An Islam Dialogue

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Johnespositojpg_1Professor of International Affairs and Islamic Studies at Georgetown University John Esposito comes onto the PopTech stage to lead a panel and dialogue about Islam. He is also the director of Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal center for Muslim-Christian understanding at Georgetown.

He gives us a taste of just how much Islam has grown by giving us some stats to think about……there are 2.3 billion Christians, 12-18 million Jews and while there are 56 countries where Muslims are a minority, it is now the second or third largest religion in the world.

Jokes Esposito, "when I announced I was going to study Islam in the late sixties and early seventies, people told me I’d never get a job. And I didn’t. Then along came the Iranian revolution and I was suddenly employable and people were interested in what I had to say."

He continues, "for many of us in this room, certainly most in my generation, christianity was identified with Europe, Islam was invisible on our cognative maps. Schools barely covered Islam and the media didn’t cover it at all. How many of us grew up seeing Islam centers? We didn’t and still don’t have a context in which to understand Islam."

When you ask Americans what they admire, it tends to be our freedoms and our technologies. Not religion.

Daoud Kuttab, a pioneer in Arabic Internet Radio, joins the conversation. He founded, which means truthful. 


Says Kuttab, "technology has done a lot to improve freedom of expression in the Arab world. Before, you could pretty much say anything about any other Arab country freely — any other country except for your own. You had this situation where print and broadcast media was open except for open coverage of what is happening in your own country. The custom agents are the real censors."


We learn about some of his projects, as well as others he encourages us to read such as:, Khaleein, Misrdigital, and Mahmood.

Sarah Joseph then enters the dialogue. As an editor of Emel magazine, a Muslim lifestyle magazine and a regular commentator on British Muslims, she has spent the past ten years lecturing on Islam both within the UK and internationally.

Says Sarah, "say what you’re for and what you’re about. We started voicing our views about anti-terrorism and anti-violence, but we realized that we were reacting rather than proactively stating what we were about and what we wanted."
She showed us snapshots from her magazine, that included fashion, i.e., ethical elegance as well as features on violence, health, and other issues that impact Muslim society. "Fear is paralyzing the humanness that we all have. All of geopolitical issues are what is dominating everythiing. On the ground are people issues, issues we all face. We need to work on those things to eradicate the fear that both sides are using."
Mustafa Ceric, who is considered one of the most liberal Grand Muftis in the world is last to the stage. He is a survivor of genocide. He reminds us of the differences between genocide in peace time versus war time. In war time, you know its coming whereas during peace time, you are not expecting it, i.e., 9/11. Ceric asks us to work towards peace, not winning the war. He says, "you may win the war but it doesn’t mean you’ll win peace. All of our children need peace."

John Esposito asks the panel, "what attracts people to Islam?"  Sarah Joseph responds first, "I started to study Islam because of the simplicity of Islam, the oneness with God and the oneness with the Koran." Says Ceric, "we have the soul, we are the spirit, but we are not predictable. There is a difference between faith, religion and morality. You can be religious but not moral. I want to be more than just religious – its about the whole."

There are so many complex issues around Islam. The confusion and anger within both Christians and Muslims. How do we peacefully bridge the two? When things are this complex, people are searching for simple answers and they’re not there. Not in general. Not now.

People were begging for more answers after this panel. "Can’t we learn why more is not being done to eradicate suicide bombers?  What about Israel? What are we doing as Americans to make the issue better or worse? Eliminating severe violence alone isn’t going to solve this problem. And so on.

These complex issues remain and while they stay in this mysterious place, those questions won’t be resolved, or they’ll be avoided. It’s as if we’re afraid to dig deeper. I don’t mean just Americans. I mean all of us. While conversations are now happening in small American towns, bloggers are speaking out and authors are educating us, are we moving forward towards a better understanding and deeper level of empathy, or are we still lingering at the surface?


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