Through the lens of history, the quest of Muslims in the United States to develop an American identity looks familiar, an Islamic cleric and author said Friday night at the University of Toledo.
Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, who was once associated with the so-called "Ground Zero Mosque" in New York City, spoke Friday night at the University of Toledo. His message involved creating a Muslim identity in America.
"We're dealing with the same issues that the Catholics and the Jews experienced 70 years ago, 100 years ago," Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf said during a talk about creating a Muslim identity in America.
That history has been common to immigrant religious groups in American society, and an American identity tends to develop with each succeeding generation, he said.
But just as American Roman Catholic bishops helped forge an American identity among the faithful -- not that the creed was any different -- so too American Muslims need to develop an Islam that is culturally American.
"We should create American expressions so our religion looks American," he said.
It would be Islam "with American DNA, but this has to be done with care," he added, "as delicate and important as surgery on a human body."
Islam in Egypt or Pakistan bears the mark of those places, he said. Likewise in Christianity, there's the Coptic Church in Egypt, but also Russian Orthodox and Syrian Orthodox churches.
"No American thinks that Christianity is a Palestinian religion," Imam Rauf said. "This is the natural story of all religions and cultures."
During his talk -- much of which was devoted to answering questions from the audience of about 80 -- Imam Rauf spoke of his own search for identity. He was born in Kuwait, lived in Egypt and later England, and moved to the United States at age 17.
The talk by ImamRauf, a longtime imam in lower Manhattan, was presented by United Muslim Association of Toledo.
Spectators listen as Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf speaks Friday night at the University of Toledo.
He also spoke in response to questions of the controversy more than two years ago over his plan to build an Islamic center and mosque near Ground Zero. Some opponents said the plan was offensive to families of Sept. 11 victims.
By the opening in September, 2011, Park51, as the center is known, Imam Rauf and his wife, Daisy Khan, were no longer involved in the project.
Because of his early role -- and the ensuing controversy -- the Religion Newswriters Association named Imam. Rauf 2010 Religion Newsmaker of the Year. And because the proposal to build the Islamic center led to a national debate on religious freedom, the religion newswriters named it the No. 1 religion story of 2010.
Mr. Rauf said that he was surprised by the extent to which the plan for an Islamic center was used as a wedge issue in 2010's midterm elections. The New York Times had a large article about the project in December, 2009. The controversy did not erupt until May, 2010, which, he said, made clear to him that it was used to bash Democrats and President Obama, "based upon the projected perception of him as a closet Muslim," Imam Rauf said.
Democrats lost control of the U.S. House of Representatives in the election.
He said a family member of a Sept. 11 victim urged him to speak to the American public about himself, his family -- and as a result about his identity, Muslim and otherwise.
He took that to heart and wrote a book, Moving the Mountain.
An editor advised him that the public knew him from cable news appearances, but didn't know him as a person.
The editor said, " 'You have to write it so 'Joe the Plumber' gets it,' " Imam Rauf recalled. An audience member said that Joe the Plumber -- Samuel Wurzelbacher, now a Republican candidate for Congress in the 9th District -- lives in the Toledo area.
Imam Rauf said, "He lives everywhere."
He said "the defining moment" for American Muslims was the statement by President Obama in his 2011 State of the Union address that American Muslims are part of the American family.
"The negativity [has] bottomed out, and from now on it will go up. That is my conviction," Mr. Rauf said.
BY MARK ZABORNEY