By Wan Hussin Zoohri, September 12, 2011
With the aftermath of the 9/11 tragedy, the United States has been concerned about its image and its relations with the Muslim world.
It is equally anxious over the negative perception Muslims around the world have about the situation of Muslims there. I was in a programme that facilitated meetings with Muslim-based non-governmental organisations in Washington, New York and Chicago.
One common thread in our discussions was the sense of ease and freedom Muslim-Americans have in observing and practising Islam. They go about their lives like any American. They are free to wear Muslim or non-Muslim attire. Religion is not a factor in the US social and political environment.
A meeting I had, with a woman wearing the tudung who greeted me at the Pentagon, attested to this – an unexpected scene that changed my perception of Muslims in the US.
If a Muslim-American is discriminated against because of religion, the Council on American-Islamic Relations would take the case to the authorities. For instance, in its six years, CAIR-Chicago resolved 1,875 cases.
These organisations have outreach programmes to Muslim-Americans and with Christian and Evangelical ones, providing opportunities to discredit Islamophobia and embrace America’s cultural dynamics.
For example, we were informed that through its interfaith dialogue, Cordoba Initiative is cooperating with some Evangelical groups for its proposed Islamic Centre near Ground Zero. My observations on religious freedom and active interfaith initiatives have changed my perception of Islamophobia as portrayed by Western media.
In Singapore, more Singaporeans should be involved in interfaith initiatives. The Inter-Religious Organisation has done well in promoting friendship and exchange between leaders of different faiths. We also have the Inter-Racial and Religious Confidence Circles at the grassroots level.
Visiting places of worship and having dialogues and workshops are good ways to start, but more should be done at the community and individual levels. NGOs, religious or otherwise, should promote such initiatives; there is much to be gained.
Suspicion, misunderstanding, anxiety and fear of other religions can be gradually smoothened and corrected if people meet and talk to each other, especially our young. As future leaders, their religious horizon should be widened and strengthened.
The writer is president of the Prophet Muhammad’s Birthday Memorial Scholarship Fund Board.