Sunday, October 17, 2010

Where Are The Moderate Muslims?

With headlines full of extremists in all quarters, the question is often asked, where are the moderates—especially in the Muslim world?

Yet I suspect that many who puzzle and pontificate over these “missing moderates” aren’t looking very hard. 

Have they talked with their own neighbors lately?  Recently I had a chance to meet one of mine, Imam Abdur Rauf, at the mosque just down the road from the church I serve as minister

The Iman invited clergy of all stripes to visit his community last month during Ramadan—the Jewish rabbi, the Episcopal priest, Quakers and Catholics—just to get acquainted.  So this morning, I reciprocated the invitation and asked the Iman to visit my church for a Sunday service.

A handsome, middle-aged man with dark vest and black taqiyah or skull cap, Abdur Rauf, I learned, was born in Spanish Harlem, but discovered Islam while studying geology at Cornell University.  At the Merrick Company where he currently works, Abdur Rauf is the chief scientist in charge of LiDAR, or Light Detection and Ranging, analyzing digital data from satellites and translating these electronic bits into useful information about urban terrain and natural resources. In fact, I'm not sure just what he does, but he seems to know a lot more than me about lasers.

Not your typical Imam?

Spiritually, Abdur Rauf has been a leader and organizer of the Muslim Jewish Peace Walks which have taken place in many major cities around America—which began following 9/11 seeking a rapprochement among tribes of Moses and Mohammed, but now attract Christians, Buddhists, Hindus, and other people of faith seeking non-violent solutions to world conflict.

Again, not your typical Imam? Abdur Rauf certainly breaks my stereotypes.  But then, how many of my stereotypes are based on media distortions and fear of the unknown rather than on the actual experience of meeting my neighbors and talking one-on-one?

I didn’t have to go far to find a moderate Muslim—indeed, just half a mile down the road, to the local mosque.  So maybe you might also try reaching out to that woman wearing the hijab (head scarf) or the man wearing the keffiyah (headdress)?  Where there’s now a stranger with a funny hat, you just might find a friend.  And where you now find reasons for paranoia, you just might meet a moderate Muslim.