Events | May 27th, 2015
Dalia Mogahed speaks at AMI Groundbreaking Ceremony
On Thursday, May 21, 2015, the American Muslim Institute held a ceremonial groundbreaking for their new building on the Tri-Faith Campus. The keynote speaker was Dalia Mogahed, chairman and CEO of Mogahed Consulting, which specializes in Muslim societies and the Middle East. She is former executive director and senior analyst for the Gallup Center for Muslim Studies, and was appointed to President Obama’s Advisory Council on Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships, where she served on the Inter-religious Dialogue and Cooperation Task Force. Read Dalia’s very moving speech here:
The story of this project inspired me two years ago when I came to Omaha for a talk on leadership. I remember thinking: only in America!
This project captures the best of America, appropriately housed in the heart of our nation: Omaha, Nebraska.
This project also captures the highest values we are called to in the Abrahamic tradition. Those of mutual respect, service and scholarship. When the world is so full of conflict and cruelty between members of the Abrahamic faiths, this initiative stands as a shining example of what is possible when people practice their faith—instead of pervert it.
I truly believe that The American Muslim Institute, an organization dedicated to Islam’s call to compassion and knowledge, is exactly what the world needs today. Because the problems we face as a human family don’t discriminate between color or creed we must work together. Poverty, epidemic disease and a warming planet know nothing about theology and don’t care to learn. Our solutions must also be collective. While reducing our carbon footprint, we must expand our compassion footprint. Leave a legacy of giving and service.
To be a Muslim, one must believe in all the Prophets of God, all those sent to teach humanity about their purpose on this Earth, including Jesus and Moses, peace be upon them. The prophet Muhammad, as Islam tells it, is not the first prophet of Islam, but rather the last in a long line of prophets sent to call human beings to forsake false idols, including the worship of money, power and ego, and submit to God alone. Islam simply means devotion to God, which is what Muslims believe all the prophets were teaching.
Now Muslims take the prophet Muhammad as their primary example so it is interesting to note how he is described in the Quran. The Quran teaches that the last prophet of God, was not sent except as a “mercy to all the worlds.” The word used in this passage is “Rahmah” which is the Arabic word usually translated as “mercy” or loving compassion, but linguistically it is far more. The prophet taught that this word, a description of God used more often than any other, comes from the word for womb, a mother’s womb. A place of unconditional giving, protection and love. It is this type of love that the Arabic word for Mercy is derived and this is how the Prophet Muhammad is described in the Qur’an, as a “rahmah” to all the worlds. One thing you will learn if you study the language of the Quran is that it is quite precise. No wasted words what so ever. He could have been described as a “warner” which he was, or a “teacher” which he was, or a servant of God, which he was. But instead his primary identity and purpose from God was as a Mercy. And if Muslims claim to take him as their example then this must also be their imprint on the world—a foot print of compassion. AMI is such a foot print.
The mission of this initiative are especially dear to me personally as a child of Egyptian immigrants raised to value education almost above oxygen. The Prophet, sitting in the Arabian peninsula, said “Pursue knowledge even as far as China. “ My parents’ followed his advice in principle and but took a different road and ended up instead in Madison, Wisconsin. The cheese road instead of the silk road. There they pursued and eventually earned their doctorates in Civil Engineering. So I was born in the Middle East and brought up in the Mid West. I always had as part of my identity two cultures. The culture my parents carried and the one of our new home in Madison were pretty different, but one thing they did have in common was they both valued education, especially for girls. My sisters and I were told we could do anything we dreamed of if we worked hard and studied. My grandmother didn’t finish high school, but raised a daughter, my mother, who was the only woman in her university class in Cairo University’s aeronautical engineering department, a class of 10,000 students. And it was this dedication to education and a lot of prayers that gave the opportunity to travel the world, co-author a book with a lifetime role model of mine, John Esposito, and even advise a US president. Not bad for a small town Midwestern girl.
This is the story of so many American Muslim families who live out their potential in this country while contributing to American progress.
The American Muslim Institute is just one more example of this. No doubt, this is an ambitious project, a daunting task and a long road. There is so much to deter us and to discourage us. The Nay Sayers, those who suspect us, those who say it can’t or shouldn’t be done. Yet it is exactly these moments that demand leadership.
The leadership of tree planters at the end of time. What am I talking about?
The Prophet taught us this: “If you are planting a tree and the end of the world comes, finish planting your tree.”
Let this profound statement just sink in for a moment. While some may push for the algebra of apathy: why bother, the chances of success are small, it can’t be done… the future belongs to those whose actions are fueled by the resilience and irrational optimism of the tree planter at the end of time. The algebra of apathy says its never been done so why try. The calculus of compassion says its never been done, so we better get started.