ENGAGING THE MUSLIM COMMUNITY: WHO CAIR'S?
About a month ago, I was invited to speak at the first annual dinner of the Pennsylvania chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), evidently because I had taken part in a pray-in to protest against the exclusion of a group of imams from flying - and maybe because I also knew and was known by Iftekhar Hussain, head of the Pennsylvania chapter.
At that point the only CAIR folks I knew were Iftekhar and Ahmed Bedir, who leads a Florida chapter of CAIR. I knew him through the Tent of Abraham, Hagar, and Sarah, the group of Jews, Christians and Muslims, which has been meeting for almost four years and has initiated a series of multireligious projects.
They include the "Sacred Season of Shared Sacred Seasons," which this fall continues when Ramadan, the High Holy Days, Worldwide Communion Sunday, and the Feast of St. Frances are intertwined) and a book of which I'm co-author with Sister Joan Chittister and Murshid Saadi Shakur Chisti, The Tent of Abraham: Stories of Hope and Peace for Jews, Christians and Muslims.
I respect both Iftekhar and Ahmed deeply, and know them for compassionate, intelligent, and peaceful people, bringing a wise and compassionate understanding of Islam to work for justice and peace in America. So I readily agreed.
Since I knew little about National CAIR, I did some reading - especially of a major article in the New York Times on ways they were being harassed, often by right-wing organizations in the Jewish community who claimed they were associated with terrorists. But the article made clear that CAIR works with the Federal government, is respected by Federal law-enforcement agencies, and speaks out strongly for civil liberties and human rights. Not a terrorist profile.
My reading of the Times article and my browsing on the CAIR Website strongly indicated that attacks on CAIR have little or no substance and are based on the kind of innuendo and strings of X to Y to Z to A that made infamous the names of Joe McCarthy and Roy Cohn.
Just as I was being invited to speak, so was Congressman (and former Admiral) Joe Sestak, newly elected to Congress from a suburban Philadelphia district on a strong antiwar platform. He accepted.
And then some Jews in his congressional district complained. They urged him to renege.