The Cordoba Movement is going on tour


BY Aline Reynolds

Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, the religious leader behind the Cordoba Initiative and Park51, is embarking on a nationwide tour with the goal of spreading his message about peaceful interfaith dialogue and putting a stop to discrimination and violence against Muslim-Americans.

Since the media firestorm surrounding the proposed Islamic community center began last summer, Rauf has been inundated with e-mails from religious and cultural institutions around the country, voicing strong support for the project. Several of them also invited him to speak, prompting the Imam to schedule a speaking tour.

“What we observed [from the feedback],” he said in a phone interview, “is the genesis of a broad interfaith coalition of people who are of all faiths and traditions.”

The time has come, he added, to rally supporters around the Cordoba Movement, which Rauf hopes will bond the moderates of all faiths. His dream, he said, is to witness the opening of Cordoba Houses around the country, where people of different religious beliefs can live, play and eat together, while adhering to the principals of their respective faiths. The objective of the movement, he said, is to convert interfaith dialogues into interfaith partnerships.

Part of the mission of the speaking tour, Rauf explained, is to reclaim the discourse of the radicals. “We need to say, ‘This has got to stop,’ and to amplify that [moderate] voice,” he said.

Rauf will begin his tour in Detroit, Michigan, head to Buffalo, NY, and then to Washington, D.C. He will also be making appearances at institutions in Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, Texas, Illinois and Washington State. He’ll also be speaking at universities such as Harvard, Yale and the University of North Carolina. The lectures will be invitation-only, and closed to the public for security reasons, according to Rauf’s spokesperson.

Rauf declined to comment on his personal security, though he said that the spreading of the Cordoba Movement’s message will help ease tensions between the moderates and the radicals.

Rauf also has plans to visit Egypt, where he said there is a widespread violation of the fundamental principals and the teachings of Islam.

The principles governing the Cordoba Movement are not limited to the U.S., said Rauf. Relationships with non-Muslim minorities residing in Muslim communities overseas also need to be fostered. Later this year, following the U.S. tour, Rauf will be guest-lecturing in the U.K., the Middle East and Southeast Asia.

“It’s important to make our voices heard,” said Rauf, “and to develop real solutions to the polarization which has grown against interfaith communities [worldwide].”

While some of the speaking engagements are set in stone, Rauf has yet to confirm others, such as a talk at the Diversity Forum Banquet in Detroit, Michigan.

The Islamic Society for North America, the host organization of the event who invited Rauf to speak there, has a long history of reaching out to the Muslim community, which is often excluded in the discourse of Muslim-American advancement, according to Sarah Thompson, communications coordinator of I.S.N.A.

“We thought [Rauf] could bring in a little national perspective of diversity into the Muslim community,” said Thompson.

Rothko Chapel, an interfaith center based in Houston, is looking forward to hosting Rauf for similar reasons as I.S.N.A. Rauf said he was invited there by a chapel board member who he has worked with for several years.

Rauf is a person of interest, according to the chapel’s executive director, Emilee Whitehurst, since “we have a longstanding tradition of exploring interreligious dialogue and interfaith understanding.”