The furor over the establishment of the “Ground Zero Mosque” underscores this interfaith leader’s urgent plea for pluralism.
The Chicago-based founder of the Interfaith Youth Core and appointee to President Obama’s Inaugural Faith Council, Patel (Acts of Faith: The Story of an American Muslim, the Struggle for the Soul of a Generation, 2007, etc.) writes out of a deep concern over the virulence found in the “anti-Muslim blogosphere” in reaction to Imam Feisal’s plans for a Muslim community center near ground zero. Planned by Feisal as a “place of peace, a place of services and solutions for the community,” Cordoba House nonetheless raised hackles among conservatives, who branded even moderates like Feisal and Patel, who have devoted their careers to interfaith cooperation, as extremists. Nearly 10 years after 9/11, the community was stunned by the verbal attacks, and Patel wondered how anti-Muslim fervor could have again reached this pitch. He sought out some of the model leaders for guidance, such as New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, fiercely devoted to taking an inclusive, pluralistic approach; popular American Muslim speaker Shaykh Hamza Yusuf, who welcomed the current conservative backlash as “a national discussion we’ve needed to have”; and the Dalai Lama, who declared his ignorance of Islam and proceeded to immerse himself in the study of the religion. Especially elucidating is Patel’s exploration of historical examples of American bigotry, including Peter Stuyvesant’s banning of Quaker prayer meetings and the pernicious current of anti-Catholicism in national politics, from the Know Nothing Party of 1854 to the Evangelical opposition to JFK’s candidacy for president. Catholicism was deemed anti-freedom, hierarchical and bent on world domination, much as Shariah is considered today. Patel looks at what truly works in inculcating interfaith cooperation: bringing youth of all backgrounds together to share stories and develop personal understanding.
A passionate call for nurturing tolerance and diversity.