Over the Rainbow
By N.A.Bhatti

Jeffersonville, Indiana: On a bright sunny morning late last month, a PIA plane roared off the Islamabad runway with four of a family: two octogenarian fathers and their middle-aged children, bound for the United States.
It was my fourth visit to the Land of Opportunity, although to be frank, I have no further craving for worldly opportunity, neither had the Admiral. We had been invited by the Doctor and his wife to join them in a marriage ceremony as well as to see for ourselves the new America of 2006, the America of their second home. We could then form our own independent opinions about US-Muslim relations in the post-9/11 era and help other compatriots to modify their own if need be. So, off we went over the rainbow, hoping to find not the pot of gold at its end but something that would bring us the peace of mind sorely needed at this delicate juncture of human history.
After flying about ten thousand miles and crossing ten time zones to the picturesque mid-western town of Jeffersonville in the state of Indiana, we piled up a royal jet lag and our rainbow lost some of its brightness. However, four or five days of complete rest and watching dozens of TV channels, brought back its glamorous brightness and we were up and about visiting friends, shopping malls and museums, and gathering the local Muslim community's gup.
Our host for the next two or three months is my nephew 'Doc'. He related to us an interesting account about Dr. Riffat Hassan of the University of Louisville, Kentucky. She is already a known personality in Pakistan as she has led a number of delegations to Pakistan, India and Bangladesh. These were exchange visit programs between scholars from the US and South Asian Muslim countries, centering on the subject 'Islamic Life in the US'. The entire program had been very successful and the US State Department had funded it as it considered it as a model for future programs. The rainbow brightened.
The idea underlying this program is that there are many unfounded misconceptions that Muslims on the one hand and Christians and Jews on the other, harbor against each other. The way to remove such misgivings is to let each group interact informally with their counterparts and let them experience how they live, practice their faith and raise their families. The group will find many common values and aspirations. Given sufficient experience, the misunderstandings and prejudices will be removed and there will be more trust and forgiveness. This exchange of religious scholars from the USA and Asia has had a very positive impact on the communities that were involved in this exchange. Our rainbow gets brighter than ever.
Following the success of this program, the US State Department is understood to be issuing another grant entitled 'Religion and Society: a dialogue'. It was brought to my notice that the Muslim community of Kentucky and Indiana is now more involved in their local civic life than before. This has brought about greater understanding of Islam and Americans have become more aware that not all Muslims are necessarily bad. Similarly Muslims have realized that not all Americans are necessarily bad. There is more goodness than evil all over the world. Evil and goodness are not the prerogatives of one religion or race. Good Muslims and Christians feel each other's pain and sorrow. The rainbow shone brighter than ever before.
My optimism, however, received a rude shock when I came across the US edition of the October 2005 issue of Reader's Digest. Pages 182 to 198 carry the main feature: "Who Financed 9/11?" by Roland Murallo.
The full-page introduction epitomizes the following 15 pages.
"Listen to the taped conversation between Tom and Beverly Burnett and attorney Ronald Motley, and the pain you hear is as fresh and cutting as the day it began: September 11, 2001.
The Burnett's son, Tom Jr., died in the crash of Flight 93 after he and other passengers fought the hijackers for control of the jetliner. Tom and Beverly contacted attorney Motley not because they want monetary compensation for Tom's murder but they are after something bigger. In the depths of his misery, Tom Sr. had the idea of using the American legal system to expose those banks, businesses, charities and individuals who funded the 9/11 attacks and other terrorist activities worldwide. By drying up the terrorists' cash flow, the Burnetts hope ultimately to spare other families the grief they live with every day."
Fair enough, Roland Murallo! Such sympathy does not, however, give a license to journalists to launch oblique attacks on religions other than their own.
"Like all Muslims, members of the Wahhabi sect of Islam, prevalent in Saudi Arabia, are urged to perform Zakat, a kind of tithing. Osama bin Laden's Wahhabi notion of Zakat, a perversion of this tenet, encourages donations not to hungry children in the slums of Riyadh, but to organizations bent on killing 'infidels,' all infidels -- non-Wahhabi Muslims as well as Americans and other Westerners."
This is calculated to create misgivings among Muslim readers about the sincerity of those pioneers like Dr. Riffat Hassan of the University of Louisville, Kentucky. She and other Muslims are doing their best to reconcile the existing yawning chasm between Christianity and Islam. The US government is supporting and financing such efforts. I am still optimistic that in spite of these irritations and setbacks, we should continue to fly over the rainbow. (Courtesy The News)


Editor: Akhtar M. Faruqui
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