Muslim Center’s Developer to Use Islamic Loan Plan

Sharif el-Gamal, the developer, of the planned Muslim community center and mosque near ground zero envisions raising $140 million project by utilizing instruments developed to allow many Muslim investors to comply with religious prohibitions on interest. Most of the financing, Mr. Gamal said on Wednesday, would come through religiously sanctioned bondlike investments known as sukuk, devised in Muslim nations to allow religious Muslims to take part in the global economy and increasingly explored by American banks. Sukuk and other Islamic banking instruments are tracked on the Dow Jones Islamic Market Index.

Of the $140 million, Gamal, is hoping to raise $27 million through a nationwide campaign which will focus on small donations from Muslims and other supporters. The remaining bill will be financed, to build the 15-story center, which will eventually have about 4,330 paying members. Most of that core group, Mr. Gamal expects, would be non-Muslim neighborhood residents and commuters. Muslims from around the region would make up a larger but less frequently visiting group — what he calls the “dinner and a date” crowd — many of them choosing the cheapest $375 family membership for cultural programs.

Mr. Gamal and Feisal Abdul Rauf, the imam who is his planning partner in the project, have promised that they will invite the federal government to review all the donations.

Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf’s articulation of peace based on Quranic verses

Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, the chairman of the Cordoba Initiative that works to improve Muslim-West relations, argues that religion is a key part of the solution in resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. He uses the Sacred Text of Islam, the Quran, to show how Muslims and Jews are united and are capable of reaching out to each other through “Abrahamic ethics” as the core of monotheism.

Jewish-Muslim Relations: Using Qur’anic Narratives in Pursuit of Peace

Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf maintains that religion holds one of the keys to resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. While religion is not the primary problem in Israel-Palestine, Rauf says, it is a primary part of the solution

photo: Cordoba Initiative I consider the Israeli-Palestinian conflict the single biggest obstacle to eliminating Muslim-Jewish antipathy. Although this dispute is fundamentally about the distribution of assets and the power to control decisions, it is frequently portrayed as a religious conflict. And too often, opposing sides have used erroneous or out-of-context interpretations of their scriptures to demonizes the other and to provide justification for not striving towards a just peace.

From an Islamic perspective, this could not be more misguided, as we are given a number of powerful principles and narratives in the Qur’an that propel us towards justice, peace and communal harmony. It is my belief, therefore, that while religion is not the primary problem in Israel-Palestine, it is a primary part of the solution.

“A common ethic”

Scripturally, Muslims and Jews are united by the Prophet Abraham’s legacy embodied in the “Abrahamic ethic”, which is at its core a monotheism which asserts human liberty, equality, and fraternity. The Qur’an never tires of repeating that its task is to re-establish this ethic and that Muhammad and all the prior prophets came to do just that: “The nearest of people to Abraham are those who follow him, and this Prophet [Muhammad] and those who believe,” (The Qur’an, 3:68).

Man reading the Koran (photo: dpa) Islam defines itself not so much as the religion of Muhammad, but the religion of God, originally established by Abraham. Stemming from this shared heritage, Jews (as well as Christians) are described by a special name in the Qur’an: “People of the Book”, ahl al-kitab, or a “scriptured people”. Muslims believe that God sent the Jewish people scriptures containing the divine teachings of God’s message through their prophets. As such, they have the true religion.

To deny this is to contradict the Qur’an, which does not merely recognize the similarity of Jews to Muslims; it identifies Islam with them. “Say [to the People of the Book]: We believe in that which was revealed to us as well as that which was revealed to you. Our God and your God is One and the same. We all submit to Him,” (The Qur’an, 29:46). This unity means that although disagreements between us certainly exist, these are no more than family disputes.

The Qur’an does criticize Jews for failure to uphold the Torah and for excessive legalism and exaggerated authoritarianism by some rabbis. These passages and others have been manipulated to typecast Jews and unfairly implicate them in contemporary problems. However, there is no criticism that the Qur’an has addressed to Jews that Jews have not addressed to themselves or to their tradition.

Universal faults

Furthermore, no Muslim can deny that many of these faults are universal ones, shortcomings that are present in any religious community, including our Muslim community. In fact, the Qur’an never totally condemns any people, since the critical verses stand side by side with those verses that justify the righteous.

photo: AP Our mandate, therefore, is to not divide our communities into hostile factions on account of religion, precisely as some have done. God’s call in the Qur’an to Jews and Christians, as well as to Muslims, still stands as proper, relevant and necessary today as it was when it was first revealed some fourteen centuries ago:

“O People of the Book! Let us now come together under a fair principle common to all of us – that we worship none but God, that we associate nothing with Him, and that we take not one another as lords beside God,” (The Qur’an, 3:64). This passage and others provide profound inspiration for dialogue, collaboration and, ultimately, peace.

Dialogue, the first step, offers the opportunity for uncovering the common ground of the shared values and goals that resonate in each of our faiths and forge personal bonds and relationships of trust, which carry the potential to enable collaborative efforts. I advocate for such an action-oriented dialogue that moves beyond talk.

Transforming Jewish-Muslim relations globally

Muslim and Jewish organizations and institutions must build coalitions to partner in peace. Although this should take place within numerous sectors, it is especially critical at the level of religious leadership – between rabbis and imams and among faith-based activists. It is these friendships and partnerships that can help bring a just peace to Israel, Palestine and the broader region and, furthermore, they can transform the relationship between Muslims and Jews globally.

Such work towards transformation could draw its inspiration from the remarkable period of the Cordoba Caliphate in present-day Spain. During its peak in the tenth and eleventh centuries, Cordoba was the most enlightened, pluralistic and tolerant society on earth, one where Muslims and Jews enjoyed a special relationship.

My own organisation, the Cordoba Initiative, draws upon this legacy to once again shift Jewish-Muslim relations towards collaboration around our common values and interests. We are utilising a powerful model of action-oriented and faith-based partnership to create a tipping point in Muslim World-West relations within the next decade, including in the context of Israel and Palestine. I believe that this is our Abrahamic mandate.

Feisal Abdul Rauf

© Common Ground News Service 2010

Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf is the chairman of the Cordoba Initiative which works to improve Muslim-West relations. This article is part of a special series on Jews and Muslims in each other’s narratives and was written for the Common Ground News Service (CGNews).