Common Ground

In an age of rampant misinformation and prejudice among the American public, Greg Rabb presented a bit of clarity on the subject of Islam and its followers to several community members Sunday.

Rabb delivered a lecture before the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Jamestown, of which he is a member, outlining his experiences with and studies on Islam with the aim of delivering factual information on the religion while drawing parallels to the congregation and Jamestown as a whole.

“When I had initially discussed giving this talk, I had no idea that all this would blow up in our faces and there would be such a mischaracterization of Islam in our country; so, in that sense, I suppose it was rather prophetic,” Rabb said in reference to the recent terror attacks that took place in Paris last month. “But I do think this is very good timing because you don’t have to believe what Muslims believe in order to appreciate, understand and, for me, enjoy Islam.”

Over the past three years, Rabb – who is president of the Jamestown City Council, Jamestown Community College’s global education coordinator and political science professor, and adjunct political science professor at Buffalo State College – has extensively explored the tenets and practices essential to Islam via his visit to Turkey and through his educational studies at Yale University. Most recently, Rabb spent two weeks over the summer participating in a retreat at the Dar al Islam education center in New Mexico, a proclaimed “life-changing” experience whereby he said his understanding of and fascination with Islam was cultivated.

“I don’t pretend to be an expert on Islam, but I am proud to call myself a friend of Islam,” he said. “I do know that you have nothing to fear from Islam unless you’re afraid to learn about the things that other people in the world keep at the center of their lives.”

Among some of the most salient concepts Rabb said he gained from his studies was the notion that Islam, at its core, addresses the eternal human struggle to make sense of the ever-troubling world in which we live. Additionally, he said it is the differences as well as the similarities between Muslim and non-Muslim cultures which should be celebrated.

“The future success of all communities, including Jamestown, depend on embracing and building upon and celebrating, rather than just tolerating, our diversity; and that includes religious diversity,” he said.

Rabb said his studies have been personally meaningful to him as a non-Muslim, resulting in his increasing admiration for what is considered to be the fastest growing religion in the U.S. and the world. His respect for Islam and his many Muslim friends has resulted in an understanding of and appreciation for a religion and way of life so important to many Americans, as well as Jamestown residents, which belie the stereotypes of Islam that have pervaded mainstream American culture.