Islamic Scholar and Leader Walks an Interfaith Path and Embraces a Pluralistic Austin

August 20, 2006

Source: Austin American-Stateman

On August 20, 2006 Austin American-Stateman reported, "The man with the white turban and black robe strides toward the south entrance of the Texas Capitol. He is a stranger, unknown to the dozens of religious leaders assembled on this hot afternoon. As he takes his place on the steps, one of the organizers smiles. Earlier that day, she had frantically called every mosque in Austin pleading for a Muslim cleric to attend. It's the day after Sept. 11, 2001, and Safdar Razi is the only Muslim leader to respond. Nerves are raw, and many fear a backlash against Muslims. 'Somebody has to go out and tell the people we're not terrorists,' he thinks. The sun is high and hot as they wait to begin the prayer service. Razi looks out into a sea of people pressing in close to hear prayers from the governor, a Buddhist abbess, a Catholic priest. Standing beside him is a rabbi; he's never met a Jew. After others pray for tolerance and justice, Razi is at the microphone, his soft voice intoning, 'Let us pray for all those persons who have been involved in the rescue efforts and who have placed their lives in danger on behalf of others.' The prayers end and the crowd erupts in a spontaneous chorus of 'God Bless America.' The ministers disperse. And suddenly Razi is surrounded. Cameras. Reporters. A hail of questions. He feels sweat forming on his skin, but he thinks, 'I want them to ask me. I just want to talk to people.' Five years later, Razi, 41, says that was the moment 'I started my interfaith journey.' A Pakistani who spent most of his life in Qatar, Razi had emerged from his Islamic cocoon, from the small Shiite congregation in North Austin he had led for a year, and into a pluralistic rough-and-tumble American society. The breakthrough, as he calls it, would open his eyes to loving, understanding people, allow him to teach an eager audience about Islam and learn about other faiths. But his new role would also lead to disappointment, even depression, as he worked to exhaustion, endured the government's suspicion and watched the post-9/11 interfaith fervor fade."

See also: Interfaith, Islam