Senate Hearing on “Engaging with Muslim Communities Around the World”

This Thursday, the US Senate Committee on Foreign Relations will hold a hearing on “engaging with Muslim communities around the world.” The hearing is part of a series led by Senator John Kerry on improving relations between the US and the Muslim world, and will include testimonies from well-known Muslim Americans.

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MuslimMatters: Scholarship on Anti-Terrorism and the West

We are reposting an article excerpt with permission from MuslimMatters: “Muslim Scholars–West’s Natural Allies in Fighting Scourge of Terrorists” by Tawfique Chowdhury, the director-general of Mercy Mission and AlKauthar Institute. The full post is here on MuslimMatters, with interesting past conversations on this topic in the comments section. Please leave a comment here in the post below if you wish to continue this conversation here on Inside Islam.

Muslim Scholars-West’s Natural Allies in Fighting the Scourge of Terrorism

Ladies and Gentlemen, hundreds of years before the anti-terrorism policies of the West, approximately 1400 years ago, Muslims were fighting the intellectual battles that terrorism presented in the battle between the Khawarij of the past and companions of the Prophet.

This continued throughout the ages – where independent Muslim scholars presented the best defense against distorted terrorist ideologies. Today, this is also seen in the manner in which Saudi Arabia has tackled their terrorism problems by putting independent credible Muslim scholars at the forefront in the intellectual battle for disproving terrorism. By equating these Muslim scholars representing orthodox Islam with religious extremism, the war on terror will lose its greatest ally in this long drawn saga.

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The White House Office of Faith-Based Partnerships

President Barack Obama has announced the expansion of aid to faith-based partnerships. His executive order built upon President Bush’s White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Partnerships initiative, slightly changing the name to the White House Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships. As has been much discussed, government support of faith-based initiatives calls into question the separation of church and state. The worry is that federal funds may go to businesses whose hiring or service provision discriminates against people with different religious beliefs. At The National Prayer Breakfast this month, President Obama announced the office and called for religious leaders to let go of intolerant attitudes. He asked America to return to pluralism:

the particular faith that motivates each of us can promote a greater good for all of us. Instead of driving us apart, our varied beliefs can bring us together to feed the hungry and comfort the afflicted; to make peace where there is strife and rebuild what has broken; to lift up those who have fallen on hard times. This is not only our call as people of faith, but our duty as citizens of America, and it will be the purpose of the White House Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships that I’m announcing later today.

President Obama promises the White House office aid will extend outreach to organizations based on the impact of their work, not the influence of faith-based institutions. He also ruled out proselytizing and laid down the first practical outcome of launching outreach is to to improve services that reduce poverty. In addition, the president has adopted a pluralistic vision for reaching out to the Muslim community in the Arab world. He hopes to open a dialogue with Islamic leaders around the world and believes it can happen soon.

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Reaching out to Gaza

Author Alaa al-Aswany wrote an op-ed about President Obama’s silence about the Gaza conflict in “Why the Muslim World Can’t Hear Obama,” published in The New York Times. He contends that President Obama’s rhetorical gesture to reach out to the Muslim world in his inaugural address and in an interview with Arab news station Al Arabiya wasn’t taken seriously by Egyptians because he has yet to break his silence on the conflict and his steadfast support of Israel.

Mr. Obama’s interview with Al Arabiya on Jan. 27 was an event that was widely portrayed in the Western news media as an olive branch to the Muslim world. But while most of my Egyptian friends knew about the interview, by then they were so frustrated by Mr. Obama’s silence that they weren’t particularly interested in watching it. I didn’t see it myself, but I went back and read the transcript. Again, his elegant words did not challenge America’s support of Israel, right or wrong, or its alliances with Arab dictators in the interest of pragmatism.

Do promises to reach out to the Muslim world matter if no one can hear them outside the US? Would actions speak louder than words? If so, what would a guesture of peace look like in the eyes of the Muslim world? We welcome other opinions below, please leave a comment if you have something to add to the dialogue.

The World Responds to Obama’s Inaugural Address

As a follow-up to our recent program about Reaching out to the Muslim World, we offer the following perspectives from around the globe. If you have any others to add, please send them along!

President Obama and the Muslim World Reading List

Do you have a blog post or article you think should be added to this? Send us an email with the link or comment below and we’ll update the post. What do you think about the Obama presidency and its relations with the Muslim World so far? Is it too soon to tell? Feel free to leave your thoughts in a comment below.

Guests on Reaching out to the Muslim World

Join Jean Feraca and the following guests on Here on Earth: Radio Without Borders on January 22 to discuss reaching out to the Muslim world.

Uli Schamiloglu – Chair of UW-Madison’s Middle East Studies Program and Professor of Turkic and Central Eurasian Studies in the Department of Languages and Cultures of Asia.

Abdulkader Sinno – Professor of Political Science, Indiana University, author of Organizations at War in Afghanistan and Beyond (Cornell U Press, 2008) and editor of Muslims in Western Politics (Indiana University Press, 2008).

Hady Amr – Director, Brookings Doha Center; Fellow, Foreign Policy, Saban Center for Middle East Policy.

Zeyno Baran, director of the Center for Eurasian Policy at the Hudson Institute.

Updated January 22, 2009: Click here to listen to “Reaching out to the Muslim World,” hear full pre-recorded interviews with the guests, and get additional information on the topic.

US and the Muslim World

Coming up on the next Inside Islam radio show: Reaching out to the Muslim World.

On January 20, Barack Hussein Obama will be sworn in as the 44th president of the United States. What is the state of relations between the United States and the Muslim world? How can the new president alter the course of the Bush administration and reach out to Muslims? What are the chances that dialogue and diplomacy will take precedence over a call to arms? What steps do Muslims think the new president should take to repair damages and rebuild trust?

Do you have any other questions you would like to discuss about US relations with the Muslim world at this beginning of a new era? Share your thoughts on these topics below and then join us on Here on Earth: Radio Without Borders Thursday, January 22 at 3:00pm to discuss them.