Watch the Interview
Shaping the Future of America with Mike Ghouse
Dr. Mike Ghouse is the founder and president of the Center for Pluralism. He is a speaker, thinker, author, community consultant, pluralist, activist, newsmaker, and an interfaith wedding officiant. Mike is deeply committed to free speech, human rights, and pluralism in religion, politics, societies, and the workplace. He has dedicated his life to building cohesive societies and offers pluralistic solutions to the media and the policymakers. More about him at www.TheGhousediary.com.
Ten years from now, you will not find a place of work, worship, playground, school, restaurant, theater, or other areas of public gatherings where you will not see people of different faiths, races, and ethnicities interacting, working, studying, intermingling, playing, and even marrying each other.
These interactions are bound to create conflicts, and it is our duty to prevent such conflicts so each American can live securely with his or her faith, culture, gender, race, sexual orientation, or ethnicity.
We have already witnessed how the natives (those who have been here for several generations) feel about the new Americans. It is not a phobia, but a natural feeling of fear of losing one’s way of life and one’s world.
A vast majority of us have heard things about others from our friends, news, social media, or our knowledge of others, and we instantly form opinions about others. As responsible individuals, we must strive to strip stereotyping and build pathways to ensure the smooth functioning of our society, whether it is the workplace or our neighborhoods. We need to reassure each other, particularly the disconnected ones, that together as Americans, we are committed to safeguarding the American way of life. No American needs to worry about losing his or her way of life. Together as Americans, we uphold, protect, defend, and celebrate the values enshrined in our Constitution; a guarantor of the way of life each one of us wants to lead.
Let me state this clearly, “My peace and tranquility hinges on the peace of people around me,” and “My safety is tied to the security of people around me.” It behooves me to build societies where all are secure; it guarantees my security and my tension free life.
We are committed to building a cohesive America, an America where each one of us feels secure about our ethnicity, faith, culture, race, and other uniqueness. To accomplish that vision, we have several programs, events, and workshops to be a catalyst to bring about the results,
The Center for Pluralism will continue to bring nonstop actions in bringing Americans together from different faiths, political affiliations, societies, and cultures and be a catalyst for a safe and secure America for each one of us as we move through this transition.
As we learn to respect the otherness of others and accept the God-given uniqueness of each one of us, then conflicts fade and solutions emerge.
Read the Interview
Hugh Ballou: Greetings, and welcome to The Nonprofit Exchange. We are six and a half years into talking to people with experience, with ideas, with wisdom. Some people even did things wrong that didn’t work. Some people have multi-tasked and done amazing things. Today, we are talking about the future of America. I think it’s near and dear to everyone’s mind right now. Mike Ghouse, you’re in Washington D.C. Welcome to The Nonprofit Exchange. Please tell people a little bit about who Mike is.
Mike Ghouse: Hugh, good to be here. Let me start with my traditional greetings, the interfaith and pluralism greetings. Friends, greetings. Greetings are a way to break ice between strangers. The problems in the society we have because we don’t know each other. We are afraid of each other. We go into an all-Black neighborhood, an all-white neighborhood, an all-Vietnamese or Mexican neighborhood, and generally we are apprehensive. If somebody says “Hi” to you, you feel relief or at ease. In religions, each religion, every faith has designed a greeting to welcome. For example, in the Hindu tradition, if you say “Namaste,” it simply means, “Let the good in me connect with the good in you.” In the Abrahamic traditions, when they say “Salaam,” “Shalom,” “Our peace to you,” what they are saying is, “May God shower His blessings and peace on you.” We are conditioning each other to be in peace so that when we get together and talk, we are achieving peace.
Let me share quickly a few greetings from different traditions. The Bahai greetings: “Alláh-u-Abhá.” The Buddhist greeting is “Buddha namo.” The Christian greeting, “Peace to you.” The Hindu greeting, “Namaste.” The Jain greeting, “Jai-Jinendra.” The Jewish greeting, “Shalom.” The Sikh greeting, “Sat Sri Akaal.” The Muslim greeting, “As-salamu alaykum.” The Zoroastrian greeting, “Hamāzor.” Native American greetings in general, “Hau.” All of these greetings simply mean, “Let the goodness in you connect with the goodness in me. Let’s have a peaceful conversation so we can clear peace amongst us.” With that greeting, now I will talk about me.
My name is Mike Ghouse. I was an atheist for most of my life. Then I chose to become a Muslim in 1999. There is a reason for that. If we have time, I can go into that. I am deeply committed to pluralism. Pluralism is respecting the otherness of other. You are who you are; I am who I am. Let you live your life; I live my life. The almighty God has created each one of us to be a unique being. Seven and a half billion people have their own thumbprints, eyeprints, DNA, and tastebuds. We are unique in that each one of us can be clearly identified who each one is. With that, our thought process is unique. Even though we may be trained one certain way, still we have our own uniqueness attached to that belief and that faith. I am deeply committed to that. I believe it is my calling as an atheist when I was searching for something called pluralism that is respecting all humanity.
A little story behind that is in 1996, I had a radio show then. Everybody asked me to join the Thanksgiving Square in Dallas, which is the big multicultural center. All of them were my friends from the Bahai to Zoroastrian. I put in the application. Two days later, my Bahai friend, who was president of the organization, called me and said, “Mike, we can’t have the membership for you here.” I asked him, “Why, Kevin, can’t I be a member?” He said, “We don’t have a slot for you.” “What do you mean?” “Each one has a pigeonhole. You don’t have a pigeonhole, being an atheist.” I said, “Why don’t you create one?” He said, “No, it’s about people who believe in God.” I said, “I understand that.” Then I said, “Fine, you guys stay.” I went ahead and set up an organization called Foundation for Pluralism, where every American, regardless of their faith and belief, is welcome. That’s how we began my story in pluralism.
At one time, no one knew how to pronounce pluralism. Now everyone knows. If you Google “pluralism” in writings between 1990-2000, there may only be about 500-600 entries discussing it. Half of them are by me. From 2000-2010, there are about 50,000. Now there are a million. Everyone has started writing about pluralism. I am glad to be at this point here where we have established the Center for Pluralism. Hopefully, to create a cohesive America where each American feels secure about who he or she is regardless of their faith, race, tradition. Whatever uniqueness he/she has, one should feel secure living in our country of America. We are the land of the free. That’s my story.
Hugh: Love it. The Center for Pluralism. Your website says, “Also known as America Together Foundation.” You have talked about a society that has some continuity, some cohesiveness to it. Speak about some of the goals of this Center for Pluralism.
Mike: Our mission is to create a society where all Americans feel secure about who they are. What we’d like to see is that you, me, anyone gets along with each other. Ten years from now, maybe it is now, you will not find a place of worship, a playground, a theater, a restaurant, or any public space where you will not see people of different faiths, races, and traditions interacting with each other, studying together, eating together, even marrying together. When these interactions have been happening between different ethnicities, races, and cultures, it is bound to create conflicts. Conflicts come from a lack of understanding with each other. These conflicts will clear tensions between people.
I am glad you are doing this show to innovate the nonprofit community. We have an obligation since we have some ideas about how to take care of this to create a society where these conflicts can be mitigated and lowered. People can enjoy life rather than fight about the understanding of cultural nuances, religious beliefs. Instead of fighting them, we can work on learning about each other and enjoying life. There is so much to enjoy in life. Let’s enjoy that life instead of fighting over race, ethnicity, and culture. This is our whole mission of the Center of Pluralism.
In that, we have five segments. We started out with the first segment of pluralism in religion. It is respecting different ways of worshipping the Creator and accepting their devotion as legitimate as my own. Whether you are a Hindu, Christian, Jew, or Muslim, you are bowing to the creator. You are being humble to the Creator. Putting us all on the same level. That is pluralism in religion.
In politics, of course, we have two major parties in the United States: the Republicans and the Democrats. Of course, this requires a lot of discussions. Even though we differ on many issues, much of it is hype, realizing half of the conversation there was pure hype rather than actual talk. If we can bring the two parties together, we will figure out that the real authentic differences are just a handful, like abortions. There are very few issues on which we differ, and on the majority, we agree. We need to come together and cut down the rhetoric about each other. That is pluralism in politics.
Pluralism in society. We have different ethnicities. At a wedding, the turban of the Sikh community. For some people, that looks different or weird. Who sets the standard that my clothes are the standard that God wants? There is no such standard. Each one of us is our own model, our own unique standard. We don’t have to be like anybody else, but we have to learn to accept that. I may eat a medium-rare steak; you may eat a well-done steak. It is your taste and my taste. We don’t fight over that. We need to work on the same thing in politics.
In the workplace, people come with different baggage. I may be trained to believe not to trust the Jews or the Muslims or Black people or white people. With that baggage, as poisonous as a child, when I come to work, I am not giving 100% of me to my employer because my fellow employee may be Jewish, Black, or Muslim. I am not communicating my ideas with them because I don’t trust them. It may not be on the surface, but deep down, it is there. Pluralism in the workplace is learning to open up to each other and giving your full self.
When you go back home from work, you are not biting, “That Muslim guy, that Jewish guy, that Black guy.” It is in your mind. You are not giving 100% of you to your spouse or children. It is time we start giving 100% of us to our family, to our workplace, to whatever we do. That is pluralism at the workplace.
These are the five key aspects of the work we do.
Hugh: That’s amazing. In past years, I had the pleasure of working with a group that produced international choir competitions. It was like the Olympics for choirs, but that wasn’t a word they could use. Every two years, a major event would happen in some other continent. I helped them bring it to America. In America, we don’t know much about what goes on outside of our borders. In the South, we don’t know much about anything outside of the South; we think California is another country. We have our own greeting, “Hi, y’all.” It was fascinating.
I went to the first one in 2008 in Graz. Then it went to China for a second time. Then it came to America in 2012. In Graz, they were pushing the limits. They had 450 choirs from 120 countries. The common denominator here was choral music, singing in choirs. The Russians and Ukrainians don’t sing like the Chinese or the South Africans or the Italians or the Latvians. They had to have a universal standard of judging that judged on how they faithfully interpreted the music. Did they stay in tune? Some of those generic things. But what happened, Mike, is the whole world came together in a peace. It was world peace coming together because we had this common denominator—like religion, but it’s not—of music and excellence in music. People who were competing with each other were actually cheering each other on. When you’re singing together, you’re not shooting each other. That was a wonderful phenomenon I got to experience.
What is the commonality? How do we connect each other in this pluralistic, cohesive society? What is the common denominator that binds us together?
Mike: Deep down, each one of us, every human being, with no exception, aspires to have a decent job and is fully committed to taking care of their families, live a healthy life, and retire peacefully. These are all the common goals of all of us. The majority of us want to get along with others, live our lives, and let others live theirs. We will be happiest when we have the least conflicts with fellow beings. We always want to see a good win.
In every movie, regardless of where the movie is made, as you mentioned about the choir, whether the movie is made in Nigeria, China, India, Japan, at the end, the villain loses, and the good person wins. We all feel good about it emotionally. That is really who we are as individuals. We want to see goodness. We want to see people get along. We want to retire in peace. We want to see our grandchildren happy. Above all, we want to know when we retire, can I be safe? Can I walk safely on the streets? Can I be secure? This is what binds all of us together. We need to focus on what binds us together. Then we can achieve it. That is what I am talking about in a cohesive society.
To give you an idea, if you look up the universe, there are billions of stars, meteorites, planets. All of them have their own space. They are out there in orbit. They are going. There are very few collisions that may have happened a billion years ago. Each one functions in their own way. If you look up the human body, I am talking about what cohesiveness means. Look at the human body. You and me function the same normally. We have to have a brain, a heart, kidneys, lungs, a chest. All of the organs have to work together for me to function normally.
A short story, maybe it’s a joke. One day, the body organs were arguing. The brain says, “Look, guys, I am the most important part in the human body.” The heart says, “Hell no, I am. If I stop pumping, the whole thing collapses.” The stomach says, “If I don’t process food, no one will survive in the long run without energy.” The chest says another thing. All the organs are fighting with each other. Who is more important? The little guy at the bottom who excretes waste says, “I am more important than any of you.” Everyone laughs at that little hole where we excrete things. “You? You are important? No! You are a bad zone. You excrete bad things.” He gets angry. “Let me show you why I am most important.” He shuts down. In two days, everyone gets bodyaches. The organs decide, “Well, we ought to talk to this little guy. Please, you are the most important of everyone.”
The thought is every one of us in society is important. We are all put together collectively. We are interdependent. That’s how we can function cohesively. No individual is less important than the other. That is the moral of that little humor. I didn’t want to use the particular word for the punchline.
Hugh: I get it, you’re being polite. That is the macro: pluralism in society. The people who listen to this show are running organizations. I want to ask you a couple of systemic things about process and how you run your organization. But what you are talking about is getting along with people of different opinions. There is a micro to that inside of an organization.
I like to say that until recently, I have never been a member of any organized Christian church in my life because I was. Presbyterian all my life. That’s an old Will Rogers Democrat joke. You don’t have to have different skin color or a different God to be divided with opinions. We are facing that in our organized mainline churches. There is a lot of difference of opinion that has escalated to churches splitting off, which weakens the organizations. One of the common things is that we are all human. We are all God’s creation. If everyone is a perfect creation in God’s eyes, outside we look different, but inside, there is a humanity to all of us, being connected on that level.
You talked earlier about the conversations we can have with people. We have almost lost the art of having meaningful conversations today. It’s yelling at people rather than talking with people. I am loving what you are saying. You had this vision. Are you the founder of the Center for Pluralism?
Mike: Yes, I am.
Hugh: How many years ago did you found it?
Mike: It was founded as the Foundation for Pluralism in 1996. In 2011, we converted to the Center for Pluralism.
Hugh: Is it a for-profit or nonprofit?
Mike: It’s a nonprofit.
Hugh: It’s a nonprofit even though you have a .com website. You had this idea in 2011.
Mike: It’s recent. Nine years ago.
Hugh: 100 people have an idea. The statistics show that only three of them do something about it. Only one will succeed if you’re lucky. Give us the short story. You had this vision that you had to put together. You had to get a board and a team. The website has a lot going on. What did you do to make it happen? Is there something you can share with people that you wish you hadn’t done, a learning opportunity you had?
Mike: Pluralism for a long time was not acceptable. For example, I went to the Southern Methodist University. The Dean of Theology is a friend of mine, Robert Hunt. I gave a presentation on pluralism to a creative society where we learn to respect all faiths as legitimate. Your mother is as dear to you as my mother is dear to me. So is your religion and my religion. We need to create a society where Americans can focus on enjoying life rather than fighting who is better. I offered the course at SMU. He looked at it and said finally, “Mike, this is a Christian university. We respect all religions, but we can never say all religions are equal.” I said, “I’m not saying all religions are equal. Respecting others. To me, it’s my faith. To you is your faith.” We did not do anything after that.
I did a lot of radio shows in Dallas, including atheism. I always included that. We did workshops on 13 different religions from atheism to Zoroastrianism. I never had a problem in Dallas. But come to Washington five years ago. I wanted to do the same workshops. There was a huge resistance from the Christian churches and Jewish places. They would not allow me to talk about atheism, including Muslims. I said, “This is shocking. Atheists are a part of society. Why are we excluding them? We need to include them. We need to learn about them. We have myths about atheism. We need to clean those myths and learn about them. They are like you and me. We have the same morals; they just believe differently. Why do we need to exclude them?”
Finally, the Church of Scientology allowed me to do workshops, and we did workshops. One of my missions is to do this workshop at the Capitol Hill. Many of our Congressmen are not familiar with other religions other than their faith, Christianity or Judaism. As a result, they make statements about other faiths that are not correct. I want to do a short summary course for each one of them to learn to respect other faiths. If I say anything that will offend you, same about religion. That’s how we did it.
The other thing that inspired me is you mentioned the America Together Foundation. Sean Hannity has 110 TV shows and 150 radio shows. Bridget Gabriel, my friend, and I butted heads 30-35 times. She is bent on pitting one American against the other. I said, “This has got to change.” That’s when America Together Foundation came into being. I expressed this on the Hannity show to Bridget, “You keep pitting one American against the other. I want to bring Americans together and build a society where all of us focus on peace and prosperity rather than fighting whose religion or politics is better.” That is the story behind that.
The formation was difficult. Nobody wanted to be a part of pluralism. Even now, they don’t want to be a part of pluralism because my religion is superior. I don’t want to give the same value to other religions. It will take some time for us to get out of that mode. We will. The majority of people are changing. There was a survey done in 1992 asking Americans, “Do you believe Christ is the only way?” 92% of Americans said yes, Christ is the only way to salvation. 8% said no. In 1996, 70% of Americans said Christ is not the only way. They included others. There is a change in society. Interfaith organizations, nonprofit organizations need to update themselves. Maybe we need to do a mandatory continuing course where all of us, each faith, updates the other on the developments and new understandings of what their faith means.
For example, a year ago on Capitol Hill, we did a seminar on how the scriptures bring together or put distance between them. The Jewish tradition, we are the Chosen People. Muslims say Islam is the only way. Christians say it’s only through Jesus we have salvation. How grounded are these? These are true statements, but are they exclusive statements? Or is it meant for all humanity? Is God only for some people, or is His message for all humanity? These are the discussions we carried. It was a powerful event. People walked away knowing, “I’m Jewish. I am chosen to do certain things to make society better. But I am not chosen to be superior to someone else.” Same with Islam and other traditions.
Hugh: There has been a gradual creep over the years—before my time so you can’t blame it on me—in my church, the Christian church. My wife and I read the writings of Father Richard Rohr. He is a Franciscan. Very often, he will do references to Hindus or Buddhists or Muslims, some of the common threads. But he also takes a shot at the organized Christian church that if you read the Bible, some of the things we’ve done, we’ve gotten away from those core fundamentals. The Christian Bible says, “We’re made in God’s image.” We tend to want to create God in our image.
Hugh: We have to put things in ways we can understand them. God is not understandable. Even within our own little social club of the church, we have moved to a place that maybe isn’t consistent with what we claim we believe. There probably is a fear around some of these conversations. I want to pause for a second and deal with those insecurities and fears.
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We all have our insecurities. People do a pushback when you’re talking about this pluralistic thing. That’s different than diversity. We have diversity in our society. We need to move toward equity and inclusivity. These conversations you’re talking about are a good way to move the needle instead of saying, “You’re this way, and I’m that way, so we can’t be friends.” No, we can be friends. How do you deal with some of these insecurities? I can imagine someone saying, “This will erode our way of life if we do that.” How do you speak to that?
Mike: Let me share a few things here. In 2016, everyone was talking about eroding our way of life at the Republican Convention held in Philadelphia. Even the prime minister of England said the same thing. That is very true. People are afraid of losing their way of life. As a homeowner in Dallas, there were some homes that people wanted to paint purple. People thought that would devalue the homes in the area. All these different cultures and traditions are causing tension. Immigrants will change society. America is not the same. All of these fears are legitimate, and we do need to address them.
We have the best guarantor of our way of life: subscribing to our Constitution. If we all stick with the Constitution, there won’t be any worry about it. If everybody believes in free speech, free will, and as indigenous Americans, those who were here for many generations, we need to welcome the new Americans. Instead of pushing them out, we need to embrace them and teach them the values we have developed over the centuries. If we teach them those values, they will continue. If you don’t include them or embrace them, and let them do what they want, which is their right, then there will be growing differences. Then there is a fear of what will happen if they become senators and Congressmen. If they subscribe to the same ideals that you and I subscribe, there is a cohesive lens. We don’t need to worry.
I urge all my friends who support Trump or who support Biden or who support none to come together and learn how to embrace each other. Yes, we are different. But we can embrace each other. Our Constitution is our guide. If we stick to that, we cannot go wrong at all. Our values that we hold, we need to continue to educate. For example, the First Amendment. I am surprised when I talk with my fellow Indians and Muslims how they have no idea what it is. They are taught so much about other people, other nations. Did you ever study America? Do you know what freedom of speech is? They didn’t. I think we need to take this up. We need to make it a mandatory course for citizenship that they have to take a two-day First Amendment course where they fully comprehend free speech and what the American Constitution is. Then they will do the same thing that you and I do, and we won’t have to fear that America’s values will change.
Hugh: I love it. That first course is teaching those principles. The second course ought to be in listening. It’s a lost skill. Would you like to entertain some questions?
Mike: But let me address the question that you were mentioning how in the Christian church there is a movement for reform. This book called American Muslim Agenda, I wrote this to bring Muslim Americans together with fellow Americans to be a fully integrated part of America. There is no two Americas. We are all one people. it’s not just you and me. For that purpose, I wrote this book. It’s a good book to read for all those who want to understand America and what Muslims are doing. It’s also for Muslims to learn that we have to be a part of this society. The agenda of Islam is to create cohesive societies where no human has to live in fear. Let’s go to the questions now.
Hugh: The standard for volunteerism, tithing, and sharing with others is higher than our custom. Sheikh Rashid, do you have a question?
Sheikh Rashid: No, I just want to thank our brother for his very clear presentation of what we understand, or at least what I understand Islam to be. I have been working for over four decades to promote to our organizations. It’s a very clear concept. There is a concept that I like to talk about, which is instead of unity in diversity, I like to call it diversity in unity because it affirms what he’s saying. It’s important.
Also, our emphasis is on the youth between ages 14 and 40 years of age globally and in the United States. The question is, if there is a question to my brother, I guess it’s how you yourself envision the arc of the future in the sense that we’ve been working for 50 years in our spiritual community and 40 years in Legacy International. I just got off a three-hour webinar with one of our international programs we do with the Department of State called Tech Girls. What we did with them in the virtual reality because they couldn’t come here this year is to present art and humanities using technology to young women from 19 countries. We did some training with them for the last three weeks, and they presented their programs today. What I always find is I am looking beyond my own lifespan to see what we call the Affah, which is what is over the horizon and how we work with the youth. Comment if you will on your approach to youth. We can share that perhaps offline sometimes.
Mike: We have to get involved with the youth. We can even go back earlier to childhood. Parents, let me use the bold word here. Parents poison their children.
Hugh: Ooh, yes.
Mike: Whether it’s parents, friends, teachers, or clergy, they all poison the children, telling them about other people’s races or faiths. Don’t trust Jews or Muslims or Christians or Blacks or whites. This poison sits in a child’s mind. When the child becomes an adult, they have to work in an environment where they have to work with a Muslim, Jew, etc. He is not giving himself 100% because he is holding some reserve in him. He is not enjoying his 100% of life. He is holding himself because his parents poisoned him.
I urge parents to teach children pluralism that is respecting others. All of us are created by God. If He wanted, he would create all of us to be exactly alike. All men are six feet. All women are five feet. All men are 200 pounds. All women are 110 pounds. But God chose us to be unique. Our uniqueness. If children learned that, yes, that child is different than me, but he is as unique as I am. Both of us are created by the Creator, God. I have to accept him or her as equal to me because God is the one who created both of us. If you can incorporate those values into children and youth, they will become better citizens where these tiny differences pitting one against the other will go away. Instead, we will focus on how we together can create peace, harmony, prosperity, and security for every American.
Hugh: Love it. Is philanthropy a religion? If so, what is the greeting? Let’s see if Bob has a question.
Bob Hopkins: Hi there, Mike. Good to be here as well with you. You are on page nine and ten in my book, which means you were one of the first people I chose to be in my book. I wanted to be more involved specifically with you and your concepts and ideas. Even this morning, I got into an argument with another Christian. I am supposedly baptized a Christian, and most of my arguments are with other Christians who take different sides or have different ideas of what the Bible said. I like your idea better, just coming together with all people.
Tomorrow, I start a class with Bangladeshi students, most of whom are Muslims and are coming from Eid. When I talk about philanthropy, I hope to talk about philanthropy amongst all religions. I may need you to come be a speaker and talk about philanthropy in different faiths. You said “hello” to everyone in different religions. What is “hello” in philanthropy?
Mike: Caring for each other. I want to mention that Bob really expanded my horizons about the word “philanthropy.” Before I met him, I thought it meant rich people donating money. He expanded the definition to include anything good you do out of your goodwill for fellow humans.
Hugh: It says on your page, “A smile is philanthropy.”
Mike: Thanks, Bob. Appreciate you.
Hugh: Let’s talk more about how you do this internally. How do you form a board? Nonprofit boards are notorious, especially church boards, about differences of opinion. What different perspectives do you have represented on your board? How do you create some principles for engagement? I have worked with nonprofit leaders for 32 years, and I encourage people to get others who aren’t like them or who don’t think like them to get a variety of perspectives on your board. How did you put together a board for this kind of diverse operation?
Mike: It’s especially difficult for pluralism. I have been searching for people. On our board right now, we have an African American. She represents Presbyterianism. Then we have a Bahai guy. And we have a Turkish person. We have four races and four faiths represented. My ideal goal, Hugh, is to have a person from every faith and tradition because if you send a press release about the conflict that is brewing in the United States, that press release should be acceptable to all people. It should be so common. That is the makeup of our board.
The difficulty I am having, which I am expressing here, is to have people who cannot believe that other faiths are at least as dear to them as my faith is dear to me. Somehow everyone wants to say my faith is superior. It will take me some more time to have a full board until we can coach and train people who are willing.
I am a very confident Muslim. My faith is dear to me. I will never claim that my faith is superior to any faith because if I claim my faith is superior to others, I am arrogant. God does not like arrogance. God is about building bridges, creating harmony. Arrogance destroys harmony. If I claim my faith is superior, I am destroying the harmony and connection with fellow humans. I will never do that. But it will take some time for people to get to that point.
Trying to coach youth, I need to get with Bob Hopkins who have a lot of young people to coach to be confident about their faith. I chose Islam. I am proud of it. I will never think any faith is lesser than mine. That attitude we need to develop. Our board comprises that. We are also looking to include a Republican member on the board and a Democrat because we want all of us to focus on the issues that bring prosperity to all of us, not pit one against the other.
Hugh: That’s great. To think in those holistic terms when we are starting a board, I work with some start-ups and some early stage. I have some who have some on their board they wish they didn’t have on their board because they didn’t think through setting up some standards. I call them guiding principles from my study of the work of Dr. Murray Bowen. It’s really not bad or good; it is. Richard Rohr speaks often about not having dualistic thinking.
One of our core principles we teach nonprofit leaders is that equality is the opposite of integrity. I have three kids. They have the same genes and growing up conditions, same household. They’re different. There is no equality. But they had equity in opportunity. I look at the psalms in our Bible, and God judges people with equity. If we quit thinking about being equal, this country was screwed up by old white guys. For a young Black American to say, “I want to be equal to that” is not accessing the gifts they bring to the table. Equity gives you an open pathway to be who you are genuinely. You don’t have to pretend to be someone else.
Mike: 100% agree with that.
Hugh: It’s about the words we use to set up problems. We have this phrase that has no meaning, “social distancing.” We are not distancing socially. We are distancing physically. To the anti-pluralism in my early years, growing up in a racist Atlanta, Georgia, if someone grew up on the street, the white people changed the name of the street. That was called social distancing.
Mike: In Louisville, Kentucky, when the Muhammad Ali Center was built on the main street, they changed the name to Muhammad Ali Road. Two law firms moved their address because they didn’t want to share their address with Muhammad Ali Road.
Hugh: That’s social distancing. We are more social than ever, but we have to be careful as we go out in public. Wear a mask. But my point is we have to be careful even of the choice of words we use because they do set up these negative paradigms and feelings in discussions. We might think it means something, but we don’t test out what it means on the other side. There is more than just showing up and doing things. It’s living it, being it, and talking it.
What is the future for the Center for Pluralism? I hope you are building a legacy. I am trying to build one with SynerVision. I am surprised how many nonprofits don’t think of succession plans or legacies at all. I’m sure you have thought about it.
Mike: First of all, I’m very proud that both of my kids, my son and daughter, said, “Dad, we don’t need your money. Do what you want to do with it.” If I croak someday, my insurance money will go to fund the Center for Pluralism. I am trying to find an executive director who can run it, and we will set up the principles. One of the guiding principles to be part of the board is if you help us raise faith, great, but are you willing to shed that bias? If you’re willing, then you’re welcome to be a part of the team to coach and guide.
It is my legacy to create an institution for the coaching and workshops we do. I want to develop them as a credit course, affiliated with a university or our own institution where we teach pluralism. Every city has a chamber of commerce leadership course. They go through how the government is run, transportation, the economy. They lack how the social coming together is done. I want to include that component in the leadership program all over the United States someday.
Congressmen, our senators, anyone in the public sphere, need to learn about other people and how to respect the otherness of others. That is the legacy I want to leave. I am completely committed to provide funding. What do I have? What will I gather? I want to make this thing continue after I’m gone.
Hugh: It sounds like you understand philanthropy. How is philanthropy important in the work you’re doing with this center, both from you and for you?
Mike: As Bob had taught me, if you don’t have anything to give to anyone from money to shelter to clothing, at least I can smile and give hope to a fellow human. That is philanthropy to me. That is what our organization will do: give hope.
I just want to share this. On every Thanksgiving Day and Father’s Day, I write an article in Huffington Post including my telephone number and ask people who have had bad experiences with their father, who cannot celebrate the holiday to call me to be a father figure for a few minutes. This Father’s Day, I had five people call me, crying out that my father was this. I gave them time to talk to me, and I listened to them and their thoughts. This is part of what we are doing. On Thanksgiving Day, Father’s Day, Christmas Day, if people are alone and want someone to talk to, I publish my phone number and make time for them. If life isn’t worth making people happy, what is it worth then?
Hugh: I love it. Do you have alliances with other organizations that help both of you do your work better?
Mike: We are well known here in Washington D.C. Every nonprofit and human rights organization and think tank knows us. The State Department knows what we do. We continue to expand. In Dallas, almost everyone knows me because I had a radio show and TV Show. That growth needs to continue.
Lastly, if you’ll allow me to say a few things: My vision for America is one nation under God. We all are one people created by the same Creator. If you are an atheist, you don’t have to believe in God. It is the same cause that generated all of us. We are grateful to that cause that generated all of us.
There is no country like the United States. We are God’s own country. It is the model for the entire universe to emulate us. We are blessed with everything God has created. We have every season, mountains, deserts, rivers. We are a continent in ourselves. We have every race, ethnicity, nationality. America is blessed by God. You can find anything in America. I am proud of America. I am committed and dedicated to America. 9/11 is the day that I dedicated my life to serve my nation. That’s all I do. Together as Americans, we can make America a good place for every human being.
Hugh: I feel your passion.
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What is the challenge you’d like to leave people with today?
Mike: If someone comes to you and you walk away, turn your face away, because you didn’t like that person’s race, ethnicity, or looks, challenge yourself as to why you are doing this. What is wrong with that person? What have they done to me for me to feel that way? Each time you ask yourself that question, you will upgrade yourself to a universal human.
Hugh, you mentioned instead of God creating us in His image, we have created Him in ours. We have created Him to be that God. God’s sunshine shines on the dirtiest pearl as bright as the crystal-clear moon. If we want to be God-like, we need to be open to all humanity, regardless of how or what they look like, wear, say, believe, sound. That is the challenge for everyone.
Read the book Philanthropy Misunderstood by Bob and my book American Muslim Agenda.
Hugh: Mike Ghouse, it’s been a great interview. Thank you for the wisdom.
Mike: Thank you. I appreciate it.