Lunch with Islamic Center of Southern California Imam Asim Buyuksoy
Educated, soft-spoken, kind-hearted, moderate, and charming – Imam Asim Buyuksoy believes in interfaith dialogue and in developing interethnic relationships with all communities in Los Angeles.
This was my third meeting with Imam Buyuksoy. He was one of a number of clergy we invited from the Christian, Jewish and Muslim communities of LA – Latino, Korean, African American, white, and Jewish – to my synagogue’s (Temple Israel of Hollywood) celebration of the 50th anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. speaking in our sanctuary just prior to the Selma to Montgomery march in 1965.
Since our celebration I have reached out to all the visiting clergy who participated in this anniversary event to continue to build on our relationship.
Imam Buyuksoy hails from Istanbul, Turkey. He came to the United States 5 years ago to study, earn his undergraduate and then Masters Degree in Religion from the Claremont Colleges. He is also working on his doctorate. He is 39, married with a 9 month-old baby boy, and when he speaks of his wife and young son a light glows from within.
Asim is articulate, intelligent, sophisticated, and painfully aware of the conflict confronting the Islamic world. He is a moderate, and he explained to me that the Islamic Center of Southern California, founded by the late Maher Hathout, established itself as a center to advocate for moderation and against extremist Islamic fundamentalism.
Imam Buyuksoy is deeply disturbed by ISIS, Al Qaeda, the Muslim Brotherhood, Hamas, Islamic Jihad and all political movements that claim Koranic text and Sharia Law as justification of their actions, which he believes is a distortion and manipulation of Islam for violent and hateful purposes.
I shared with him that I am an activist with J Street, that I am pro-Israel and a passionate American Zionist, who believes that the only solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is in a two-state solution. I told that I am one of three national co-chairs of our J Street Rabbinic Cabinet of nearly 1000 rabbis, that close to 100 Congressional Representatives and Senators are J Street endorsed in Washington, D.C., that our goal is to advocate for an active American policy to help Israel and the Palestinians find a road to a two-state solution. I told him as well that I never hesitate to write or speak publicly about this issue.
Asim understood and seemed supportive of that view.
Then I said: “Asim – it is more important for people like you to speak out than for people like me.”
He looked at me quizzically. I explained: “Your faith is followed by 1.5 billion people; mine has between 15 and 17 million worldwide. The march in Paris following the murders of the 12 cartoon journalists and the 4 Jews in the kosher market included all French citizens, and many Muslim leaders.”
“What is necessary [recalling Tom Friedman’s op-ed in the NY Times] is not a million person march through the streets of Paris, but a million Muslim march against Islamic extremism through the streets of Paris and elsewhere.”
Asim listened. I acknowledged that any Muslim leader like himself takes on far greater personal risk than a Jew who speaks out in this country. I am sure there are people who would not hesitate to strike out against outspoken Muslim leaders like you who advocate for a liberal interpretation of Islamic law.”
Our lunch went on for nearly two hours and I am pleased that we felt not only a warm personal connection that hopefully will continue to grow, but we shared common values about peace, justice, compassion, and the importance of intergroup dialogue and relationships.
I closed our lunch by saying the following to Asim: “You know – the opposite of peace isn’t war. It’s Truth. If we want Truth, then we must prepare for war. If we want peace, then we must prepare for compromise and honorable acceptance of the other. No one has all the Truth anyway – only God possesses that – and anyone who claims they do are essentially wrong.”
We parted and hoped for more contact soon.