Category Archives: 12. New York City

Moving towards progress

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.



NYC day 2

After arriving back at Lehigh after a very long day in the Big Apple I packed up all of my things and got ready for our second and final day in New York before heading to our Nation’s capital…Washington D.C.

Our first stop of the day was to have a meeting with people from the Institute of International Education (IIE).  The purpose of the meeting was to speak with them about the program also to get more information about the other opportunities out there to work/study/live in Indonesia and vice versa in the future.  I was really pumped about this meeting because after spending two weeks in Indonesia I knew 100% that I was to go back in the future.  I sure will have my work cut out for me applying to all these different programs for my life post-graduation.  I love the ETA Fulbright program, it literally sounds like everything I could ever want to do after I finish college.  Everything I read about the program just makes it sound better and better and makes me want it more and more.  Booo I wish that I could magically flash forward my life and be teaching English somewhere in Indonesia.  Perhaps in addition to finishing the last of my concentration requirements I should start building a time machine.

Anyway, I digress…. so after IIE we went to the United Nations for a tour.  It was pretty cool to see the UN and to gain a better understanding of what all the UN does.  I just loved the idea of all these different people from counties all over the world working together under this one big building… I’m all for unity.

Once we finished our tour we went to the Museum of Tolerance.  The exhibits at the museum were very difficult to watch at times because they dealt with some very serious and very real issues.  We did this little interactive activity about tolerance and freedom of speech that was kind of useful but also mildly goofy as we were presented with a video showing all of these poorly acted scenarios.  But I could see why it was an important activity nonetheless.  After the museum we went to the Indonesian Embassy to meet with a ambassador’s representative.  The meeting was short but informative and we didn’t really have time for questions because we had to catch our train to D.C in two hours.

I <3 New York

Okay now where  did I leave off…

We left Bethlehem early in the morning (5am) to travel to one of the greatest and most well-known cities in the United States and in the world, New York.  It was still dark outside as we waited in the cool morning air for our bus to arrive.  When the bus came, I melted into my seat and drifted off into an hour-long nap,  I awoke to see stretches of highway and trees before me and the faint beginnings of a sunrise in the distance.  About a half hour later I could see the iconic New York City skyline and highway lanes swarming with traffic.  Approaching the city felt different to me this time.  I had never traveled to New York in a large group before and I began to worry about the logistics of our tightly planned itinerary.  I looked around the bus for the Indonesian students who were just waking up, their tired eyes brightening as they looked at the foreign city with excitement.

I’ve been to New York several times throughout my life and have enjoyed all of my experiences there.  Even though it was early morning the streets were bustling with people. I felt a jolt to my senses as I was suddenly hit with the sensation of being thrown into a crowded school of fish making their way up-stream at near lightening speeds.  When ever I travel to a big city I always have to take a minute to adjust my state of mind.  I must force myself to make the shift from the slow-paced, kindly, midwestern mentality to the aggressive, hyper-vigilant attitude that one needs to get from point A to point B in a city like New York.

The first place that we went to visit in New York was Wall Street and I finally got my picture with that big Wall Street bull (It probably has a name or something but I don’t know it).  We took some time to go into the breathtakingly beautiful Trinity church.  As we stopped to marvel at it from across the street, Fulvia (a life long New Yorker) shared with us her account of this area of New York and of the church following 9/11.  She told us about how there used to be hundreds of pictures and names of loved ones lost in the Twin Towers on the fences surrounding the church.  I could vaguely remember seeing news reports from the very area that we were standing and I couldn’t fathom how hard it must have been to be living in the city during such a difficult time.  It was a powerful moment for all of us to reflect 10 years later on such a tragic event.

So after visiting Trinity Church, we grabbed some New York street food and then headed to the New York harbor for a tour of the Statue of Liberty.  Despite having been to New York several times, I had never seen the Statue of Liberty up close.  It was pretty cool to finally see such a historic and cultural figure but it’s quite a shame that you can’t go up to her crown anymore due to security reasons.  And speaking of security, man was it tight (as it should be).  But I have to admit that standing around in 90 degree heat surrounded by a snaking line of eager tourist started to take its tole on me and after we got off the ferry I was relieved to be leaving the island.  After our visit to the Statue of Liberty, we went to Central Park to have lunch and to discuss this portion of the program.  The discussion was led by Lehigh prof Dr. Lloyd Stephen.

The discussion became really interesting when some of the Indonesian students brought their questions about how they could improve the Indonesian understanding and view of America at the grassroots level.  I could detect the frustration in their voices as they tried to explain to us the difficulty they were having with thinking about strategies that would effectively reach the people.  By the end of our lunch all of us had questions floating around in our minds but none of us really knew what the best answer(s) would be.

After lunch we went to meet with Daisy Khan, the executive director for the American Society for Muslim Advancement.  She shared with us stories about her own journey as a Muslim in American society and the identity issues that she faced throughout her life.  She explained to us how ASMA works to promote support within and outside of the American Muslim community to improve relations between different groups of people.  As she spoke with us I almost became tearful as I felt so inspired by everything she said to us.  She spoke to us about the importance of getting to know people and accept them on a human level in order to get past some of the stigmas and negative stereotypes people with conflicting cultures or viewpoints may have.

The Indonesian students asked her about how they could chance negative Muslim ideologies about Americans in Indonesia.   She explained to them that the best way to reach people would be to use the basic principles of the Quran as a means of exposing the importance of understanding one another and respecting one another.  She told us that much of the recruiting for extremist organisations starts at the grassroots level in places that are the most vulnerable or unstable.  However, by providing a counter movement that, through education, could promote understanding and peace you could stop people from getting pulled into such groups.  By the end of our meeting with her we were all feeling completely inspired.  As we walked to the subway getting ready to make our way back to Bethlehem we were all buzzing with excitement over the multiple epiphanies we had while speaking with such an influential person as Mrs. Daisy Khan.