An Imam, a pastor and a circus
Seventy-two hours ago I returned from Beirut, Lebanon where there is a promise of fresh violence, ready to erupt upon the end of Ramadan.
A synagogue in this predominantly Muslim and Christian city is being lovingly restored in a frantic process of re-building following decades of civil war and Israeli attacks. The Maghden Abraham Synagogue located in the middle of newly renovated downtown Beirut in an area known as the "Solidere" started restoration work in 2008, and now it is almost complete. There are 4 million people in Lebanon and only 500 are Jewish. Hassan Nasrallah, the increasingly popular leader of the Hizbullah, has not protested against the restoration of this synagogue.
I conducted an unscientific survey amongst friends and on the streets of elite neighborhoods like Hamra and Achrafiyeh. Most laughed at the media feeding frenzy over the "Ground Zero Mosque" in New York. "This can only happen in America," said one. Most felt that it should be built and were surprised that I, as a Muslim, am against this "mosque" in downtown Manhattan.
And then I came back home.
Where an angry-looking, mustachioed, Pentecostal pastor with a flock of a mere 50 decided to become famous in the land where everyone will be famous for fifteen minutes, at least.
Seven hours ago I tweeted -- "The new "balloon boy" is called "Pastor" Jones, his 15 minutes are ON and LIVE! Will he get a show on Fox? #Koran burning"
Terry Jones is indeed enjoying his fifteen minutes of fame in the land of the free and the home of the brave, where Islam is hot again in this election season. Problem is that like many television anchors on CNN, MSNBC and Fox -- he cannot even pronounce Imam correctly -- he says "Iman." Problem also is that his knowledge of the Quran is negligible at best.
This uniquely American media farce continues and makes for disturbing, yet entertaining television. A new player has entered the equation to face bemused cable television cameras.
Muhammad Masri from Orlando, a seemingly well-intentioned Imam from Orlando deserts his sleepy (and probably hungry) Ramadan flock to try and broker peace before all hell breaks loose. Cable TV informs us that the Indian born Daisy Khan, the media-savvy, soundbite-heavy wife of "America's Imam", Egyptian born Feisal Rauf, apparently agrees to Masri and Jones visiting them and their Cordoba Circus in Manhattan. Jones seems to think that Rauf will move Park 51. Masri says that he himself wants Park 51 to be re-located. At the time of writing this, Rauf has only issued a comment denying any planned re-location.
Rauf is back in America and got his prime-time exclusive on the thankfully-soon-to-be-replaced Larry King last night. Speaking once again in his carefully calibrated sound-bites he said he wanted to be back home before he spoke on an issue that has divided this entire country, lead to increased hate crimes against Muslims and made many Muslims like me deeply uncomfortable. (Well thank you, "Imam" Feisal, your concern for our well-being is deeply appreciated and we are now eager to appoint you spokesperson for all Muslims living in the land.)
In the last week many doubts and some excellent reporting on the unsavory reputation of his builder for Park 51-Sharif El-Gamal have emerged. There are also unconfirmed rumours that the "good" Imam Feisal may have his own skeletons in what for some is a crowded closet and might even be a "slum landlord", Allah forbid!
The speculation continues and we have front-row seats for a uniquely Islamophobic circus where all the primary players are eager publicity seekers and are getting exactly what they wanted: their fifteen minutes of fame.
For a Muslim like me, who is not represented by Feisal Rauf's Sufi Islam rhetoric and finds his media persona deeply troubling, the choices remain unclear and confusing. I have already been criticised for my recent case against the proposed building of this mosque. I even had to "unfriend" some Facebook attackers who got personal and illogical.
For the thousands of mostly illiterate, hungry and powerless Muslims that will gather in mosques in Islamabad, Karachi, Cairo, Delhi, Jakarta, Nairobi and Riyadh in a few hours for Khutba's or sermons marking Eid-ul Fitr, the end of the holy month of fasting, Ramadan, the continuing Islam circus in America could either be very confusing or a call to violence. It is very far removed from the realities of their lives, for sure.
I still firmly believe that Feisal Rauf would not make much if any sense to most Muslims who live outside the "first world". I also firmly believe that Pastor Jones is a marginal figure and part of a lunatic fringe within Christianity. I now know that both of them hanker after fame with little regard to the consequences of their actions. They should meet perhaps: they might find a lot in common.
More about Parvez Sharma
Parvez Sharma is a New York based Muslim writer and filmmaker. His first feature, which he directed and produced, "A Jihad for Love" is an international phenomenon with more than 8 million viewers in 49 nations in the first two years of its release. The leading progressive journal UTNE Reader has named Parvez a "visionary" in its list of "50 Visionaries Who are Changing Your World" headed by the Dalai Lama in 2009. He has been featured on Fox, BBC, CNN, MSNBC and much media around the world. The film has been premiered at most major international festival venues including a world premier at Toronto in 2007 and a European premiere (as the opening film of Panorama Documentary) in Berlin, 2008. The US-based OUT Magazine has named Mr. Sharma, one of the OUT 100 for 2008. He blogs regularly at his extremely popular www.ajihadforlove.blogspot.com