A historic convention recently took place involving American Muslims and All Saints Church in rosy Pasadena, Calif., the first national Muslim convention at a church. We talked about how to collectively work for a cultural climate change that ends the paradigm of polarization.
America's religious diversity must be transformed into kinetic energy for positive work -- a change from the history of houses of worship being the most segregated places in America, and from religions at odds with one another to inter-religious cooperation.
Here are the challenges for Muslims: We are told that we are silent to extremism. When we speak out and establish a presence on any public stage, however, we are tarred with the typical attack that we have "ties to extremism." Building a community center in lower Manhattan gets us the "Ground Zero Mosque" crisis. Working in the State Department and the White House for American interests gets us accusations of the "Muslim Brotherhood infiltration and takeover" of America.
Yet, within the American Muslim community there are Nobel laureates and academicians and public servants and professionals and scientists who can build a bridge to the Muslim world for mutual understanding between the U.S. and Muslim-majority countries.
This bridge will not necessarily be destroyed by anti-Muslim bigots -- they have been around for a while and will continue to be around. It is destroyed by the belief that having Muslims work in the public affairs arena is meaningless. Muslims are rendered irrelevant, and so no one should bother to engage them other than by offering a few ceremonial treats during Ramadan.
It is time to shift our focus from the lens of extremism to the lens of the mainstream.
For Christians, we must overcome our fears and prejudices of Muslims. If all we can reference is the violence in the Middle East when we discuss Muslim-Christian relations (or any relations between Muslims and non-Muslims), then we will never progress from the misery we see all too often in news reports. We destroy our own hopes for any solution and instead devolve into bloody rivalries and geo-political exploitations of the Middle East.
What we are trying to do is establish a new inter-religious framework for understanding. We are part of the solution to the problem of our respective communities' fear of one another. And by joining together in the quest for dealing with religious extremism, by addressing what the future will bring for Christians and Muslims alike, we -- along with our Jewish allies -- can help build a peacemaking constituency for our president.
At this point, President Obama has no peacemaking constituency. He deals with diplomats who have no answers. He deals with staff that has only political calculations. And he deals with special interest groups who have only financial and political gains to consider. Yet we are part of his solution, even if he is not aware of it.
For religious communities in America, our message is simple: To be religious in the 21st century means you have to be inter-religious. Our theological purity to the essence of our respective revelations can only be preserved by pursuing the principles of our faiths: mercy, compassion and justice, not just within our own communities, but more importantly in our relations towards the other.