Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, the Islamic leader who rose to prominence through his proposal to build a mosque near Ground Zero and the first imam to speak at Memorial Church, called for spiritual unity at a time of conflicts among different faiths during a sermon yesterday.
“There is more than one right way to love God, more than one language, more than one liturgy to love God in. This is part of the divine intent,” Rauf said, emphasizing a spiritual brotherhood of the “Abrahamic faith traditions.”
In his sermon, Rauf drew upon his own complicated personal history and upbringing. Born in Kuwait, Rauf has lived in the United Kingdom, Malaysia, and now the United States. Constant moves from one cultural context to another, Rauf said, led to a lack of spiritual identity in his early life.
“I didn’t know who I was,” he said. “I always asked myself, ‘Who am I? What am I?’ This is what prompted the beginning of my spiritual journey.”
But Rauf—the chairman of the Cordoba Initiative, which seeks to improve relations between the West and Muslim communities—said that his geographic journey from led him to see parallels between different world religions, which he used to urge for cooperation and sympathy between followers of different faiths.
“The longing to reconnect with God,” he said, “is what this journey is all about in all religions.”
According to Associate Minister Dorothy A. Austin, Memorial Church has invited Muslims to speak to its congregation in the past, but Rauf is the first imam to give a sermon.
“This is a great moment for interfaith relations,” Austin said, adding that in the past rabbis and the Dalai Lama have spoken at Memorial Church but never an imam—until now.
Rauf said that he was originally invited to give a sermon at Memorial Church over a year ago by the recently deceased Reverend Peter J. Gomes, but Rauf fell ill and was unable to speak at the church until yesterday.
Though Rauf acknowledged the historic political upheaval currently playing out in the Middle East, he said his presence at Memorial Church is more a testament to interfaith relations than politics.
“[Being here] feels historic. It feels we are breaking the walls that divide us,” he said, adding that sooner is better than never. “If not now, when?” Rauf said.
Rauf’s sermon was mostly devoid of political content and did not address the controversy surrounding a proposed mosque near Ground Zero that catapulted him onto the national stage.
But Rauf also addressed the escalating crisis in Libya and said that American values would aid the protestors there.
“The more we do to stand for these principles—fight for the rights of the people, the rights of the masses—the more the world will love [the United States],” he said.
Bridging the gap between Muslims and Christians, Rauf’s sermon, which was heavily interfaith and focused on the quest to discover one’s spirituality, garnered support and praise from Harvard University students and faculty in attendance.