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Envoy to Islamic Group Discusses Building Interfaith Relations

Sada Cumber, Special Envoy to the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC)
Ask America Webchat Transcript
Washington, DC
August 25, 2008

Webchat Moderator: Welcome to our webchat! We are taking your questions in this Q/A pod. Please enter your questions below.

Hello everyone! We will get started in just a few minutes.

Sada Cumber: I'm very pleased to be joining you this morning. And I'm looking forward to a very interesting dialogue. I invite you to share with me your thoughts, your suggestions and in return I will try very hard to respond to your questions. Again, thank you for joining me this morning.

As you may all be aware, President Bush appointed me to this position on February 27th and since then I have traveled in the past five months to over 24 countries and most of them are member states in the OIC which has its headquarters in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. President Bush, when also giving me this appointment, asked that I should travel and listen and see if there are misperceptions about the U.S. and member nations of the OIC and then try to explain to them American values and ethics.

And in the past five months I have been traveling and meeting with intellectuals, academia, and civil society leadership. This morning I would like to invite your thoughts, your opinions and your suggestions. Thank you.

You all are probably also aware that we have five to seven million Muslims living in America practicing their faith in over 1200 mosques. They are living the quality of life that is excellent and we are able to send our children to attend the best schools. And that is possible because we live in a free society like America.

Question: Nargis Kassam: Sahib Cumber, what are your plans empowering Muslim women in Africa?

Answer: I'm glad you have asked this question. In fact only two days back I was in Turkey, Istanbul, meeting with the Secretary General of the OIC and one of the areas that we discussed which is part of the U.S. government initiative of the OIC is to work in the areas of education, science and technology, health and good governance. And in all of these initiatives the main beneficiary is targeted to be the Muslim woman. These programs include the mother and child mortality issue in Africa.

We should engage in putting digital libraries in the African countries so that women can have access to over one million publications in the areas of health and education and entrepreneurship. As you understand, 50% of the 1.5 billion Muslim populations in the world today, are women, and both the U.S. government and OIC are committed towards raising the status of women in Islam. Thank you.

QUESTION [Yana]: Do you think Muslim communities want understanding with US as you do with them?

ANSWER: Hello, Yana. As you know we live in societies and cultures where we have to communicate and engage in not only better relationships, but also clearly understand each other and our values. On my travels to Muslim countries I have learned that as much as America wants to build better relationships the Muslim countries they also have to show the same interest. I believe through this initiative in working through the OIC, the U.S. government and the Muslim communities around the world would be able to achieve the positive goals that we have set for ourselves. Thank you.

Webchat Moderator: If you are just joining us welcome! America.gov features a webpage on religious diversity. To view it please visit http://amlife.america.gov/amlife/diversity/atworship.html.

QUESTION: What is your main job?

ANSWER: Chat, thank you for asking me to explain to you what my main job is. As United States special envoy to the OIC my office is out of the United States State Department in Washington D.C. where our federal government is situated and from here I maintain contact and relationships with the OIC Secretariat in Jeddah. I also maintain contact with President Wade of Senegal who is chairman of the OIC and I also travel and meet the leadership of 57 member nations of OIC. The other area where I engage is to work and maintain dialogue and relationship, positive relationship with the Muslim communities around the world and also Muslim organizations in the U.S.

QUESTION [123]: What do I need to continue my education in USA and I am from Serbia?

ANSWER To 123, I think your interest to come to the U.S. for further education is an excellent move. I would highly recommend that you should get in touch with U.S. embassy in Serbia where they will guide you through the process to come and study in America.

QUESTION: Do you think it is possible for US to repair damages made by Iraq war? I mean in relations with Muslims?

ANSWER: Hello chat, I'm glad that you are thinking and asking about the U.S. relationship with Iraq and in the region. President Bush has always said that the U.S. wants peace, prosperity and stability in the region for all people. If you look at the history of America's engagement and presence, for example, in Japan, in South Korea, in Western Europe like Germany and even Turkey, for example, you will see that America has always created a free and open society for all people.

If you look at those societies before and after America's engagement and presence you will see that those societies have grown to be free societies where their people, the citizens, are enjoying good governance, rule of law, access to justice, higher education, strong civil societies, transparency and accountability. So, yes, the U.S. is looking forward to seeing the same open and free society emerging in Iraq and the region. Thank you.

QUESTION [Chat123]: What did you do before being OIG envoy?

ANSWER: Hello again Chat. Before I was appointed as a U.S. special envoy to the OIC I was engaged in the private sector and I built 11 companies in technology, financial and manufacturing sector. And I lived in Austin, Texas, where I had my home, and after my fifth assignment ends, I will be going back to Texas and re-engage in my business activities. Thank you.

Webchat Moderator: To learn more about interfaith activities please visit: http://www.america.gov/st/diversity-english/2008/July/20080731135352xlrennef0.6641504.html

QUESTION [Chat123]: What is best way to advance interfaith understanding?

ANSWER: Chat, interfaith dialogue is always healthy and we must all encourage these initiatives. However, what I'm learning is that sometimes it is important to have interfaith dialogue within the Muslim communities and faith, because at present during my travels I'm learning that there is a lot of intolerance within the Muslim communities towards each other.

And any dialogue, interfaith or intrafaith, needs to be inclusive and not very selective. So I'm encouraged to hear from you that you do believe like all of us that these dialogues are only helpful. Thank you.

Dear global web chat participants, I felt privileged and honored that you were able to engage and ask very important questions regarding America and its relationship with the Muslim world. And I hope that my responses have met your satisfaction and if not, please do keep an open mind and communicate, because it is through communication and dialogue that societies can make progress and learn to live together in peace and in harmony. Thank you.

Webchat Moderator: We wish to thank Mr. Sada Cumber for joining us today. The webchat is now closed. A full transcript of today's webchat will be published (usually within one business day) to our Ask America home page.

(Speakers are chosen for their expertise and do not necessarily reflect the views or policies of the U.S. Department of State.)

Released on August 25, 2008

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