Dr. Bala Ambati, I would like to praise your efforts in trying to build an inter-community dialogue. Your comments on the rigidity of some Muslims are shared by many Muslims themselves. However, I believe you forget a very important underlying fact regarding your endeavor.
Many Muslims feel as if Sept. 11 has put Islam on trial. While the attention devoted to understanding and tolerating Muslims is well noted, the only reason Islam has been given such recognition is because of the heinous actions of 19 Muslims. When David Koresh, James Kopp or Baruch Goldstein committed atrocities based on their perceptions of religious values, no one delved into the Bible or Torah, searching for any ambiguous passages pointing to a more fundamental issue in Christianity or Judaism. It was understood that their could be no justification on such grounds. However, when a Muslim commits a crime, must everyone turn to the Qur'an? Why not examine the conditions in Palestine, the poverty and illiteracy in Pakistan or the mass graves in Bosnia? An individual's knowledge and experiences--shape their religious views. It is a shame that understanding of Islam is promoted in times of turmoil rather than in more prosperous years.
In regards to the reaction you received, I ask that you understand the defensive attitude Muslims have assumed. If you walked into a Christian church and pointed out Biblical verses you believe condone misogyny or slavery, how do you believe your reception would be? There will always be the intolerant ones. Islam is not new or an exception to these effects. Contrary to the "clash of civilizations" claim, Islam, like all religions before it, is experiencing a "clash within a civilization." The best way to handle the few who are hostile is to promote such important religious discussions in the context of a friendly environment.