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Immigration, Cultural Exchange, and Arab-American Relations: Where do we go from here? -Teacher Resource Page

With Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf

0:00 Introduction of classes… 4:58 Introduction by Imam Rauf about his first tastes of America… 7:00 America as an immigrant society… 9:00 Immigration to the United States and cultural exchange… 10:30 Immigrants and how they improve relations with the countries they come from… 11:00 Classroom discussion about immigration… 11:50 Brief history, treatment, and cultural lessons of Native Americans… 14:00 Perspectives from Native students in Deer Lodge, response about Native culture… 18:35 Question about the difference between perceptions of the Middle East as a monolithic figure and the reality of an ethnically and culturally diverse region… 22:00 The evolution and splits in Christianity…24:00 Christianity in the Middle East… 26:00 Authoritarian regimes co-opting religions to maintain power… 27:00 Question about “World Trade Center Mosque…” 29:30 Question about how the US can improve its foreign policy… 34:00 “Do you believe there will be a time in the world where people won’t be persecuted for their religions?”… 36:40 “Is the problem religion or politics?”… 41:55 Question about Israel and Palestine… 44:00 Question about Muslims integrating into communities in America.

America’s Culture of Immigrants

The United States of America is a relatively young culture compared to societies like Egypt, which has maintained its cultural identity in various forms for thousand of years.  Imam Rauf uses this contrast to draw comparisons about the two cultures, and discuss how the fact that American society is relatively young allows it to better integrate people from other cultures into our society.  It is because of this general openness to immigration that, from pizza to curry, the American palate is accustomed to food inspired by cultures around the world.  America’s cultural youth allows it to integrate the cultures of other countries, and according to Imam Rauf, “This story of America welcoming people from all of the world, embracing them, and making them a part of its culture is something that is very special about America, is very unique about America, and this is what enables America to relate to the rest of the world.”

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Immigrants Change the World:
A look at a handful of the cultural, scientific, and political icons who have immigrated to United States gives a small taste of how different our country would be if it had been less welcoming to immigrants throughout its history. What would the world be like if Albert Einstein had been sent back to Europe when he tried to escape Nazi Persecution? Would our musical tradition be as rich is Carlos Santana and Bob Marley had never found a home on our shores? Click here for a list of famous immigrants from Biography.com

Discussion Questions

What are the benefits of open immigration policies? What are the drawbacks?

Make a list of your favorite foods. Where does the cultural inspiration for these dishes come from? Do some research, and try to find some meals that are distinctly American.

What are some other areas the cultural link that immigration creates between the United States and other countries has impacted American culture?

Additional Resources

“The Gifts of Immigration” (Harvard Gazette)

“American Culture: Traditions and Customs of the United States” (Live Science)

“Trends in Migration to the US” (Population Reference Bureau)

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Native American Culture

It often goes unacknowledged that Native Americans had rich cultural traditions on this continent long before it was colonized by the British or became the United States of America. As we begin to acknowledge the past injustices towards indigenous people, Imam Rauf contends we should embrace many aspects of Native American culture. “We have a lot to learn from the Native Americans… The highest aspects of their culture is something which really ought to be preserved, ought to be taught, ought to be advanced. Because they are no doubt a part of our heritage, and they are much needed in society today. The Native Americans respected the environment they respected the balance of nature, they respected the notion that all beings… have rights.”

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Unacknowledged Diversity:
One of the challenges with trying to preserve Native American cultures and languages is the staggering amount of diversity between native tribes. The cultures and traditions of each tribe are highly dependent on geography, climate, and the resources available to them as their societies developed and changed. This makes it difficult to preserve Native American “culture,” because there is no single indigenous culture.
Click here for a lesson plan about indigenous diversity from the National Endowment for the Humanities

Discussion Questions:

What lessons should modern Americans of all backgrounds learn from Native American tribes?

What, if anything, can the United States do to atone for past treatment of Native Americans?

How are indigenous groups similar to other minority groups in the United States? How are they different? What unique challenges do Native Americans face as they try to keep their cultures alive?

Additional Resources

“Revitalizing Native Cultures” (Montana PBS)

“Native American Cultures” (Native Languages of the Americas)

“Why it’s hard for Successful Native American Restaurants to Expand” (The Atlantic)

“Native American Festival keeps Traditions, Culture Alive” (The Reading Eagle)

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The Diversity of Islam and the Middle East

What we know as the Middle East is a massive geographic space with dozens of unique and sometimes conflicting cultures, that should not be reduced to stereotypes or viewed as a monolithic society. None-the-less, western media outlets and discussion tend to characterize the Middle East as a largely homogeneous region. This makes informed conversation about the problems facing the region impossible, and oversimplifies the incredibly complicated reality that underlies the many conflicts and alliances that exist within the area. According to Imam Rauf, “The Middle East is, although it is a region of the world, it really encompasses many counties with different cultures. So if you’re talking about Egypt, Egypt has its own history, it’s own culture… Until about a century ago these countries… by and large were very multicultural. They had people of different faith traditions. We’ve had Christians from the beginning of Christianity, in almost all those countries. We’ve had Jews from the very earliest times of Judaism. Because the Middle East… is the cradle and the birthplace of all of these religions.”

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Is Islam Oppressive?
There is much discussion in the Western world about Islam’s supposed oppression of women, and religious and ethnic minorities; but do these assertions hold up when the enormous diversity in the Muslim world is taken to account? Islam is practiced by 1.5 billion people world-wide, and is the dominant religion in some progressive countries. Notably, several Muslim-majority countries, including Indonesia, Turkey, and Pakistan elected women as their heads of state long before many Western countries.

Discussion Questions

Why do you think conversations about the Middle East typically don’t acknowledge the enormous diversity in the region?

Islam is sometimes characterized as an “oppressive” religion. Do you agree or disagree with this assessment and why? How does it differ from Christianity or Judaism?

Additional Resources

The World’s Muslims: Unity and Diversity” (Pew Research Center)

“The Diversity of Islam” (New York Times Opinion)

“Reform Muslims Stand up to Take on the Ideology of Islamism” (The Daily Beast)

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Park51, or “The Ground Zero Mosque”

In August of 2010, the blogosphere exploded with the news that Park51, a Muslim community center that was quickly labeled “the ground zero mosque,” would be built blocks away from the World Trade Center. This elicited fierce reactions from some who claimed that building the structure was unconscionable and an insult to those lost on 9/11, and others who saw the right of Muslims to build the structure and practice their faith as the epitome of the religious freedom we enjoy in America. Imam Rauf is a member of the community center which caused the outcry, and sees the decision to open a Islamic community center four blocks from ground zero as a decision necessitated by the geographical constraints of Manhattan.

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What was the Project?
“The plans for the centre were ambitious. At a cost of $100m-$150m, its 13 floors were intended to house a cultural centre, a 500-seat performing arts centre, culinary school, exhibition space, swimming pool, gym, basketball court, restaurant, library and art studios. The top two floors would house a domed space for prayers. ‘We insist on calling it a prayer space and not a mosque, because you can use a prayer space for activities apart from prayer. You can’t stop anyone who is a Muslim despite his religious ideology from entering the mosque and staying there,’ said Imam Rauf’s wife and partner, Daisy Khan… ‘With a prayer space, we can control who gets to use it.'” –Via FT Magazine

Discussion Questions

What inferences can you draw from the controversy surrounding the Park51 community center regarding American’s attitudes towards Islam and religious freedom?

The community center has been referred to as an Islamic version of the YMCA. Do you think this description is accurate? Why or why not? Can you propose a better description?

Could cultural centers like Park51 ever be used to educate and inform non Muslims about the Islamic faith? Why or why not?

Additional Resources

“Why Park51 is much more than ‘the Mosque at Ground Zero'” (The Guardian)

“Developer ditches plan for ‘Ground Zero mosque'” (New York Post)

“‘Ground Zero Mosque’ Park51 Not a Triumph of Radical Islam” (TIME)

“What Obama got wrong about the Mosque” (The Daily Beast)
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Distinguished Speaker – Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf

Distinguished Speakers Program 

“The Evolving American Muslim Identity”

A Community Discussion with Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf

Wednesday, October 21st – 7:30 pm 

Cost: $10 for Non-Members/ Free for Members & Students

DoubleTree Hotel Ballroom

Imam Rauf - photo by Enid Bloch (3)Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf is the Chairman of The Cordoba Initiative, a multi-faith, international organization dedicated to improving Muslim relations with the West. He served as Imam of Masjid al-Farah, a mosque in New York City, from 1983 to 2009. His three books on Islam and its place in contemporary Western society include Moving the Mountain. Named one of Time magazine’s 100 most influential people in the world in 2011, Imam Feisal sits on the Board of Trustees of the Islamic Center of New York, advises the Interfaith Center of New York, and belongs to the World Economic Forum Council of 100 Leaders (Islamic-West dialogue). A leading voice of moderation, Imam Feisal has participated regularly in the Council on Foreign Relations and appeared at the World Economic Forum (Davos). Major media have quoted him extensively, BBC, CNN, Frontline Fox News, The New York Times, The Washington Post, and many more. 

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