To Understand Is To Know #101

To Understand Is To Know #101
Leadership Epistomology…when you understand, you know…


As a faculty member in the Doctoral Program of Edgewood College in Madison, Wisconsin here in the U.S., I have had the privilege of instructing students pursuing a doctorate in Administrative Leadership in Higher Education.  The last of the student’s content courses centers on exploring Leadership, Governance and Policy Making .  Some of the students enter the course with significant leadership experience.  Others are just beginning their leadership journey.

Each of the students has been encouraged to think experientially, deeply, ethically and morally about a series of critical aspects linked to leadership.  A number of those in the program are international students from various countries around the world.  Some have hailed from China, Russia and Saudi Arabia.  It is (say the students), a challenging course.  That’s by design and as it should be in my thinking for students at this level of their academic careers.

And like many of the students who hail from the United States, the international students share insights, experiences and ideas on the topic of leadership based upon leadership in their homeland as well as reflections and reactions to leadership here in North America.  Such offerings have richly informed the content and the construct of course elements wedded to what I term “learning moments” for the students and myself as well.

One of the templates to the course centers on Leadership Epistemology – meaning the study of leadership with the adage that, when you understand, you know.  I’ve taken the liberty of linking this idea to truth, justice, compassion, partnership and community – the core mission values of Edgewood College.  It is because of these values, ones I struggle with, highly respect and attempt to model in my professional and private life, that I share the following published story authored by CNN host, Fareed Zakaria.

The inspiration for assigning this as my first post is not to showcase my alignment with Zakaria’s message.  It is however, rooted in the idea of fostering conversation about varied leadership styles, understanding of those who are different, how best to use or not use political capital in leadership, social etiquette, political correctness, inclusion and much, much more.

In fairness, posting the article is also not an attempt to posture my own political, social or religious views, though I do have such and they are strongly rooted in my own personal narrative that includes being a patriot of the United States.  However, I remain a dedicated celebrant of other cultures, people – their customs as well as nations around the globe.  My celebration of others has transformed how I embrace those who are different.

That said, I’m equally committed to religious inclusion not just as a passing enthusiast, but as an invested practitioner in my own faith.  This practice (which does not dismiss the customs of other religious traditions), is sustained in part through the investigative inquiry of, interaction with music makers around the globe, travel, lectures, personal reflection, performances, attendance and participation in diverse liturgical settings.

It has been along this pathway of practice and learning, that I have lingered – transformed and amazed at the beauty of people around the world and their daily rituals where crafted musical expressions (often linked to sacred or religious beliefs and practices) are grounded in people’s daily living.  Many of their musical stories have become my own and not just because of the differences, but in spite of them.

It is my hope that my first blog post (as well as those that follow) on the thoughts of Zakaria, offer and stimulate others to discuss, argue and explore how we all might better understand and know each other even if we don’t necessarily agree.  This premise serves in part as the foundation of the leadership course I teach where expressed opinions, experiences and insights are treated inclusively.

In response to this post and others down the road, I invite you to read and share your (civilly rendered) reflections.

Asante Sana, Jonathan

CNN’s Fareed Zakaria: “I Am Appalled By Donald Trump’s Bigotry and Demagoguery”

Photo c/o of

FAREED ZAKARIA: I think of myself first and foremost as an American. I’m proud of that identity because, as an immigrant, it came to me through deep conviction and hard work, not the accident of birth. I also think of myself as a husband, a father, a guy from India, journalist, New Yorker, and on good days maybe an intellectual. But in today’s political climate I must embrace another identity.

I’m a Muslim. Now I’m not a practicing Muslim. The last time I was in a mosque, except as a tourist, was decades ago. I’m completely secular in my outlook. But as I watch the way in which Republican candidates are dividing Americans, I realize that it’s important to acknowledge the religion into which I was born.  And yet that identity doesn’t fully represent me or my views.

I am appalled by Donald Trump’s bigotry and demagoguery, not because I am a Muslim, but because I’m an American. This is the real danger of Trump’s rhetoric. It forces people who want to assimilate, who see themselves as having multiple identities, into a single box. The effects of this rhetoric have already poisoned the atmosphere. Muslim-Americans are more fearful and will isolate themselves more. The broader community will know them less and trust them less. A downward spiral of segregation will set in.

Once you start labeling an entire people by characteristics like race and religion and then see the whole group as suspect, tensions will build.

I remain an optimist. Trump has taken the country by surprise. People don’t quite know how to respond to the vague unworkable proposals. “We have to do something,” he says.

The phony statistics, the dark insinuations of conspiracies. “There’s something we don’t know,” he says, about President Obama, and the naked appeals to people’s prejudices. But this is not the 1930s. People from all sides of the spectrum are condemning Trump, though there are several Trump-lites among the Republican candidates.

The country will not stay terrified. Even after San Bernardino, the number of Americans killed by Islamic terrorists on U.S. soil in the 14 years since 9/11 is 45, according to New America. That’s an average of about three people a year.

The number killed in gun homicides this year alone will be around 11,000. In the end, America will reject this fear mongering and demagoguery as it has in the past. But we’re going through an important test of political and moral character.

I hope decades from now people will look back and ask, “what did you do when Donald Trump proposed religious tests in America?”

– Fareed Zakaria

Suggested Reading

September 17, 2013



A prominent Rabbi and an Imam, each raised in orthodoxy, overcome the temptations of bigotry and work to bridge the chasm between Muslims and Jews

Rabbi Marc Schneier, the eighteenth generation of a distinguished rabbinical dynasty, grew up deeply suspicious of Muslims, believing them all to be anti-Semitic. Imam Shamsi Ali, who grew up in a small Indonesian village and studied in Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, believed that all Jews wanted to destroy Muslims. Coming from positions of mutual mistrust, it seems unthinkable that these orthodox religious leaders would ever see eye to eye. Yet in the aftermath of 9/11, amid increasing acrimony between Jews and Muslims, the two men overcame their prejudices and bonded over a shared belief in the importance of opening up a dialogue and finding mutual respect. In doing so, they became not only friends but also defenders of each other’s religion, denouncing the twin threats of anti-Semitism and Islamophobia and promoting interfaith cooperation.

In Sons of Abraham, Rabbi Schneier and Imam Ali tell the story of how they became friends and offer a candid look at the contentious theological and political issues that frequently divide Jews and Muslims, clarifying erroneous ideas that extremists in each religion use to justify harmful behavior. Rabbi Schneier dispels misconceptions about chosenness in Judaism, while Imam Ali explains the truth behind concepts like jihad and Shari’a. And on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the two speak forthrightly on the importance of having a civil discussion and the urgency of reaching a peaceful solution.

As Rabbi Schneier and Imam Ali show, by reaching a fuller understanding of one another’s faith traditions, Jews and Muslims can realize that they are actually more united than divided in their core beliefs. Both traditions promote kindness, service, and responsibility for the less fortunate—and both religions call on their members to extend compassion to those outside the faith. In this sorely needed book, Rabbi Schneier and Imam Ali challenge Jews and Muslims to step out of their comfort zones, find common ground in their shared Abrahamic traditions, and stand together and fight for a better world for all.

Sons of Abraham represents the culmination of years of work by Rabbi Schneier, my partner at the Foundation for Ethnic Understanding, Imam Ali, and myself to bring Muslims and Jews together all across the world.  Few people thought that these orthodox religious leaders could be friends, and even fewer believed their work would succeed, but Sons of Abraham shows how their friendship has created a model for a worldwide Muslim-Jewish reconciliation.”
—Russell Simmons, Chairman of the Foundation for Ethnic Understanding and co-founder of Def Jam Records“Through a robust discussion of the history and mindsets that define both Judaism and Islam, Imam Shamsi Ali and Rabbi Marc Schneier offer that the truest illustration of faith lies not in traditions or a myopic approach to piety, but rather in a deeply held belief in one God, a concern for human dignity, and a commitment to mutual respect.  The authors—in their friendship and in their service—offer a rare example of cooperation and provide a beacon of hope as we pursue peace between peoples torn apart by millennia of misunderstanding and mistrust.  Sons of Abraham is a work of political, social, and religious significance and a roadmap for how we should and can move forward.”
—Congressman André Carson“In this book my friends Rabbi Marc Schneier and Imam Shamsi Ali show us that Muslims and Jews are not enemies, but friends who are united by our belief in a monotheistic god and our lineage to our forefather Abraham. The Rabbi and Imam’s friendship is a reminder that peace and friendship are possible between our peoples.”
—S. Daniel AbrahamChairman, Center for Middle East Peace  

About the Authors

Rabbi Marc Schneier serves as vice president of the World Jewish Congress, founder and president of the Foundation for Ethnic Understanding (where he works with Russell Simmons), and founding rabbi of the Hampton Synagogue in Westhampton Beach. He has been honored by the US Congress and the State of Israel as an advocate for human and civil rights and religious and ethnic tolerance.

Imam Shamsi Ali
 is the spiritual leader of Jamaica Muslim Center, New York City’s largest Islamic center and former imam of the Islamic Cultural Center of New York. Imam Ali also serves on the boards of the Tanenbaum Center, the Federation for Middle East Peace, the Asean Muslim Federation of North America, and the Muslim Foundation of America, among others. Both men live in New York City.
  • Publisher: Beacon Press; Reprint edition (June 16, 2015)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0807061190
  • ISBN-13: 978-0807061190


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