Imam Abdullah Antepli, chief representative of Muslim affairs at Duke University, lamented the divisive tone in national politics and widespread suspicion of Muslims during a speech at the Durham Congregations in Action annual banquet.
DCIA is a multi-faith community network that promotes understanding across faith, race and ethnicity. Executive director Spencer Bradford said Antepli's name came up during board meetings as a speaker who could help local religious organizations build bridges to the community and among each other.
"In the current political and social climate of heightened fear of Muslims because of extremist violence, we have political leaders who look to use that fear for political advantage," Bradford said. "It's imperative for our member congregations and stand against that."
Antepli encouraged those in the audience to "sing new songs."
The Psalms are holy not only in the Jewish and Christian faiths, he noted, but also in Islam, and when things are not going well, God implores his followers to "sing me new songs."
"Most of the songs we have been singing have not been working," he said.
Antepli conceded that too much violence has been committed this century in the name of Islam. He said he had developed the habit of each morning checking world news six or seven hours ahead of Eastern Standard Time and praying that there had been no such attacks overnight.
The radical few should not poison the image of all Muslims, he said.
Having just returned from a trip to Israel, Palestine and Lebanon, Antepli shared a notion that occurred to him as he was being questioned at the airport and noticed a Bible with Jesus depicted as a Scandinavian-looking man with blond hair and blue eyes despite his Middle Eastern descent:
"If and when Jesus comes back, I think he will have a hard time at American airports."
Considering that many of the slaves brought from Africa to America were Muslim, Antepli said, Muslims have been a part of the nation since its founding, Antepli said.
He echoed the DCIA affirmation, which says that "behind every human face is the face of God," and noted that in the Koran, God says that he deliberately created diversity among humankind so that different peoples will have the opportunity to get to know one another.
To close the banquet, Bradford said those assembled would "sing an old song" in remembrance of Martin Luther King Jr., and everyone joined hands and sang "We Shall Overcome."
Phillip Seib, chairman of the Durham Human Relations Commission, said part of his job is to provide a path to make all citizens welcome.
"Where it starts is something like this," he said, "with people willing to talk to each other and opening a dialogue, and a dialogue is the first step in establishing a strong and more understanding and cohesive community."
Before taking his current position, Antepli served as the first Muslim chaplain at Duke.
His current work involves engaging Duke students, faculty and staff through seminars and panels to provide a Muslim voice in discussions of faith and spirituality. He also serves as a faculty member at the Duke Divinity School and Duke Islamic Studies Center.
He is a native of Turkey, where he completed his studies.
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