I got an e-mail Wednesday morning from a Muslim friend who was distraught to discover that every member of Oklahoma’s congressional delegation declined to accept his invitation to a dinner and dialogue with moderate Muslims.
My friend, Vahap Uysal, a professor at the University of Oklahoma, travelled to Washington, D.C., to personally extend invitations asking congressional leaders to participate in an Iftar dinner–the sumptuous meal taken by Muslims to break their fast during their month of Ramadan. Muslims associated with the Turkish scholar Fetulah Gulen and the Institute of Interfaith Dialog have been hosting such dinner and dialog events for several years in cities around the United States.
Fetulah Gulen is a moderate Sufi Muslim who has devoted his life to promoting a peaceful “Dialogue of Civilizations” rather than the violent “Clash of Civilizations” that some in both Christian and Islamic societies believe to be inevitable as East and West come together in a global economy.
Since the attacks by Islamic extremists on 9/11, Fetulah Gulen has been at the forefront of the mainstream, moderate Muslim community that condemns committing violence in the name of God.
The Institute of Interfaith Dialog was organized to promote peace by fostering respectful dialogue between Christians and Muslims. The Institute sponsors Iftar dinners, conferences and trips to Turkey–where Eastern and Western civilizations meet–to promote interfaith understanding. Their Iftar dinners and discussions bring people from a broader political range and from more diverse religious perspectives than any other events taking place in Oklahoma. These Muslims consistently take the initiative in helping to find common ground, in building bridges of understanding and in fostering a climate conducive to the creation of peaceful, equitable and just relations between people of different civilizations.
I have been to several Iftar dinners, have attended several Institute conferences and have travelled to Bosnia, Croatia, Romania and Turkey with associates of Fetulah Gulen. In every instance and on every occasion, I have found them to be humble and gracious hosts. While they respect people of all faiths and are tolerant of a widely divergent range of political perspectives, they are very quick to denounce any suggestion that violence in the name of God is tolerable or appropriate.
It is hard for me to understand why the elected representatives of the state of Oklahoma would turn a deaf ear to people who are so demonstrably committed to reducing the kind of misunderstandings that lead to conflict and violence.
Our representatives have a legal and moral obligation to work to secure peace and to preserve the kind of tranquility that makes civilized life possible. They also have a legal and moral responsibility to secure peace and preserve tranquility with as little force and violence as possible.
Unfortunately, they do not seem to be as conscientious as are these Muslims in fulfilling their duties and responsibilities.
Bruce Prescott is executive director or Mainstream Oklahoma Baptists. This column appeared on his blog.