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When Cultures Collide: Facing Religious Extremism in All Faith
at Aspen Institute, Aspen CO, August 12, 2004
"The Aspen Institute, in collaboration with the CÛrdoba Initiative featured a community program focused on intercultural understanding and interfaith dialogue at the Walter Paepcke Auditorium on the Aspen Meadows campus. Panelists included author and Harvard Professor Peter J. Gomes; Rabbi Brad Hirschfield, vice president of the National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership (CLAL); Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, author of "What's Right With Islam," and Princeton religion scholar Elaine Pagels. Moderating the dialogue was Aspen Institute president and CEO Walter Isaacson. As expected, the program was a resounding success and was attended by an overflowing capacity.
BOOK LAUNCH | TUESDAY JUNE 8, 2004
The Scimitar and the Veil by Jennifer Heath
Jennifer Heath delivered a lively reading from her book, accompanied by a visual presentation on the women of Islam, celebrating their contributions, challenges and accomplishments. The launch was sponsored by ASMA Society and members of the ASMA monthly womenıs group were in attendance, offering up thoughts, opinions and experiences on being Muslim women in todayıs world.
The book has been well received. Based on sources ranging from Swahili lore to Persian pageant plays to Muslim feminist writings to the explorations of Western scholars of Islam, The Scimitar and the Veil is written in a poetic, sometimes humorous, energetic and contemporary style that will appeal to a broad range of readers.
"What better way to silence the uninformed cries against Islam than to let the bold and sparkling lives of powerful Muslim women speak for themselves." - Daisy Khan, ASMA Society
"If you want to better understand the lives of Muslim women in all their incredible complexity and diversity, read this book." - Alex Kronemer, producer of the PBS documentary Muhammad: Legacy of a Prophet
Jennifer Heath is the author of The Echoing Green: The Garden in Myth and Memory (Penguin, 2000), On The Edge of Dream: The Women of Celtic Myth and Legend (Penguin 1998), Black Velvet: The Art We Love to Hate (Pomegranate 1994) and A House White With Sorrow: A Ballad for Afghanistan, a novel published by Rodent Press in 1996 and reissued as an illustrated "novel in newspaper form" by Baksun Books in 2002. She is an activist for social justice and an award-winning arts journalist.
What's Right with Islam: A New Vision for Muslims and the West
By Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf
See review and endorsements | Order
"What's Right with Islam: a New Vision for Muslims and the West," launched on Tuesday, May 11, 2004, at St. Bartholomew's Church, NYC, to an enthusiastic crowd. The event was moderated by Reverend William Tully, rector of St Bart's and Center for Religious Inquiry, who highlighted pertinent sections of the book and posed questions to Imam Feisal. He then fielded questions from the audience. A reception on the terrace concluded the event.
Queen Noor of Jordan says the book is, "Urgently needed ... brimming with hope."
Lord Carey of Clifton, former Archbishop of Canterbury, calls it: "An extremely important book for our day ... It is a MUST for any thinking person who cares about our world."
Karen Armstrong, author of The Battle For God, says, "It should be read... even more important, it should be acted upon."
Sunday June 8, 2002 - 6:00 pm-9:00 pm
Cordoba Bread Fest
Children of Abraham "Break Bread Together"
The Great Room, Center for Religious Inquiry @
St. Bartholomew's Church, 50th st & Park Ave
In Spain during the middle ages there was a great flowering of culture, art, philosophical inquiry, amid a climate of religious tolerance. Jewish and Christian intellectuals attracted to Cordoba, where they lived, wrote and flourished side by side with Muslim counterparts in a strikingly pluralistic society. By breaking bread together we wish to re- create a climate that is reminiscent of this rich past. "A piece of Cordoba right here in the heart of New York."
"Cordoba Bread Fest is meant to inaugurate between ourselves a positive dialogue while we each remain true to our faith, lose nothing of its essence but gain strength from our links to the others. In celebrating on something as grounded as bread, we can transcend our differences in a communal setting of festivity. The mood will uplift, nourish and also entertain. In this warm nourishing environment - interfaith dialogue will spontaneously happen."
Daisy Khan, Executive director, Asma Society
Expression of faith, Way of Life, Communal affair
Christians will present the importance of the bread as a necessary ingredient of faith. Jewish people will share their experience of preparing challah bread for Sabbath. Muslims who refer to bread as LIFE will regale us with wisdom tales of bread. Children will offer the bread to the audience.
Sponsors: Asma Society, B'nai Jeshurun Synagogue, CRI- St. Bartholomew's church, Catholic Archdiocese of New York, Jewish Community Relations Council of New York, Islamic Cultural Center of NY, Islamic Center of Long Island, NY Assocs of New Americans, St.Paul & St. Andrews Methodist Church, Riverside Church, UJA-Federation of New York
Special thanks to: Tides Foundation
Reflections At a Time of Transformation:
American Muslim Artists Reach Out To New Yorkers
The Milder,Gentler Side of Islam
By Hisham Aidi
With snow flurrying outside the dusky chapel, the world renowned Senegalese vocalist, Mor Dior Bamba, stepped up to the podium at St. John the Divine, and in a stirring, trilling manner delivered the Adhan, the Muslim call to prayer.
The splendid tapestry of the Islamic Diaspora was on full display for the 600 or so culture enthusiasts who filled The Cathedral of Saint John the Divine on Saturday, January 19th, for an afternoon of performances and exhibitions titled, "Reflections at a Time of Transformation: American Muslim Artists Reach Out To New Yorkers."
Afghani children's drawings (part of an American-sponsored children's art program) adorned the walls along with Mohammed Zakariya's calligraphy, Salma Arastu canvas of the burning towers, Mumtaz Hussian's sculpture of ground zero, Nasser Ovissi's Horse & dove painting, Aziz Rahman & Sheikaba Wakili's photos & scenes of World Trade, Michael Green's silkscreen, Zarina Hashmi's prints of the cosmos under Dolly Unithan's canopy of more than 150 floating doves symbolizing peace.
Brian Lehrer of NPR Radio served as master of ceremony for a two hour performance,introducing speakers, poets and musicians.
Muslim Jazz Guitarist James Blood Ulmer, Trumpet player Barry Danielian accompanied by drummer Mohammed Idris and Violinist Dilshad & Summer Hussain interpreted compositions written in response to 9/11.
Poets Daniel Abdul Hayy Moore in his composition Music Space recited" This is the space of the silence of souls at their moment of release"...and Michael Wolfe in his "Bearers" said" and now they step down through a gash... that was a door once, ash under foot and glass about their heads in dusty halos... and afghani poet, Zakaraya sherzad talked about" aspiring hope and peace in your rememberance, burning carrying the torch of life for once more...and Arastu dileaneated the anguish and confusion felt by muslims in " I am humanity"...lips are trembling, I am shocked, dumb, I am humanity, Insecure, uncertain... In twenty first century.. I am helpless, amazed at my own rivals, among my own people."
Since September 11th, interest in Islam and Muslim culture has intensified with books on Islam (including Qurans) becoming bestsellers, and documentaries and specials on some aspect of Muslim life airing daily, but New York's Muslim community had yet to reach out and make its artistic response to 9/11's devastation known. This snowy Saturday afternoon's event was the first such function.
"September 11th created a tidal wave of human shock and emotions, with a desire to do something about it. The most an artist can hope for is that what he or she might offer will touch the life of their fellow citizens," Imam Faisal Abdul Rauf, founder of Asma Society which organized the event, told the audience which included Deputy Mayor Dennis Walcott, UN ambassadors, and representatives of the New York Police and Fire Departments. "We have invited you to sample some American Islamic expressions of art. Through this medium, a rarely used window will open for you to glimpse into the House of Islam. The greatest moments in Islamic history, those epochs when Islamic civilization peaked, were periods when the arts were highly prized. For the modern Muslim, a crisis in the area of art has contributed to perhaps the profoundest crisis Muslims face today, a crisis of the soul."
The art and music at St. John's represented much of the Muslim world and its diaspora, but the turnout reflected the mainstream of Muslim New York, a slice of the community rarely seen on the 10 o'clock news specials on 'our' Muslim neighbors. The Muslim crowd of African Americans, Arab Americans, south Asians Americans, affluent immigrants and the progeny of affluent immigrants mingled and chatted with peoples of other faiths over the buffets of stuffed grape leaves, figs, samosas and Turkish Delight in a setting of glistening Samovars, palm trees and dried pomagranates.
"There are an estimated 600,000 Muslims in New York," says Louis Abdelatif Cristillo, director of Columbia University's 'Muslim Communities in New York' Project. "That estimate is based on the number of mosques in the five boroughs which are a tenth of the number of mosques nationwide. A more accurate number is difficult given that the National Census cannot ask people about their religious background. But without a doubt the Muslim community we have the most difficulty counting and studying are the professional Muslims, the suburban Muslims, the so-called liberal or culturally Muslim, because they're integrated and they don't wear their Islam in the public square."
"This is a graceful, elegant and classy event organized by those representative of the silent majority of New York's Muslim community, an event that exemplifies the spirit of the Muslim Ummah or community, at its best," said Yasemin Saib a Saudi American and one of organizers of the event. "This is a modern, progressive crowd" and "the fact that women organized this event is what gave it the graceful touch," she adds.
Aside from the annual Muslim parade on Fifth Avenue and rallies in Harlem and Times Square (against police brutality and for Palestine), there are few Islamic cultural events in New York. Hence the high attendance on Saturday - many of the organizers and attendees expressed weariness with the non-stop coverage on fundamentalism and sleeper cells. The gathering at St. John's seemed decidedly apolitical, skirting controversy, though organized by the Muslim community's potentially most influential segment. Moderation and gentleness were the recurring themes.
"We need to show the soft, gentle side of Islam," said California-born calligrapher Muhammad Zakariya, who designed the US postage stamp commerating the Muslim holiday, Eid. "Enough with the harshness, the revenge and the crackpot conspiracy theories". The Prophet has said that 'there shall be no harm for harm, no revenge for revenge."
"God is mild and fond of mildness and gives to the mild what he does not give to the harsh," said Daisy Khan, Director of Asma Society, citing another Prophetic tradition reinforcing the gentle approach.
The intense spotlight currently on the American Muslim community, has hushed the more extremist wings, and brought out the rarely seen Muslim haute societe, which prior to 9/11 had gladly abdicated all 'reaching-out initiatives,' political organizing and agitating to others. But now, bankers, businessmen and lawyers are funding cultural events. Older Muslim immigrants with an aversion to politics, carried over from the home-country, are now advising their American-born kids (alternatively referred to as, "MTV Muslims, "Microwave Muslims") on how to defend the faith. But there's still a distaste for position-taking and political labels (even Democrat or Republican) preferring the "pluralist" or "just Muslim." "We're about principles and values, not outside indicators of piety" is what you often hear at this community's gatherings.
But if the rites of passage are as refined and aesthetic as Saturday's out-reach event, this community's angst and growing pains might not be so acute.
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