Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, the head of the Cordoba Initiative, should be praised for creating bridges between moderate Muslims and people of good will, according to Tenafly resident Alan Silberstein.
The pair’s relationship goes back decades to their days as engineering students at Columbia University in 1967. Rauf’s father was an Egyptian diplomat and the family had recently relocated from Kuwait. When the Six Day War broke out, the two students were working side by side at summer jobs in the religion department. They often ate lunch together and, rather than drive them apart, the war sparked discussion and mutual respect.
“He was really genuinely curious about my Zionism, and what it means for an American Jew to be so concerned for Israel,” Silberstein said.
The pair stayed in touch through the years as Rauf switched from engineering to religious leadership. Recent attacks on Rauf’s character – questioning his positions on terrorism and radical Islam – are unacceptable, Silberstein said.
|Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf Cordobainitiative.org|
“If you read his books, you’ll see that he takes pains to demonstrate that Islamic values are compatible with American ideals and that many practices taken in the name of Islam are customs and not religious requirements,” Silberstein said.
Silberstein recalled a conversation last year with Rauf, during which the imam “took pains to explain the differences between Muslim religion and its interpretations.”
“Because some countries use Sharia law as justification for cruel and extreme practices doesn’t mean they’re interpreting the law correctly,” he said.
Silberstein praised Rauf for his work in fostering understanding between Muslims and Jews. The imam has been to Israel and works closely with rabbis and priests, Silberstein said. “To question his character is just inappropriate.”
“When I see religious leaders, particularly those I know directly or indirectly, jumping to his defense as a trusted peer, I’m not surprised. When some question the location [of the Islamic center], I understand that – I have had my own concerns. When I see people question whether he’s said enough or done enough to jump to Israel’s support or repudiate those who think he may be anti-Semitic, I’m not sure what more they’re looking for.”
If the mosque’s opponents succeed in forcing a change in location, it will not be good for the Jews, Silberstein said.
“Jews have to stand up for the rights of other minorities; that’s what we stand for; that’s who we are,” he said.
Silberstein asked the imam to speak to The Jewish Standard, but was told he is not speaking to the media.