge about a subject, and “complex ignorance (jahl murakkab),” which signifies incorrect knowledge about a subject.  Simple ignorance requires little more than accurate information; complex ignorance is much more difficult to correct because it requires the removal of misconceptions in order to make room for the correct information.  Realistically, the task is even more difficult than a two-stage process of first removing misconceptions and then delivering accurate information. This is because of numerous cognitive biases such as “anchoring” whereby the first information a person receives about a topic becomes a touchstone for all later information.*  If the first time someone hears about Islam is through a media report that describes a terrorist event as “Islamic,” for example, then terrorism will be linked to Islam in that person’s mind.  If that person later meets someone who says that they “practice Islam,” one of the following thoughts immediately comes to mind: “I wonder if he is a terrorist,” or, “I hope he is not a terrorist,” or, “Okay, he is a follower of Islam, but he’s probably not a terrorist.”  None of these thoughts, including the latter whereby the person tries to reason against his automatic linking of Islam and terrorism is a solid foundation for building a trusting relationship. 
There are a number of reasons why there is a significant chance that the first information a Western non-Muslim encounters about Islam will be negative. First, Muslims are a small minority in Western countries, so chances for a meaningful personal encounter between Muslims and others is limited, especially beyond urban centers.  Second, the amount of negative information about Muslims in the media is large. Violence and war coverage are the bread-and-butter of media, and in the last few decades, the occupation of Muslim-majority countries by various powers has stirred up violent resistance as well as the reprehensible tactic of terrorist violence employed by some Muslim extremists. The decontextualization of this violence by much Western media is certainly problematic; for example, as we have mentioned, the vast majority of victims of violent attacks by Al-Qaeda and the Taliban are other Muslims, yet Western media focuses on non-Muslim victims of such attacks.   A partial solution is better media training which could help reframe the stories for more accuracy. A greater problem is the influence of groups who are politically and religiously ideologically opposed to Islam who are leveraging this negative coverage to push their agendas.  The progressive think-tank the Center for American Progress, for example, reported that in the decade after 9/11, more than $40 million was spent by just seven foundations spreading hate and misinformation about Islam.*
The challenges sometimes seem overwhelming, but so is the compassion and leadership shown by our friends in the faith-based community.  In the summer of 2010, for example, a particularly low time for American Muslims when we witnessed mosque and Qur’an burnings, Jewish and Christian leaders initiated a major campaign with us called “Shoulder to Shoulder” to address anti-Muslim sentiment in America.*  What this and many other initiatives promote is sharing of information through relationships.  It is truly the personal connections that allow for confidence building, so that difficult questions and fears can be shared in an environment of trust. 
Up to this point I have focused primarily on the experiences of Muslim Americans engaging interfaith partnerships to improve their own situation. I have done this because it is the experience I know best. It is also, perhaps, the most intense and persistently tested example of interfaith engagement in the last decade.  The experiences of discrimination and fear that Muslims face today are not, however, unique in history or in our time.  Indeed, when Muslims reflect on this period, it is critical that we seek to understand all the ethical dimensions of our trials.  Ordinary Muslims have collectively and often individually courageously risen to the challenge of confronting the extremists in our midst; although we do not necessarily have the ability to stop them, we have spoken out time and time again against their actions. But other steps are needed to develop a principled ethics based on our experiences, to reciprocate the generosity shown us by our friends from other faith communities, and to seek to transform power and communication structures that misinform, mislead and nudge us into conflict with each other. 
It is precisely this kind of ethical reflection that brought me and other leaders of the Islamic Society of North America a few years ago to take up the cause of religious minorities in Muslim majority countries.*  In this initiative we were inspired by the teaching of the Prophet Muhammad, “None of you believes until he loves for his brother what he loves for himself.”  According to many Muslim scholars, the “brother” mentioned by the Prophet is our brother in humanity.  Too often, contemporary Muslims think only of other Muslims as their brothers, and some even deny that non-Muslims could be called “brothers.”  The Qur’an is proof against them, for it calls human beings Banu Adam, “Children of Adam.”  According to the Qur’an then, all people are children of Adam and since the children of a man are siblings of one another, the brotherhood of humanity is implicit in the Qur’an. There is no doubt, then, that a Muslim must want for her brothers and sisters in humanity the same respect, freedom and security that she wants for herself.

Promoting the Common Good through Interfaith Engagement

We have made some progress, then, in preventing harm caused by religious difference; still, there is much work to be done.  But one might make the observation that if all we are doing is stopping religious people from harming each other over our religious identities and beliefs, we are not, in fact, doing much good.  The atheists would argue that if we simply got rid of religions all together, we would not have any of these problems to begin with.
Of course, there are major problems with such arguments, including the assumption that people can simply choose not to believe in God.  For many believers, this is no more possible than choosing not to believe in one’s own existence.  Our faith is an expression of knowledge we hold, not an identity preference or lifestyle choice. At the same time, the records of anti-religious societies, as well as the behaviour of many of the most prominent atheists, are not overwhelmingly stellar examples of the kind of compassion and generosity that is needed for a peaceful world. But this is not the place to engage in a debate with atheists. My conversation for the present is with fellow believers who are keen to understand how the reality of religious diversity can be harnessed for the purpose of peace.
The Qur’an is explicit that religious diversity is part of the divine decree. After stating that the Torah, the teachings of Jesus and the revelation to Muhammad are all from God, the Qur’an then states:

To each of you We have appointed a divine law and practice. If God had willed, He would have made you one community, but it is his will to test you in what He has given to you. So compete with one another in good works; to God you shall all return, and He will then inform you of that about which you differed.*

What is striking in this passage is not just the statement that God has established different laws (shir‘an – the same root as shari‘ah) and religious practices for different communities, but that God further commands these communities to “compete in good works.” There is an implicit recognition here that the existence of communal differences can create competition – and that this can be a good thing. Just as an athlete pushes himself harder when in competition, thus achieving a higher level of performance, a positive competitive spirit can motivate religious communities to engage more vigorously in good works.  And this is a competition whose rules are set by God, who specifies that we can be competitive only in what is good; the consequence is that religious diversity can be a direct cause for making the world better. 
Islamic teachings distinguish between a personal and a collective responsibility (fard ‘ayn vs. fard kifayah) to meet the needs of others.  A parent, for example, is personally responsible for meeting the needs of his or her own child; at the same time, that parent is also, along with other members of the community, responsible to ensure that the vital needs of all children in the community are met.  Traditional Islamic teachings focus on enumerating and discussing the collective responsibilities within the Muslim community. In our diverse, modern societies however, we must expand our sense of a collective responsibility to include all others who are willing to engage in good works. There are some social problems that simply cannot be seriously addressed without the collective effort of a broad coalition of good people. 
This is particularly true when we are trying to rectify unjust policies and practices that are established by the coercive power of the state or well-financed commercial interests.  This was the situation, for example, when it was uncovered in the first decade of the 21st century that the administration of American President G.W. Bush approved the use of torture on detainees suspected of terrorism. Under the leadership of Christian theologian George Hunsinger, the National Religious Campaign against Torture was established in 2006 to rally against state-sanctioned torture; over 300 national organizations representing the diversity of American religion joined the movement.  While most policy analysts and legal scholars argued that torture is sometimes “necessary,” it was this broad faith community that insisted most loudly that torture is always wrong because it violates the God-given dignity of each human being. 
Those who work for social justice know there is no guarantee their efforts will succeed. We might see an improvement in the lives of particular individuals, but greater social structural transformation is always more difficult to achieve.  Activists can become disillusioned and burned out.  In this respect, I am grateful for my Islamic faith - and I am sure many other believers share my perspective – that teaches me I am not the master of the universe. This creation belongs to God, not to us, and it is God who is responsible for the ends and who knows the wisdom of his plan.  We are caretakers of this one earth upon which we live and we have limited means to fulfill our responsibilities. Frustration can be useful if it leads us to re-examine our work and develop better strategies to alleviate hardship, but frustration can never lead to despair. The Prophet Muhammad said, “If the trumpet of the Apocalypse sounds and you have a seedling in your hand, plant it.”*

The Conservation of Religion and the Construction of Religious Identities

Staying mindful of God can be a struggle in our increasingly secularized world. In the cities where most of us now live, we are less and less likely to encounter religious symbols and sounds. Houses of worship are hidden amongst other buildings while even steeples and minarets are often blocked by skyscrapers and apartment towers.   The broadcast of the Islamic call to prayer and the ringing of church bells are restricted as noise that could bother some people, and where they are not, they are often drowned out by the din of traffic outside, and the blare of the television inside.  While dedicated public space and time for worship is scaled down or limited, the secular world keeps building and filling the cities, our homes and our ears with messages that there is always more stuff to buy and more desires to be satisfied. 
It is because the places and sounds of worship have been relatively reduced in our modern societies that I am grateful for each church and synagogue I see as I move through city streets.  The Qur’an describes Muslims as part of the “Family of the Book” (ahl al-kitab), that is, as one of the communities that has been given a scripture from God.  For me, this family is not just historical or theoretical, for through interfaith engagement I have entered many houses of worship of my cousins in the Abrahamic family, I have heard their prayers, and even prayed to God with them.  Interfaith engagement has helped create meaningful relationships that are scripturally grounded and form the basis for our ethical action.  These relationships are both a means for me personally to increase my mindfulness of God, as well as a means to engage in the good works which we are commanded to undertake.  All of this furthers the cause of peace.
I am grateful for all of these things and even more, that no matter how visible or available our human-made reminders of God’s presence, God places more signs in abundance all around us.  The Qur’an tells us to notice these signs in nature, in the rhythm of night and day, in the love that exists between spouses and in so many other thing, including the many kinds of diversity among human beings:

And among (God’s) signs is the creation of the heavens and the earth, and the diversity of your languages and colours; in this there are signs for those who are knowledgeable.*

The Qur’an tells us with this passage that we have the opportunity to become aware of God’s enormous creative power when we notice the linguistic and racial (that is, cultural and ethnic) diversity of humanity.  Seeing this diversity as a sign that God has established for us in order to be mindful of our Creator, should make us eager to live in multi-cultural, multi-ethnic societies.  Embracing this theologically-based positive attitude toward human diversity can help promote peace in the world.
This is important because as we engage with our Jewish, Christian and Muslim brothers and sisters through interfaith action and dialogue, we need to be aware of how this identity religious identity fits among the other multiple identities we embody.  A number of decades ago, the “Abrahamic” identity was created to expand Christian-Jewish dialogue to include Muslims. This was a positive development that has since established a shared platform for dialogue and engagement.  At the same time, it is a constructed identity that does not fully encompass the theological ethics and identity of each of us or all of us.  Anything we build will necessarily be limited in space and perspective, and we must be mindful that enclosures, as much as they unite people in a space, also restrict that space.  I am particularly concerned that the “Abrahamic” appellation reinforces a patriarchal lineage that I believe Islam came to reform.*  The elder men of the community have no preferential claim on religious leadership and authority in Islam, as much as that might be the cultural preference and social reality of many Muslims. As we work together to build a more peaceful world, we must embrace language and appellations that do not replicate or reinstate unjust power relations.
Islam also recognizes that God’s guidance is not limited to the scriptural traditions. The Qur’an states that “messengers” have been sent by God to every community.*  While it could be argued that communities without a written scripture have a tendency to drift further from prophetic teachings over time, they still can preserve authentic teachings. This means that teachings of Islam in the literal sense of “submission to God” can be found among the non-scripturalists.  In the Americas, New Zealand, Australia, Scandinavia and the Baltic countries, there are Aboriginal people, some of whom belong to our scriptural faiths and others who try to follow a traditional path left by their ancestors. In most of our countries, there is a terrible history of injustice towards the original people of the land.  Our interfaith engagement should not only address these injustices, but also open an appreciation for those who might retain some of the wisdom received from the Messengers.
At the beginning of this paper, I used the example of a neighbor building a fence to demonstrate how in building something beneficial for ourselves, we can unintentionally hurt others.  As we continue to engage in our interfaith discussions and initiatives, we need to regularly check in with our neighbors to get a realistic perspective on our activities and ensure we are not causing them any harm. In New Zealand, you have come a long way developing more respectful relationships with the “People of the Land.” As a guest to this country, it is the Māori who have the right and responsibility to greet me, and I am grateful for the hospitality extended to me by the leadership of Māori Development at the University of Otago.  The Aboriginal emphasis on the land and its people brings us back to the importance of neighborliness, for too often we religious people live in our heads, in an ideological landscape, while being negligent of the actual place where we live.  There is an old European expression, “Fences make good neighbors.” I would like to contrast that with an old Arab saying, “Choose the neighbor before the house.”  Clear boundaries can help facilitate peace, but the substance of peace is good relationships among neighbors, near and far. 
In closing, I ask God to guide us all the a path of peace; may God’s peace and blessings be upon you all.


For an introduction to this and other legal maxims see Umar Abd-Allah, “Living Islam with Purpose,” a Nawawi Foundation paper, published online: http://www.nawawi.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/01/Article6.pdf.

Hadith collected by Bukhari and Muslim.

Often cited as a saying of the Prophet, hadith scholars instead attribute it to a pious early Muslim. See Ahmad al-Bayhaqi, Shu‘ab al-Iman; discussion found online: http://seekersguidance.org/blog/2010/02/making-70-excuses-for-others-in-islam-a-key-duty-of-brotherhood/.

This is an example of the kind of “Christian Privilege” that Lewis Schlosser discusses in his 2003 article. "Christian Privilege: Breaking A Sacred Taboo," in The Journal of Multicultural Counseling and Development (2003).  In democratic societies where the dominant religion is other Christianity, such as Turkey or India, similar analyses could be conducted.

For a long list of statements, fatwas, and other communications by Muslim scholars, leaders and organizations, see “Muslim Voices Against Terrorism and Extremism” on The American Muslim (TAM) website: http://theamericanmuslim.org/tam.php/features/articles/muslim_voices_against_extremism_and_terrorism_2/.

“Islamophobia: Understanding Anti-Muslim Sentiment in the West,” by Gallup World, published on their website: http://www.gallup.com/poll/157082/islamophobia-understanding-anti-muslim-sentiment-west.aspx#1.

Hadith collected by Bukhari and Muslim.

Rebecca A. Clay, “Muslims in America, post 9/11,” Monitor on Psychology, a publication of the American Psychological Association, September 2011, Vol 42, No. 8 (print version: page 72); accessed online: http://www.apa.org/monitor/2011/09/muslims.aspx.

Information about these projects can be found on the website of the Islamic Society of North America: http://www.isna.net/interfaith-relations.html.

For a review of the literature and a study showing the intractability of anchors, see Nicholas Epley and Thomas Gilovich, “The Anchoring and Adjustment Heuristic: Why the Adjustments are Insufficient,” Psychlogical Science, v. 17, no. 4 (2006): 311-318.

Wajahat Ali, Eli Clifton, Matthew Duss, Lee Fang, Scott Keyes, and Faiz Shakirm, Fear Inc. The Roots of the Islamophobia Network in America, Center for American Progress, 2012; http://www.americanprogress.org/issues/religion/report/2011/08/26/10165/fear-inc/.

Qur’an 5:48.

Related by Anas ibn Malik; collected by Ahmad ibn Hanbal in his Musnad.

Qur’an 30:22.

Asma Barlas has an excellent analysis of this in her book, Believing Womenin Islam: Unreading Patriarchal interpretatons of the Qur’an (Austin, TX: University of Texas Press, 2002.

Qur’an 10:47.