|Betraying the Age|
Dr. Sarah Sayeed...on Park51 a.k.a
(w/ special appeal)
|Dear NY Faith & Justice Friends and Family,|
Meet Dr. Sarah Sayeed...on the Mosque and other things Interfaith...
Dr. Sarah Sayeed is the president of Women in Islam, Inc, a woman's human rights and social justice organization. She is also a program director at the Interfaith Center of New York, an organization working to bring people of different religious traditions together to work on issues of shared concern in New York City.
Sarah has been partnering with NY Faith & Justice since the establishment of the Faith Leaders for Environmental Justice in early 2008. Since then she and the Interfaith Center of New York have partnered with us on every major initiative, including Conversations for Change and Immigration Reform.
Through her work with the Interfaith Center of New York, Dr. Sayeed educates religious leaders about the civic institutions around them. As president of Women in Islam, Inc, she educates interfaith and secular organizations on the issues pertinent to Islamic women today as well as the Muslim community on how to empower women within the Muslim faith tradition.
Meet Dr. Sayeed...
Lisa: With ten years of interfaith experience, what was your experience before NY Faith & Justice of partnering with Evangelical Christians?
Sarah: None at all. I think partnering with NY Faith & Justice has been a great introduction into the Evangelical world. I do have to say that right before I met you, Lisa, I had read about a growing Evangelical movement for social justice. So, for me, that was an eye-opener because Evangelicals were portrayed in a certain way - hopefully that's changing now. So, it was a great introduction to work with NY Faith and Justice on so many issues.
Lisa: Where do you see overlap in the values that you hold as a Muslim leader and an interfaith leader and those of the people in New York Faith & Justice?
Sarah: I think it's really about looking around us, looking to see who our neighbors are. Who are the people we share the city with? I think all of our religious traditions call on us to be kind to our neighbors and to do the hard work together of what it will take to address the inequalities and injustices that we see on a daily basis.
Lisa: The Park 51 Islamic Community Center has gotten a lot of heat since President Obama spoke out to support the right of the Muslim community to build it. Now it seems to fill every news cycle. What do you think of that? Are you connected with the people behind the Center?
Sarah: Imam Feisal Abdul-Rauf is one of the people behind the Cultural Center project. He is also on the board of the Interfaith Center.
Lisa: The details of the Community Center aren't very clear. Can you shed some light on that for us?
Sarah: There has been a viable Muslim community in Lower Manhattan for decades now. There has been a mosque on Warren Street, four blocks from the World Trade Center site, for many many years. My dad used to go there for prayers when I was a little kid. A lot of the Muslim people who work at City Hall or in the financial district would go to that mosque. So, having a Muslim institution in that area is not a new thing.
The Warren Street Mosque lost its lease and had to find a new location. Some people in that community came together and were able to purchase the building on Park Place and West Broadway, where the Islamic Community Center is now proposed; two blocks closer to Ground Zero. The people in the purchasing community partnered with Imam Feisal Adul-Rauf, who had another mosque in Tribecca--also close to Ground Zero. Their vision included a full-blown community center that serves the wider community, not just the Muslim community. It's conceived in the tradition of the YMCA, with a pool, a place for seniors to congregate, a place for the arts and a multi-faith chapel and prayer space. So, it's really a cultural center that is being built by a group of Muslims. They're also talking about having an interfaith advisory group to help shape the work in the building. So, I think there's been every effort to be inclusive. Knowing all that information, it's disappointing to hear all the rhetoric.
Lisa: Did you hear about Governor Patterson's decision to go to the Center's developers and negotiate with them to move to another location? What do you think about that?
Sarah: I think he's trying to be respectful of the families who are expressing their sense of grief over their loss. I can empathize with feelings of grief. I guess what I have trouble with is when you take grieving to the next step of fear of anything that's Muslim. And then to go to the next step and translate that fear into policy that impacts people doesn't resonate with the values of our country. Also, 9/11 families are grieving and I feel like, as a Muslim, I'm being told I have no right to grieve.
Lisa: What can people of other faiths do to help?
Sarah: What we can all do, as people who elected our leaders into office, is to remind them about what the real issues are that our country needs to address and remind them of the things that unite us as Americans. And we can also remind them of the values that we share as Americans; like having respect for difference and freedom of religion. It's also important to support the Community Center. Learn about what the center is trying to do. Try and think critically about what the media is telling us about the issue.
For more info on the Park 51 Cultural Center go to http://www.park51.org/vision.htm.
New York Faith and Justice is committed to ending poverty in New York. Approval of Park 51 is not an issue of poverty, but every once in a while an issue comes along that is so important that we all must take heed and engage. The issue of the placement of the Islamic Cultural Center in New York City will be a defining moment in the life of our nation as we decide how we shall interpret the First Amendment's "free exercise of religion" clause. Already, cities across the country are beginning to stop the construction of mosques on private and public property. These are our times. This is our responsibility.
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Lisa Sharon Harper
Co-founder and Executive Director
New York Faith & Justice