The Alamo is small, beautiful building that is close to the hearts of Texans. When I told my father, a native Texan, that we had gone to visit the Alamo, he said that he can’t see it without tearing up it is so moving.
From Ground Zero in New York to Pearl Harbor in Honolulu, the team has visited the major monuments of heartache and triumph of the United States. What these places, battles, and sometimes myths built up around them mean for Americans is a major part of who we are. Craig, from Boston, related it to the Battle of Bunker Hill, a similar emotive battle during the Revolutionary War respected among Americans. It serves as a reminder to us how we have to protect the fragile freedom we have and to thank those who have sacrificed in order for us to have the life we do now.
Merve Kavakci is proud to say that America is the best place on earth for Muslims. As a student in Turkey she was not allowed to go to medical school because of her hijab. As an elected official she was harassed and thrown out of parliament on her first day for it. In a Muslim nation, Dr. Kavakci was unable to practice her freedom of religion.
She came with her family to the United States and a crucial part of her personal worship as a Muslim, and at the same time to become educated and successful. As she and her mother, a German literature professor, were forced out of their professions due to the headscarf, her father decided to accept an offer to be the imam of a mosque in my hometown of Dallas where she could wear the hijab. The family moved and they loved it. She even describes herself as “half Turkish and half Texan.”
She had just gotten back from a long month in the United Arab Emirates and then had driven from Tampa to Miami to come and meet us. Although she must have been jetlagged and preoccupied with her other responsibilities, she was bursting with energy.
For our trip to Miami I had especially wanted to meet with Latino Muslims and all roads pointed to Khadija Rivera. From her friends in Los Angeles to organizations like LADO and ALAM, Khadija was well-connected in the Latino Muslim networks and was a leader in the growing segment of Muslims in America. She represents the newest segment of Muslims in America and her forceful personality will surely add some spice to the American melting pot.
We had met with some Latino Muslims in Los Angeles with Khadija Galedary, another leader in the community and the next day with Cuban, Columbian, and Mexican Muslims. This group is unique and growing, with literature and organizations for their own group. Much like the African-American Muslims, Latino Muslims have a unique historical and theological approach to Islam. Their culture, language, and warm personalities will surely add to the world’s largest and most diverse religion.
We have been focusing a lot on this trip on the history of America. We went to Plymouth itself to understand the birth of America and its myths. Thanksgiving is of course the quintessential American holiday between the Pilgrims who came from England to build their own “city upon a hill” but barely could make it through the winter. The Wampanog tribe offered them food and together they had a feast sometime in November which we now celebrate as Thanksgiving.
We had a Thanksgiving unlike any other I have experienced in Hawaii. It reflects how far we have come—geographically and culturally—in our journey and as a nation. Hawaii is an interesting state, unlike any other, that prides itself on its diversity and openness. I had been here once previously for a conference on diversity due to the fact that whites are the minority here. The native Hawaiians and Asian-Americans make up the majority of the people. So what does a Thanksgiving in a context totally removed from Plymouth, white settlers, or sweet potatoes look like? Continue reading
The Statue of Liberty radiates warmth and compassion. All of our hopes and fears are placed in her and out of her comes our identity. She lovingly welcomes the poorest and soothes even our worst fears by knowing that she will be there to defend the heart of America. As I am traveling on this journey, I feel as though I am her daughter inheriting a piece of her legacy and discovering the spirit of America that she embodies.
Standing at the feet of the mother of America, I felt as though it was important to remember my inheritance from previous generations and remember her message for today. It is more important than ever to give comfort to those in need and to have strength through upholding the best values of America. If we all keep her in mind, remember her legacy, and bring a healing presence to the world, then I think that is the best tribute we can give to her.
Last Saturday Jonathan, Dr. Ahmed, Hailey, and our hosts Dr. Arain and Mr. Munir Akthar Chaudry visited Jesse Jackson’s Rainbow Push Coalition headquarters for an interview with him. We could hear the booming gospel music as we approached the beautiful church with white columns and gold embellishment. We entered the sanctuary which was filled with about a third to capacity. I noticed a loud, frustrated energy in the room and the lights, music, and beauty of the building made a half-hearted attempt to divert that attention into something positive.
In vibrant and impassioned booms, Jackson preached about the poor and invisible of America. He talked about how Jesus himself was born poor—“he was born in the slum.” He cited that those who were poor in spirit and those that were poor would inherit the kingdom of heaven. He also described the cycle of poverty and injustice in the black community. He asked women whose sons were in prison to stand up and out of a small audience a large number rose up in their seats.
Moved by this, our generous host Munir Chaudry offered to donate ten jobs from his cosmetics factory to the congregation. He described the work and pay, only barely above minimum wage, and then Jackson asked the audience to raise their hands if they were interested. Again, many hands went up in eager yet desperate response. I do not often visit places like this, but what struck me was the utter despair and hopelessness; there was no bright future although they put all of their effort into believing it, as if that would make it a reality.
Our interview with Mr. Jackson himself was enlightening on the African-American experience. His role models included his mother and father, and his good friend and mentor Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. When asked about the founding fathers, his favorite again was Dr. King. He said that only now was the country beginning to “mature.” “When I think about the values espoused by our country and the reality, I tremble for my country,” he quoted. Although Jefferson may have intended something else with this statement, Jackson interpreted it through the experience of the slaves and the theory of freedom belied by the reality of their bondage. He noted however that to have a black candidate for president of the United States meant that we had “matured as a nation.” America is a young country, and we are suffering the growing pains even today.
I have heard hundreds of talks by Akbar Ahmed often on the subject of interfaith dialogue. Often he will push the audience to not only speak to others of different faiths but to become friends with them. Friendship, he says, is the only hope. He is himself a paradigm of this model for peace, but friendship spreads and his talk on Thursday at the home of my best friend in St. Louis embodied that message. From one friend to another and then another, the friendship model can make real transformations in people’s lives as it has in mine with Dr. Ahmed, Laurens’s, and her mother Susan’s. I believe our travels will spread this message and create new friendships that have the real power to transform relations between faiths.
Lauren and I met at American University. We lived on the all-girls floor next door to each other and since have been great friends. Even as undergraduates we learned about each other’s interests and shared in each other’s differences. She took me to her shabbat dinners, the traditional Jewish dinners served on Fridays by the Jewish student group Hillel. When I went to the Muslim world in sophomore yea for the project “Journey into Islam,” Lauren was my biggest supporter. She first met Dr. Ahmed as she hugged me goodbye at the airport, tearfully asking him to bring me back safely. She then became involved more in our team doing our Jewish outreach and working on issues related to the Muslim world. Continue reading