|2009ís biggest religious story by Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf|
December 28, 2009
For decades U.S. administrations have scrupulously separated church and state.
As a result, the power of religion as a partner in shaping domestic and foreign policy was lost. Yet religious organizations and the government can cooperate to achieve shared domestic and foreign policy goals without impinging on America’s fundamental belief that the state should not endorse any one religion.
That is the big religious story of 2009.
Obama has built on President George W. Bush’s faith-based objectives. He has gathered 25 religious leaders of all faiths in a revamped Advisory Council on Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships. He has gone one step further than Bush in expanding the diversity of his religious advisers. For the first time, Muslim-Americans are included.
The Council’s goal is to find common interests motivating religious organizations to partner with the federal government to solve problems. It is putting together recommendations it will present to the president in February to help fulfill Obama’s belief in the power of involving faith communities in helping shape both domestic and foreign policy.
When President Obama traveled first to Ankara and then to Cairo to speak directly to the Muslim world, he made a powerful statement that he understood the value of Islam and its potential to help build peace from Palestine to Pakistan. More than any other American president, he made clear that the United States saw Islam as a force that could overcome the destructive influence of extremism. He called on Muslims to join him in seeking Islam’s objectives of peace and justice.
Obama’s critics say his outreach achieved nothing; that peace is no closer in the Middle East, that Iran has rejected Obama’s overtures and that a surging Taliban in Afghanistan requires more U.S. troops. But that misses the point. The seeds have been sown for a new American engagement with Muslims. It will take time and effort to nurture those seeds.
One of the results of Obama’s outreach to Muslims has been the quick reaction of Muslim leaders to condemn incidents such as the shootings at Fort Hood, Tex., by a Muslim Army officer and young Muslim-Americans charged with traveling to Pakistan to join terrorist organizations.
Not only did Islam not condone these actions, Muslim leaders said, they violated basic Islamic principles. These leaders asserted that Muslim organizations worldwide have a responsibility to combat the power of extremist groups trying to recruit Muslims to their cause. They acknowledged that religious arguments and religious organizations must be used to stop extremists.
All of these developments recognize that sound politics and policy cannot ignore the ethics of religious values or the importance of these values to billions of people around the world. If these values can be crafted, engineered and deployed to solve problems, they will become powerful tools for good.
That is the most important religious story of the year because it does so much to lay the groundwork for major stories in 2010 and beyond.
Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf is chairman of the Cordoba Initiative, an independent, non-partisan and multi-national project that seeks to use religion to improve Muslim-West relations. (www.cordobainitiative.org) He is the author of “What’s Right with Islam is What’s Right With America.”