New Beginnings: Globalization and Islam in America Under the Obama Administration


An event co-organised by IAIS Malaysia and Embassy of the United States of America, Kuala Lumpur


Welcome remarks by: Mr. Scott Rauland, Counselor for Public Affairs, U.S. Embassy, Kuala Lumpur

Speaker: Mohamad Bashar Arafat

Discussant: Professor Datuk Osman Bakar, Deputy CEO IAIS Malaysia

Venue: IAIS Malaysia


Mohamad Bashar Arafat
Born and raised in Damascus, Syria. He attended Damascus University and graduated with a degree in Islamic Studies and Arabic Language in 1987 and a degree in Islamic Law in 1988. From 1975 to 1989 under the guidance and mentorship of the late Grand Mufti of Syria, Sheikh Ahmad Kuftaro, he studied Quranic interpretation, wisdom of the “Shari’ah” and the Islamic spiritual teachings. From 1989 to 1997, he accompanied the Grand Mufti during most of his international programs and conferences.

He served as Imam in Damascus from 1981 to 1989 and was then invited to the United States to lecture in various Islamic Centers. He was Imam of the Islamic Society of Baltimore, Maryland Inc. from 1989 to 1993, founded An-Nur Institute for Islamic Studies and Arabic Language in Baltimore in 1993, co-founded An-Nur Mosque in Carney, Maryland and was the Imam from 1995 to 1997. Currently he is President of the Islamic Affairs Council of Maryland, based in Baltimore. He taught courses on Islamic Studies at the Ecumenical Institute of Theology at St. Mary’s Seminary & University, the University of Maryland in Baltimore County (UMBC), Johns Hopkins University, Goucher College, the Renaissance Institute, as well as Comparative Religions at Potomac College in Washington, DC. Currently he is teaching at the College of Notre Dame of Maryland.


He served as Campus Imam at Johns Hopkins University from 1993 to October 2003, Adjunct Chaplain at Johns Hopkins Hospital from 2000 to October 2003, and Muslim Chaplain for Baltimore City Police Department from 1998 to 2006.


Since moving to Baltimore in 1989, he has been heavily involved with interfaith work, both nationally and internationally, promoting better understanding between Muslims and other Faith Traditions. Among the recent seminars and conferences he participated in are:

  • “Schools of the Future: Sailing the Winds of Change”, National Association of Independent Schools in Chicago, USA
  • “Islam & Civil Society”, The Witherspoon Institute, Princeton University in New Jersey, USA
  • “Human Rights in Judaism, Christianity and Islam“, Clergy Beyond Borders in Washington, DC, USA
  • “Imam & the Pastor”, “Mary in the Qur’an”, Parliament of World Religions in Melbourne, Australia
  • “Qur’an Conference: Understanding Scientific Developments in the Light of Holy Qur’an” in New Delhi, India
  • “Muslims and Education: Challenges and Opportunities” in New Delhi, India.

He is the Founder and President of Civilizations Exchange and Cooperation Foundation (CECF), which functions as an umbrella to bring people together in a format, where exchanges can take place more effectively to create a better world that enjoins peace and cooperation.

Currently CECF provides religious & cultural training, consultation, and orientation services for the international exchange students and staff of the U.S. Department of State’s sponsored Youth Exchange Study Program, “YES Program” in the USA. Imam Arafat is the convener of three annual youth leadership and interfaith conferences, “Better Understanding for a Better World” (BUBW) in Orlando, San Diego, and Baltimore.
As of January 2005, Imam Arafat began conducting programs on “Islam in America” through the International Speakers Program of The United States Department of States in Chad, Niger, Mauritania, Ethiopia, Tanzania, Kenya, Morocco, Egypt, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, United Arab Emirates, Yemen,

Philippines, Indonesia, Spain, Austria, Czech Republic, Switzerland, Iceland, Thailand, Malaysia, and India.


Mr. Scott Rauland, Counselor for Public Affairs
Effective July 1, 2010, Scott Rauland took up the position of Counselor for Public Affairs at the U.S. Embassy Kuala Lumpur.
Previously, Scott Rauland served as PAO in Kabul (2008-2009) and Frankfurt (2005-07), Consul General in Yekaterinburg, Russia (2003-05),  PAO in Quito (2000-2003), Information Center Director in Islamabad, Pakistan (1998-2000), Program Development Officer in Berlin for the new German states (1995-98), and Assistant Public Affairs Officer in Baku, Azerbaijan (1993-94).

Scott’s previous career was in education. He was a pioneer in distance education, teaching classes in Russian via TV to students in rural Wisconsin schools outside of Green Bay, WI from 1990 to 1993 and was named  National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH)  “Master Educator” in 1992. Scott’s first professional experience overseas was in Germany, where he lived and worked from 1982-84 teaching English at a Berlitz language school in Wiesbaden and studying at the Johannes Gutenberg University in Mainz.


Scott is married to Frances Rauland and has two children, Patrick (23) and Alexandra (19). Scott is a graduate of Big Foot High School in Walworth, Wisconsin (named after a Potawatomi Indian Chief, not the shoe size of local residents). He received a BA in European History from the University of Chicago in 1981 and an MA in Russian Language and Literature from Ohio State University in 1986.



The speaker was introduced by Mr. Scott Rauland (Counselor for Public Affairs –US Embassy); and Emeritus Professor Dato’ Osman Bakar (Deputy CEO, IAIS) gave a Response to Imam Arafat’s remarks. Dr. Karim Crow (IAIS) moderated this Seminar.


Imam Bashar spoke of the pain in his heart at the lack of cogent responses from Muslims to President Obama’s Cairo speech. Our reality demands we learn how to experience pluralism and diversity, we need to move forward in order to “know one another” (li-taʿarafu). Instead Muslims “lack the capability to speak the language of the 21st century.” From the perspective of the Divine interest we must strive to realize our humanity together in our common life, and evolve responses to the initiatives coming from others. He then gave a short Power-point presentation about his work with the US State Department’s Youth Exchange Program & their International Speakers program; as well as his own annual youth leadership and interfaith conferences ‘Better Understanding for a Better World’ since 2005 across the globe.


Professor Datuk Osman Bakar’s response raised the issue of whether the US is a benign neutral force in global affairs, and if Obama’s sincerity excuses his naivety and rhetorical charm. People of goodwill everywhere distinguish between the US National interest, and those of “interest groups”. In the question session several persons expressed some pessimism regarding the future of relations between the US and the Islamic world.

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