This groundbreaking program certainly involved risks. We all experienced discomfort and anxiety as we stared our fears and prejudices in the face, quite literally. And there were even times when I became angry and was deeply offended. However, undergoing such experiences was a small price to pay given the tremendous growth and understanding that emerged after the two-weeks. For me, the word "Muslim" is no longer the televised image of an angry flag-burner on the Arab street. "Muslim" now describes the faces of colleagues -- nay, my friends -- whose opinions I value and respect.
This is the kind of engagement we Americans must begin to have with the Muslim world and with one another. I am not so interested in whether a new mosque is erected in lower Manhattan or not. What does interest me is for more Americans to have the opportunity to communicate with, experience, and to really know their Muslim compatriots. I don't believe it will be easy. It certainly wasn't for me. But I sincerely believe that relationships characterized by trust and loyalty can be formed, and we owe it to ourselves to try.
America, let's start a conversation with our neighbors about September 11. Let's begin the conversation with the Muslim world we never before had. And if you absolutely insist on watching Muslims on screen instead of talking to them, I suggest you watch this www.groundzerodialogue.tv/ instead of the news.
Maurice A. Stinnett is Moderator of the Princeton Theological Seminary student government. He is chairman for the first summer of the World Leadership Program, an innovative relationship-building curriculum that brought together young American religious leaders and graduate students with their al-Azhar University Muslim counterparts.