Standing on the Shoulders of Giants

Eide AlawanEide Alawan was born and raised in Detroit. His father, Ibrahim, who came here to escape Ottoman persecution, did not move the family to Dearborn until the ‘60s. When asked why they weren’t living with their own people, he said “because you have nothing to learn when you’re living with your own people.”

He came to America, says Alawan, to understand what America was. Although he was illiterate, he ran a business, had a family and was one of the founders of the Islamic Center of America in Dearborn.

“I’m standing on the shoulders of giants,” says Alawan. “The immigrant coming to this country is the strong point of any community.”

As the Diversity Liaison at Harper Hospital, Alawan has continued his father’s pursuit of getting to know other people.

“My purpose is to hopefully connect with people of other religious, ethnic traditions, have a sensitivity to other people,” says Alawan, “I don’t think of Islam as being all the answers. I need to know what other people feel, what’s in their tradition.”

There is, he says, a verse on the wall in the Islamic Center telling Muslims not to forget that they’re not the beginning; they’re just the continuation.

Although the Koran recognizes the continuation of the Abrahamic faiths from Judaism to Christianity to Islam, at 16, Alwan’s family thought he was going to become a Catholic when he went to his first interfaith event at a Catholic church on Christmas.

“Not at all,” says Alawan. “I became a better person. My drive on interfaith work is not to show my difference, but our commonalities and to praise the faith tradition of the person I’m talking to. I’m 1000 percent believing what I say. I don’t believe the creator that created us all made a mistake. I have four children in my house. They came from the same mother and father, but they have different opinions and they have respect for each other.”

When he describes getting to know other interfaith activists in the community, the crucial conversations, the struggle to understand each other, to become sensitive to each other, working with Gail Katz on World Sabbath and Brenda Rosenberg on Children of Abraham, he describes the effort, the importance, sometimes the frustration or feeling of having made a misstep, in short the vital but challenging process of building bridges.

“I wasn’t born a perfect person. I tell my wife I’m perfect, but I can’t tell anyone else that,” jokes Alawan. “This is my passion, not the passion of Islam, Islam, Islam. That interfaith work should be based on respect for one another, learning about each other.”

Alawan feels that all these teachers and partners are equally deserving of this recognition for his work.  Not only does he feel that he stands on the shoulders of the giants in his family, but also the people he describes as giants in their interfaith work.

“That’s why I do not feel that this recognition is Eide Alawan. It’s a recognition of all the people I’ve encountered over the years that groomed me,” says Alawan. “I became stronger in my faith that I know that my faith is telling me to have an open mind and have respect for other people’s opinions. That’s what it’s all about.”

Speaking of his friend and IFLC chair Bob Bruttell, he says, “The reason I’m doing this is because I believe in what Bob’s doing and the Interfaith Council. I know they want to feature people who have helped the community achieve its diversity. They have picked up the ball and created better unity in the interfaith community than I’ve seen in my lifetime. Bob brought this all together.”

Alawan is an incredibly spry 77 years old. But he is aware of his age and determined to make his best contribution in whatever time he has to do it. He is particularly concerned about the divide between Sunni and Shia.

“We are Muslims of the Koran and we need to stand together. It’s not the Koran differences, it’s the hadith. This is the difference. We can stop it from the United States. We’ve been arguing this point for 1400 years. We have 99 percent commonality and we kill each other over the 1 percent.”

“Victor Begg came out with an astounding idea,” says Alawan. “We are “sushi muslims.”

Alawan is Shia and his daughter married a Sunni. He says, “I have two of the cutest sushi granddaughters you’ve ever seen.”