HWS’ Project Nur hosted a talk about the role of Islam in multiculturalism and interfaith dialogue by Imam Shamsi Ali, an individual of significance within the Muslim and interfaith communities in New York City.
Ali is the Imam of the Islamic Cultural Center of New York, the largest mosque in the city, chair of the Al-Hikmah Mosque in Astoria and the director of the Jamaica Muslim Center in Queens. He grew up in Indonesia and went on to earn a BA and MA from the International Islamic University Islamabad-Pakistan. Upon graduation, he moved to Saudi Arabia where he taught for two years before taking a job with the Indonesian delegation to the United Nations.
“New York was the city that taught me about the importance of interfaith and cross cultural engagement,” said Ali to the students who filled the Sanford Room in the Warren Hunting Smith Library. “It is what changed my perception of other.”
In addition, Ali has developed dialogue and engagement between the many religious communities in New York City. “Reading books may change your perception but the best way to change is engagement,” he said. “Challenge yourself to come to the Mosque to come to our community. And Muslims must challenge themselves as well because we are misunderstood because we fail to engage our community.”
As part of a program to create dialogue between the Jewish and Muslim communities, Ali started a program of “twinnings” in 2006 where rabbis and imams switch parishes for a day. Today the program has grown exponentially to include hundreds of mosques and synagogues around the country.
“We develop the mentality of insecurity, a fear that engagement may change our faith but for me that engagement makes me stronger. It is just about how to start, how to break the ice,” he said.
During the controversial Congressional hearings led by Peter King this past spring, Ali led protests in Times Square with Russell Simmons which received national coverage and spread the slogan, “Today, I am a Muslim too.”
Ali is a frequent speaker at the United Nations forums and a media guest contributor for ABC, PBS, BBC World, CNN, Fox News, National Geographic, al-Jazeera and the Hallmark Channel.
Last year, Ali was one of 100 recipients of the 2009 Ellis Island Medal of Honor Award. The prestigious non-military gold medal is the highest recognition given to immigrants with tremendous contributions to the American society and the world. In 2009, Ali was chosen as one of the 500 most influential Muslims in the world by the Royal Islamic Strategic Studies Center in Jordan and Georgetown University.