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Can Americans reconcile with Islam?

February 02, 2011

Q. A leading Islamic cleric has begun a tour of America urging American Muslims to help shape the religion’s relationship with the USA. Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf says Muslims should depoliticize their faith and that they should aim to make Islam be seen as an American religion, not an alien religion. Rauf, a Kuwait-born Muslim and an American citizen who has stated that he wants to improve relations between Islam and the West, is also the cleric behind the controversial Park51 Islamic center in New York, and has been criticized in some quarters for allegedly saying one thing to Western audiences and another to Muslim audiences.

Rauf is also the author of “What's Right with Islam: A New Vision for Muslims and the West,” a book which aims for a reconciliation between Muslims and Westerners by finding a common ground and by emphasizing what’s right with Islam, not just what’s wrong.

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Do you think American Muslims can bridge the chasm that’s developed between Islam and the West since 9/11?

Or is Islamophobia so entrenched in American society that there will never be any kind of reconciliation? Could Imam Rauf’s tour be the thing America needs?

I believe that the current tension between Islam and the West can be overcome, but that it won’t happen quickly and it won’t happen with words alone. As a historical precedent, I look to how Japanese Americans were treated after Pearl Harbor. The Japanese Empire was certainly guilty of a heinous attack against Americans, even as the Muslim extremists of today are. Loyal Japanese-Americans were falsely accused and unjustly treated, and that’s also happened with many Muslim-Americans today. Yet Japan is now a national ally and Japanese-Americans are no longer vilified.

This reconciliation happened because the root cause of the tension was eliminated. The hostile, aggressive Japanese Empire was defeated and dismantled, and our country came to its senses again and realized that Japanese-Americans, like Muslim-Americans, are just people like us with the same fallible human nature that we all have.

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