January 17, 2011 Daisy Khan and Roshi Joan Halifax met for a Muslim-Buddhist dialog at the Unitarian Church in San Francisco. There were two occasions when they reached across a small table that stood between them to clasp hands. These are women who work to make the world a kinder more compassionate place.
Karim Baer, moderator, and Director of Public Programs for CIIS, stated that he hoped to have more than just interfaith conversation; that this discussion was meant to look at places where prejudice and fear evoke some hard questions, social issues swept under the carpet.
After the women spoke about themselves and their relationship to religious issues, Daisy mentioned that religious differences tearing people apart was nothing new. Joan replied: “Can we drop into values that tolerate and appreciate differences? The extremist world is trying to make us a monotheistic religion.” Daisy: “There’s a verse from the Qur’an that goes: If we (God) wanted, we would have made you all the same.” Diversity is part of the Divine plan. If I do not see myself in you the differences can be endless: black/white, male/female, immigrant/local, etc.”
As for her endless job speaking for the Muslim communities in America and addressing press propaganda referring to Muslims as “terrorists,” Daisy said: “If I don’t do anything about it who will?” She and her husband, Imam Faisal Rauf, have been doing their work in NYC for more than 25 years. They came up with the idea for the New York Intercultural Center known as The Cordoba Initiative. “When we started the CI,” she continued, “we wanted to prove pluralism is always in Islam. It goes into decline in nation-states, but at the time of the Golden Age in Cordoba, Spain, the cultures co-existed –– Christian, Jew, and Muslim. But the multi-faith center was distorted into a 13 story mosque at Ground Zero.”
During the last 6 months in the crisis (of CI) I was made to feel like an outsider. People told me, “Leave our country.” The Father of a firefighter who died in 9/11 said, “If you just move this site it will make me happy.” Daisy replied, “Will you allow me to accept this tragedy? You don’t know what it was like to be a Muslim after 9/11. For me it’s an enormous tragedy –– my country and religion attacked.” The man said, “I never imagined what you are saying.”
A woman named Alice, who lost a son in one of the flights of 9/11 stood up in the audience to ask Daisy, “Why are you doing this so close to the site?” It was a moving and tender moment, with Alice gazing at Daisy, saying she respected her but not the decision.
Daisy told us all that she and her husband, Imam Faisal, were listening to what people said so they can make a good decision. “What we, the American audience see is just part of an enormous picture involving Muslims world-wide, who are watching to see how this plays out.”
And Joan seemed to emanate a calm and kind attention, witnessing Daisy’s words. She said: “Buddhism has 84,000 Dharma doors. I think extremism is a Dharma door. I need to listen to individuals who polarize and bridge that gap inside my heart. The question for me is: How can I create a situation where extremism does not lead to destruction? “Fight” extremism may not be the right word. I don’t know how to do this. I think we need to look deeper into the peacemaking process.”
For Daisy Khan there is an unexpected gift in this work as a speaker. Mainstream media spent months last summer attacking her and her husband, never looking to them for an answer. Recently, as she travels and address audiences, the local news media are turning up to interview her and asking her to tell her side of Muslim issues. And they are listening.
Here is inspiration for this!