We spent two days in New York City and I think I can speak for the whole group and say that the best part about that part of the trip was our meeting with Daisy Khan. It was our first day in the City and we were all kind of burned out by the end of the day as we had been walking around, trying to see as many sites as we could. By the time we were to meet with Daisy, I think many of us were just hoping not to have to sit through a dry lecture.
Luckily, it was completely the opposite. As soon as Daisy entered the room, it was like she breathed energy into each of us. She talked to us about her work and her basic opinions about how Islam works in American countries, and the role it plays in the future development of the world. Her husband is Feisal Abdul Rauf, the Imam in NYC who proposed to build a mosque a couple blocks away from the World Trade Center. This proposal was met with strong resistance from the public, as many felt it would be inappropriate to have a Muslim place of worship so close to Ground Zero. Daisy and her husband along with other advocates, however, do not see the issue in this way. Instead, they see it as an issue of religious freedom, which means freedom to practice whatever religion one chooses along with complete freedom to practice that religion in any location regardless of previous events. Moreover, they see the mosque as an opportunity to show people that those responsible for the 9/11 events were radicals and not a correct representation of the Islamic world at large.
Additionally, Daisy told us the young Muslim population is responsible for standing up to the Islamic radicals, telling them that their violent agendas are immoral and a direct violation of the Quran. In this way, her message was more oriented to the Indonesian students as she urged them to stand for change in their own country and to encourage people to expand their views and experiences. She reminded them that standing for change is not a simple thing to do but for the Islamic world, progressive thought is imperative for their future. Daisy Khan really just summed up all the themes that we had been learning about and brought new ideas to the surface for us to think about and reflect on.
Towards the end of our conversation with her, she was asked what she thought about the future of Islam in both America and the Arab-States in the Middle East. She replied that she thought that the Islam that develops in the United States will go to influence the type of Islam that develops on a international scale. Islam in the United States enjoys more freedom than anywhere else in the world and as such, change and progress comes more easily.
Daisy told us a story of Muslim woman who was very devoted to her religion, and yet as a strong-independent woman she had some problems with the widely accepted translation of the Quran where it says that the man has the right to beat his wife. This woman felt that the Allah she believed in would not stand such behavior and so she set out to make sense of the translation. She began to translate the entire Quran herself and consulted with many other translators of the sacred text. She found that the word that many scholars had translated as “beat” was used in several other places in the Quran, only in the other places it did not mean “beat.” Instead, the word was translated as “go away from.” From this, she came to the conclusion that the translation of “beat” was indeed wrong, as it was inconsistent from the rest of the translation. Her new translation showed that the man ought to leave his wife, or go away from her, when she angered him, not to beat her. When she told others of her findings, they became convinced as she provided sound reasoning. Through her work, online translations have been changed to reflect this new understanding of the text, and that change has made its way into the printed Qurans as well. This change, all centered around a single word, is changing the face of Islam for both Muslims and non-Muslims.
I thought that this was a profound example of standing up for change in a situation where many may not want to listen to that change. Often times in the United States, it seems that religion and change are deeply opposed to each other. Religion is seen as steeped in tradition and resistant to progress. Yet, here is an example where those perceptions simply are not true and perhaps religion may prove to be the biggest agent for change. For right now, I think it’s time that we all think of ways that we can positively impact our world in our path towards progress and social justice.