Tuesday, September 21, 2010

The Wellesley Mosque Visit Promoted Understanding

Diana Eck, professor of comparative religion and Indian studies at Harvard University, and director of the Pluralism Project, whose mission is "to help Americans engage with the realities of religious diversity through research, outreach, and the active dissemination of resources," has a letter in today's Boston Globe about the Wellesley Middle School visit to a mosque (see my post on the topic). Because Diana Eck is such an important academic leader on behalf of cultural understanding and tolerance, I quote her letter here:
The lesson here is to engage in dialogue with Muslims
September 21, 2010

THE FUROR over Wellesley sixth-graders’ visit to a mosque is just one more volley fired at the Islamic Society of Boston Cultural Center by Americans for Peace and Tolerance. In a climate in which Muslims have been constantly misrepresented by other voices than their own, the opportunity to hear Muslims speak about themselves is a priceless part of learning. Bravo to the Wellesley schools for incorporating such experience into their curriculum.

Of course, the line between observing and participating needs to be more carefully explained in an educational setting, but Wellesley students and parents voiced significant appreciation for the mosque visit.

On Friday, I was at the mosque with my class from Harvard. We arrived just as Bilal Kaleem, the programming head of the Islamic Center, was responding to the allegations of the video that was secretly filmed by a parent but produced with manipulated cuts and narration by Americans for Peace and Tolerance. For most of my students, as for the Wellesley middle-schoolers, it was the first experience of Friday prayers and of dialogue with our Muslim hosts.

I think it is way past time for Americans for Peace and Tolerance to take advantage of the hospitality of the mosque and actually engage with the community the group has so insistently defamed. It is the American way, and the only way to peace and tolerance.

Diana L. Eck
One of the most positive "side effects" of a medical career is the opportunity to know such a wide range of our fellow human beings. "Cultural competence" comes from meeting and spending time with people, as we health professionals are privileged to do in our work.

Suspicion and hatred, as fomented by the group that made the hate-laden video about the student visit to the mosque, is bad for individual and societal health. Inclusiveness has the opposite effect. Diana Eck's scholarship and enterprises like the Pluralism Project are a crucial part of health promotion.

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