This week in the news: changes to the leadership of the controversial Park51 project in lower Manhattan, the uproar over remarks made by new Alabama Governor Robert Bentley and the exclusion of kirpan-wearing Sikhs from a discussion on multiculturalism at Quebec's National Assembly:
Park51's developer Sharif el-Gamal announced that Imam Feisal Rauf would be stepped down as the head of the project, which will now be helmed by Imam Abdallah Adhami, who leads another downtown Manhattan mosque.
“While Imam Feisal’s vision has a global scope and his ideals for the Cordoba movement are truly exceptional, our community in Lower Manhattan is local,” said Mr. Gamal, referring to the imam’s longstanding work in promoting interfaith understanding. “Our focus is and must remain the residents of Lower Manhattan and the Muslim American community in the greater New York area.” (The New York Times – registration required)
It's unknown whether the change in leadership will reduce support for the project, as Imam Feisal and his wife Daisy Khan known as interfaith leaders who have spent much of their lives advocating for interreligious understanding (although the Imam attracted more than his share of critics during the height of the Park51 debate).
Imam Feisal began a speaking tour of America last week urging Muslims to play an active role in shaping discourse in America. He began his tour in Detroit; the Detroit area is home to the largest Muslim community in the United States.
"Our role now is to depoliticize our faith," he said, adding that Islam must not be used as a wedge between Democrats and Republicans or political ideals anywhere in the world.
"What we do here in America, brothers and sisters, is watched by the world," Rauf said. "We have to find ways to make sure who we are and what we represent becomes a recipe for healing." (The Canadian Press)
“You're not my brother.”
On the day of his swearing-in, new Alabama Governor Robert Bentley ran afoul of religious an atheist groups when he declared, speaking at the Dexter Avenue King Memorial Baptist Church in Montgomery, where Dr. Martin Luther King once spoke:
"Now I will have to say that, if we don't have the same daddy, we're not brothers and sisters…So anybody here today who has not accepted Jesus Christ as their savior, I'm telling you, you're not my brother and you're not my sister, and I want to be your brother." (Los Angeles Times)
Groups as varied as American Atheists and the Anti-Defamation League spoke out against the Governor's remarks.
"It is stunning to me that he'd make those remarks. It's distressing because of the suggestion that he feels that people who aren't Christian are not entitled to love and respect," said Bill Nigut, the ADL's regional director. "On the day that he is sworn in as governor, he's sending a statement to the public saying if you're not Christian you can't be with me. From our point of view that is proselytizing for Christianity and coming very close to a violation of the First Amendment." (ABC News)
Two days after making the remarks, Governor Bentley issued an official apology: "If anyone from other religions felt disenfranchised by the language, I want to say I am sorry. I am sorry if I offended anyone in any way," he told reporters Wednesday after meeting with leaders of other faiths in his new office.” (The Huffington Post) The apology fell short for the ADL; said Nigut, “An apology is only meaningful if it is consistent with a sincere understanding of what a person has done wrong. If Gov. Bentley were to say: ‘I realize I was wrong that we are all brothers and sister, and not single out only the ones who believe in Jesus Christ.'” (Fox News)
Two weeks ago, we reported on a Michigan school district that banned a 4th grader from wearing a kirpan, the small ceremonial dagger worn by baptized Sikhs. This week, kirpan bans were in the news again, this time in the Quebec National Assembly.
“The four Sikhs had been invited to appear before a legislative committee debating a bill that deals with the reasonable accommodation of religious minorities. But the group never got through the metal detectors at the entrance of the National Assembly building as security agents ruled the kirpans, or ceremonial daggers, they carried were a potential weapon.”
“It’s a bit ironic. We were here to speak on the issue of accommodation and we weren’t accommodated,” said the group’s legal counsel, Balpreet Singh.” (The Globe and Mail)
Said Louise Beaudoin, chief provincial spokesperson for the bill being debated (known as the niqab bill, which would require anyone dispensing or receiving government-paid services to show their faces), “Religious freedom exists but there are other values. Multiculturalism may be a Canadian value. But it is not a Quebec one.” (Canada.com)