Muslims talk with Muslims at Boniuk Center in Houston

      Comments Off on Muslims talk with Muslims at Boniuk Center in Houston
Spread the love


Thursday, February 21, 2013.

This was the first of its kind Intra-faith Dialogue between Ahmadiyya, Sunni, Shia and WD Muhammad Groups of Muslims.  This dialogue is not an effort to reconcile the differences, or finding convergence, it was merely to begin a process of sharing where we agree or disagree, and honestly acknowledging our differences without judgment. The panel made every effort not to appease any one, but to state their own position politely in a genuine dialogue without ever considering the other opinion to be anything less. It was not an effort to convert the other, but rather our struggle (jihad) to understand each other genuinely. Precedence to this effect was set up by the man himself; Prophet Muhammad (pbuh), some of which I shared last night.  

Ghouse. Dr. Shaikh, Al-Qazwini, Pardee, Ali, Haneef, Motley
I am pleased to express my gratitude to Dr. Milton and Laurie Boniuk, Chairperson, Executive Director Michael Pardee and coordinator BJ Smith of the Boniuk Center. Dr. David Leebron, President of Rice University, and Sabrina Motley, Director of Asia Society.

Thank you for sponsoring the first of its kind dialogue among Muslims themselves, the outcome and the tone of the dialogue was very encouraging. I also thank Dr. Basheer and Dr. Saleha Khumwalla for hosting the intra-cultural dinner.

Dr. Boniuk, your center, Rice University and Asia Center have unleashed an initiative that will grow and give hopes for a better world, a world where a fellow Muslim or a human need not be  uncomfortable, apprehensive or afraid of the other. Indeed, it is small step for Muslims, but a giant leap for mankind. Your enthusiasm for Intra-faith Dialogue among Muslims is one the most critical efforts in centuries, and we appreciate it.

This program would not have been successful without Michael Pardee’s dedication; he relentlessly pursued this until the job was done executed perfectly. It was not an easy thing to bring diverse people together, congratulations Mike.

Of course, the success hinged on our guests who attended the event to a packed house, they participated with silence, applause and questions, and hopefully have walked away with a hope that there is a reason to believe that the efforts like this will bear fruit.  I cannot thank enough to our Panelists, Imam Azhar Haneef, Imam Wazir Ali, Imam Moustafa al-Qazwini and Imam Dr. Zia Shaikh for responding to some of the toughest questions with grace, precision, fullness and within the given time.

The only thing I wish different was time allotted for the program; I wish it was two hours. But, on the other hand, I am happy that due to time limitation, a good foundation is laid and a good tone is set up for Dialogue-II as a progression, and setting up a model for similar conversations elsewhere.

The Department of State has listed me as a stop to dialogue with visiting Scholars, Imams, Ministries and Religious men and women from North Africa, Middle East, Central Asia and China. Our interactive conversation on Pluralism and interfaith is usually set for 4 hours and over the last ten years, I must have exchanged or taught Pluralism to over 100 such men and women, and indeed the Saudi Interfaith Dialogue was seeded here in Dallas. I must report to you, that the programs have been as exciting as our program on the 21st, they are as much tuned into Pluralism as we are here, but yet, their message has not reached their masses, no media has given coverage to such great things. Where is the gap? And what are we missing? There is a disconnect somewhere and we need to work on it in Asia, particularly in Pakistan, Iraq, Bangladesh and India.

This dialogue by no means was an effort to reconcile the differences, or finding convergence, it was merely to share where we agree and honestly acknowledge our differences without judgment. The panel has made every effort not to appease any one, but to state their own position politely in a genuine dialogue without ever considering the other opinion to be anything less. It was not an effort to convert the other, but rather our inner struggle (jihad) to understand each other genuinely. Precedence to that effect was set up by the man himself; Prophet Muhammad (pbuh), some of which I shared last night. 

Indeed, we lived up to what a real dialogue ought to be per Rabbi Gordis, “Dialogue only has meaning if it respects the autonomy of the other; absent that respect we have monologue.”

Your input for Dialouge-II in the comment section below would be appreciated, we are all in this together. If you write a fine short statement, we will include it in one of the articles in the coming months.


Sabrina Motley, Director of the Asia Society and Michael Pardee, Executive Director of the Boniuk Center shared the visions of their respective organizations.

The Boniuk Center for Religious Tolerance at Rice “is dedicated to nurturing tolerance among people of all and no faiths, especially youth, and to studying the conditions in which tolerance and intolerance flourish.  Their mission is to understand the conditions that make peaceful coexistence possible and to promote these conditions locally, nationally and throughout the world.”

Asia Society has a similar mission, “Asia Society is the leading educational organization dedicated to promoting mutual understanding and strengthening partnerships among peoples, leaders and institutions of Asia and the United States in a global context. Across the fields of arts, business, culture, education, and policy, the Society provides insight, generates ideas, and promotes collaboration to address present challenges and create a shared future.”

Together, the Boniuk Center and the Asia Society have facilitated meaningful inter-faith and intra-faith dialogue series to promote understanding from within the diverse family of faiths and with other faiths. Indeed, they have had meaningful dialogue within the Christian and Jewish traditions, and now they are extending the opportunity to the Islamic tradition. 

Please note, it was not easy to put this program together, as Michael Pardee mentioned earlier. 25 Imams were invited, and only four decided to address the issue and not pass the buck on to the next generation. Indeed, these are the denominations that have most of the conflicts, particularly between Sunni, Shia and Ahmadiyya. Although WD Muhammad tradition is Sunni, their presence is critical, as WD Muhammad is the first one in America to start the interfaith Dialogue and rightfully called America’s Imam. They do not have the conflicts with any group as others have,  and their embrace is larger than others and we look up to them for guidance.  

Mike Ghouse, the moderator begins the program with greetings in a few religious traditions. May we be drenched and soaked in peace, and together, let’s hope to produce peaceful outcomes.

Greetings of Salaam, Shalom, Peace, Satsriakal, Namaste, Alla-abho, Hamazor Hama ashobed, Buddha Namo and wishes in every possible way known to mankind.(The meaning of greetings at

Tonight’s program is Unique and first of its kind, there have been efforts, but not a serious conversation like the one we are holding tonight. We have about an hour of dialogue followed by Q & A. We will do our best to cover a few topics that will subtly serve as a foundation for this process of mitigating conflicts and nurturing goodwill.

We realize this is a pilot project, the first of its kind dialogue in the United States. We, the panelists and the moderator take the responsibility seriously to lay the best possible foundation for future dialogue, and Boniuk Center becomes the guiding light. Again thanks for Mike Pardee
My role as a moderator of the event is to set the tone of the dialogue and shape the outcome of the conversation.  The outcome will stand on respecting the otherness of the other and accepting the uniqueness of each tradition without judgment. The most important aspect of this process is to have the panelists respond to the questions asked precisely, fully and within two minutes.
We will address the issues with grace, and the civility that Prophet Muhammad had advocated.
Sura Fatiha Recitation by Hafiz-e-Qur’an Mr. Khamanwalla.
Islam is a universal faith that has embraced every race, ethnicity, language and culture. Indeed, the Quran opens with gratitude to the lord of the universe and ends addressing the whole humanity as well.

Yet, at this precise juncture in history, the Ahmadiyya Muslims are persecuted in Pakistan, Indonesia and Bangladesh, and the Shia Muslims are harassed and killed in Pakistan daily, and oppressed in Bahrain, Iraq and other places. The Sunnis are facing severe challenges in Syria as well.  These developments are getting worse by the day and there is a need for a way out. I hope our dialogue will be a small step in that direction, a gift from the Asia Society.

Dialogue; indeed, this is a dialogue. I am pleased to Quote Rabbi Gordis, one of my mentors in the art of dialogue, he was ordained by the Jewish Theological Seminary of America in New York, in 1964
“Dialogue only has meaning if it respects the autonomy of the other; absent that respect we have monologue. True conversation may uncover areas of convergence but is most important in helping to understand areas of divergence. The question for participants is: Is that divergence threatening or problematical or it can be a source of enlightenment and enrichment by broadening the perspectives and insights on the experience of being human that one gains from one’s own religious tradition.”
Dialogue requires active listening, and responding to the issue with the intention of mitigating conflict, we must continuously avoid going into different directions, if we need clarity to our positions.
Sura Kafirun in Qur’an is my guidance to conduct civil dialogue. In this Chapter (Sura) the Qur’an addresses the believers (in other systems) in the most dignified way, putting everyone on par without putting anyone down. It is an exceptional example of civil conduct for one to follow. Nowhere in this chapter has it claimed the faith of Muslims to be superior and other’s to be inferior.

This chapter is about consciously nurturing civility in societies. It is not about overlooking the differences and focusing on commonalities, it is simply about accepting the otherness of other. You are who you are and I am who I am and let’s figure out how we can co-exist with the least tensions.

Prophet Muhammad’s example served the foundation for Pluralism; he taught how to respect the otherness of others without having to agree with the other.

Briefly the peace treaty between the Quraish of Mecca and the Muslims of Medina was ready for signature, the terms were all agreed upon. However, the representative of Quraish Mr. Suhayl Ibn Amr looks at the signature line and objects to the name of the other signatory written as Muhammad, the Prophet of God. He blunts, you are not the prophet of God…… you can imagine the scenario of Prophet’s associates feeling angered for such a blasphemous statement, but the Prophet did something amazing. He asked Hazrat Ali to redo the name as Muhammad son of Abdullah, Ali refused, and most would too, so the prophet erased the part “prophet of God” and had inscribed “son of Abdullah” the deal was signed. (A few Muslims who believe in blasphemy laws need to study this phenomenon)

The point is Prophet respected the otherness of the other, without compromising on the principles, he knew Suhayl ibn Amr did not believe him to be the prophet of God, but believed him to be truthful and trustworthy man, and knew him as Son of Abdullah. The key lesson is to learn to respect the otherness of the other in prophetic tradition. Prophet’s work was mitigating conflicts and nurturing goodwill.

(Not included in the talk but worth a serious dialogue  among Christians and Muslims about  the persona of Jesus, a source of original conflict between the two groups that began in AD 957 by a Syrian Pastor who declared, “Quran is a false book written by a false prophet” because Jesus is described as a prophet in Quran, and not the God incarnate as written in the Bible – this statement must have been repeated a million times and we held a full blown conference on the topic – The second issue that is the source of conflict between the Jews and Christians was the false, but a propagated notion that Jews were Christ Killers)  
The first interfaith dialogue in the US was established by America’s imam Warith Deen Muhammad, although Ahmadiyya Muslims have taken steps in the direction sine establishing their mission in1929.

This dialogue by no means was an effort to reconcile the differences, or finding convergence, it was merely to begin a process of sharing where we agree, and honestly acknowledging our differences without judgment. The panel has made every effort not to appease any one, but to state their own position politely in a genuine dialogue without ever considering the other opinion to be anything less. It was not an effort to convert the other, but rather our struggle (jihad) to understand each other genuinely. Precedence to this effect was set up by the man himself; Prophet Muhammad (pbuh), some of which I shared last night.
Our esteemed Imams will now establish how to deal with the issue and what makes one a Muslim and who sets the theological boundaries and its impact on generational differences? Is there a need for reform and what should be the focus in building cohesive Societies within and without?
By nature religions are conservative, and hold on to the values passed on for generations. By all means feel free to be yourselves! No need to appease or no need to denigrate the other.
 Please take a minute or less to sum up about your tradition,

Please recite the verse 2:148 and explain what is good work, and what does “God has the power to will anything” mean?

 (Asad) for, every community faces a direction of its own, of which He is the focal point. [123] Vie, therefore, with one another in doing good works. Wherever you may be, God will gather you all unto Himself: for, verily, God has the power to will anything.

What is good work?
What is the key issue that you hear about each one or anyone that makes you think they are less of a Muslim or no Muslim
Panelists can respond if the differences are worth mentioning.

Please explain verse 2:62, once again what does it mean to lead a righteous life?

[2:62] surely, those who believe, those who are Jewish, the Christians, and the converts; anyone who (1) believes in GOD, and (2) believes in the Last Day, and (3) leads a righteous life, will receive their recompense from their Lord. They have nothing to fear, nor will they grieve.

What makes one a Muslim and who sets the theological boundaries?

Has living in America affected the outlook and separation of culture and religion? What does the next generation think about these differences?
Dr. Boniuk’s objective was to explore what Muslim organizations are out there that can bring these groups on a common platform. What does it take to heal and to come together and what does it take to create peaceful societies?

Asia Society is working on this objective and what can we do about Asia, where nearly 2/3rds of Muslim live, and nearly 75% of them live under the light of democracy. What are the solutions to what is happening in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iran, Indonesia… about the intra-faith conflict, what needs to be done there?  The Ahmadiyya and Shias are persecuted, harassed and being killed, what does it take to stop it?  
What are you willing to do? What can you do? What each one of the Muslim can do, what are the simple step. (Due to time constraints I did not mention what we are doing – for the last three years during Ramadan, a few of us are visiting Mosque a day to break the fast (Iftaar) without skipping any denomination, and are make an effort to visit different mosques for Friday (Juma) sermons).
For the responses, we will wait for the video and the transcripts, meanwhile, if you the reader have viable answers, please share in the comments section below.

This dialogue is a small step for the Muslim kind, but a giant leap for humanity. I hope it will encourage more dialogue and full day conferences with a single goal; mitigate conflicts and nurture goodwill, the theme in every action of Prophet Muhammad (pbuh).

… The organizers, the Imams, much of the audience I talked with, and I have walked out with the satisfaction of producing a worthwhile dialogue for us to ponder and take the necessary steps to advance conflict mitigation and goodwill nurturence.

r-l: Dr. David Leebron, Laurie Boniuk and Dr. Milton Boniuk
Dr. Zia Shaikh, Moustafa Al-Qazwini, Azhar Haneef, Wazir Ali
Mike Ghouse in the background

Referenced links:

  1. This report – Muslim intrafaith Dialouge
  2. Houston Chronicle about Intra-faith Dialogue

  3. Rice Center’s Report of the event

  4. Quran on how to conduct civil dialogue

  5. Rabbi Gordis on Conducting a dialogue

  6. Saudis, Interfaith and Pluralism

  7. Warith Deen Muhammad appreciation week in Dallas

  8. Criticism of Prophet, God and Quraan

  9. Pluralism Greetings in Chicago

  10. Mitigating conflicts and nurturing goodwill.

  11. Standing up for Jews
  12. Ramadan Daily – visiting a Mosque a day for Iftaar
  13. Full blown conference on Qur’an by Non-Muslim Clergy

  14. Pluralism Speaker

  15. Muslim Speaker

  16. My Curriculum Vitae

..….. Mike Ghouse is a speaker, thinker and a writer on pluralism, politics, peace, IslamIsraelIndiainterfaith, and cohesion at work place. He is committed to building a Cohesive America and offers pluralistic solutions on issues of the day at He believes in Standing up for others and has done that throughout his life as an activist. Mike has a presence on national and local TV, Radio and Print Media. He is a frequent guest on Sean Hannity show on Fox TV, and a commentator on national radio networks, he contributes weekly to the Texas Faith Column at Dallas Morning News; fortnightly at Huffington post; and several other periodicals across the world. His personal site indexes all his work through many links. 


Spread the love