Obama Speaking to the Whole World
President Obama is making his long-awaited speech to the Muslim world tomorrow morning in Cairo. Everyone is talking about what message he should send to the Muslim world. But the truth is, it isn't just citizens of Muslim majority countries that will be tuning in.
Obama will be addressing the 930 million Hindus in India, and the 5 million Jews in Israel, and the 38 million Catholics in Spain, and the 500,000 Muslims in his own city of Chicago.
Tomorrow, Obama does more than discuss how the United States will relate to the Muslim world. He sets the precedent for how diverse peoples and nations should interact in the 21st century. I have no doubt that Cairo was chosen as the stage for this message because of its history of religious pluralism, a history it shares with America and with Islam.
Take for instance the Fatimid dynasty, which ruled from Cairo from the 10th to the 12th century. This dynasty was known for its pluralistic nature of rule, demonstrating religious tolerance for other sects of Islam, Jews, and Coptic and Maltese Christians. In 975, the Fatimid dynasty, ruled by Shi'a Muslims, also established what is now widely considered the global center of Sunni Islamic scholarship - the famous Al-Azhar University.
Or consider the 1893 World's Parliament of Religions in Chicago, at the close of which Charles Bonney declared: "Henceforth the religions of the world will make war, not on each other, but on the giant evils that afflict mankind."
I hope that President Obama points to examples of religious pluralism like these to highlight the potential the future holds - and then talks about how we can get there together.
In the past few months, Obama has made interfaith cooperation an international priority and has stated that service constitutes the common ground between the world's diverse religious communities. The speech in Egypt is an opportunity to affirm this message and layout a strategy which presents concrete commitments to interfaith cooperation through service.
Obama should pay particular attention to the commitments made by young people - the leaders who will define religious identity by building bridges, rather than barriers or bombs:
- the international exchanges between Americans and Muslim communities around the world which train religiously diverse young leaders in the vision, knowledge base and skill set they need to run interfaith service projects;
- the 30 Faiths Act Fellows dedicating a year of their lives to work together and raise awareness about the devastating effects of malaria in Africa.
Let us hope that these are the stories President Obama tells tomorrow morning. Because we know that the whole world is listening, and the soul of a generation is at stake.
For more commentary on Obama's speech to the Muslim World, go to the Saban Center at Brookings' Project on U.S. Relations with the Islamic World
June 3, 2009; 10:38 AM ET
Religion & Leadership
Religion & Politics
The Faith Divide
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