By Adil James, MMNS
Farmington–Febrary 19–Forging common bonds is something in which this particular imam and professor seems to specialize.
Imam Achmat Salie, professor of Islamic Studies at Oakland University, described in detail the upcoming Common Bond Instituteâ€™s (CBI) interfaith conference with TMO this past week. Here is what is planned for the March 13-15 conference.
The theme of the conference is â€œWalking the Talk Through Fear of the Unknown to Understanding and Harmony.â€ This is the first of what is intended to be an annual series of conferences, means in part to showcase the venue, Oakland University, and its nascent Islamic Studies program.
The conference is bringing together many luminaries, including Imam Salie himself, John Esposito of Georgetown University, Naomi Tutu (the daughter of Bishop Desmond Tutu); local imams including Imam Elahi of the Islamic House of Wisdom, Imam Mardini, Osama Siblani, publisher of the Arab American News, and many many others.
The conference is paid for largely by individual donors, and Professor Salie explains that he initially decided to pursue the conference when he saw international and widespread interest in the idea of the conference. Once he saw that it was viable he worked together with CBI to make it a reality.
Following is an edited and abridged transcript of an interview TMO conducted with Imam Salie.
TMO: Why do we need more interfaith work when many people are doing interfaith work?
Imam Salie: This is an international conference that brings all these groups together. We are working with ISPU, local clergy, but you also have the academic community represented. We are bridging the gap between academia and the broader community. In the past the academic world has been accused of being in ivory towers, this connects them to the community. This is a combination of academics, activists, networking opportunities, and showcases the university and what it has to offer.
TMO: How is this conference different from past interfaith groups?
[Our purpose] is not to convert others, but to converse with others. If you have demagogues in a community, then the community canâ€™t even start a communication. They create a disastrous and flammable situation.
We need sincerity and honesty. But you need to say whatever you believe in a civil way. You donâ€™t have to be wrong for me to be right.
We are not going to relativize things–One time Professor Seyyed Hossein Nasr went to a large Muslim Catholic gathering at the Vatican, and one speaker said everything was okay, glossing over every difference between Islam and Christianity.
Professor Nasr asked, â€œNext time get a real Christian to speak.â€
Our purpose is not to dilute and relativize. We musnâ€™t allow other communities to speak for us.
There will also be a Shiâ€™a Sunni panel, also an opportunity for Muslims to look at Fullbright scholarship opportunities in the Middle East. Also the curator of the Detroit Institute of the Arts, working for 3 years on an exhibit of the Qur`an, will be there.
TMO: What are some of the goals of the conference?
Bring academic and religious communities together, point out that some people are from both at the same time. Create some networking opportunities, bring attention to one of the most beautiful campuses in Michigan, bring exchange students from abroad. Before 9/11 trillions of dollars came into the US from foreign students. When the foreign students became fewer, we didnâ€™t have access to those funds. They donâ€™t only study–they live here, boosting the economy. We want to recruit such students.