Religion Today

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

The "Mosque" near Ground Zero: Thinking it Through

The Pilgrims came to America so they could worship and practice their religion freely. Roger Williams believed this principle applied to everyone when he founded the colony of Rhode Island. The ideal that all people should be free to worship and practice their religion as they chose became a foundation stone of American civil liberties, enshrined in the First Amendment of the Constitution United States of America, and part of the "beacon of liberty" which this country has proudly shone to the world.

In this light, we should be careful about how we think about the small but vocal opposition to the proposed Islamic community center near the former World Trade Center.

The proposed Islamic center will be called Cordoba House, and will occupy a 13-story building near Ground Zero. The building will house a theater, a swimming pool, meeting rooms and a mosque. The Cordoba Institute will be the community center's sponsor and the goal is to create a vibrant cultural, artistic and intellectual institution on the model of New York's famous "92nd Street Y."

The Cordoba Institute is an established American Muslim organization dedicated to working out the place of Islam in America. They represent the "moderate Muslims" which the U.S. media and public so frequently call upon to step up and be counted.

So what's the problem?

Patrick Bahnken, head of the paramedics union says in the New York Daily News, "How will it look to have this in your face?" Well it won't be in anybody's face. The building is two blocks away in the middle of the block. In city terms, that's a long way away. It cannot be seen from Ground Zero and won't be seen by visitors unless they look for it.

Rosemary Cain expressed her thoughts this way (also in the Daily News), "I think it's despicable. That's sacred ground." Sacred to whom? Presumably, Ms. Cain means it is sacred to the families whose loved ones died there. If so, then all families who lost people there should be able to commemorate the disaster. That means not just the families of Christians and Jews, but also of Muslims, for Muslims too were among the Trade Center employees and among the rescue workers who died.

Mr. Bahnken went on to say that a Muslim center would be "a constant reminder of what they did to us on 9/11." By "they," does Mr. Bahnken refer to the one-billion Muslims around the world and blame all of them for the actions of fewer than 20? That would be like blaming all Catholics for the bombing in Oklahoma City by Irish Catholic Timothy McVeigh, as an op-ed piece in the Daily News recently observed.

Who would make the decision to stop Cordoba House? The decision would have to be taken by some wing of the government, probably a bureaucratic department.

What would this mean for religious freedom in America? It would set a precedent that a religious organization can be denied the free exercise of its beliefs, even when everything they are doing is legal. That is, a religious group could be denied free exercise of their religion just because some people object to it and are supported by a government body.

Given that our country's legal system is based on the idea that all people should be treated equally and fairly, then if one religious group can be denied free exercise of religion, all religious organizations can be denied the right to believe and practice as they choose. To prevent a branch of this nation's second largest religion, Islam, from building a religious and community center in a legal location could thus seriously damage the America we most value, and that terrorists most seek to destroy.

One of the lessons of 9/11 is we Americans are all in this together. To deny the free exercise of religion to some is ultimately to deny it to all.

The New York Daily News has covered this story extensively ( For more information about Cordoba House, see


  • I was stunned to see that this post was created by a professor of religion. While it certainly is not surprising to find a liberal slant at a university website, one would expect to find at least some understanding of why people are so opposed to this particular mosque. How does a professor of religion ignore the significance of the name Cordoba House? Muslims will hear the name and think of the great mosque built on the ruins of a Christian church, the ultimate declaration and symbol of Islamic rule over conquered territory. They did this in every land they conquered, and the symbolism would not be lost on modern Islamists, whose numerous leaders today have been calling for Islamic rule worldwide, and America is the ultimate prize. If space permitted I would provide names and actual quotes and documents. Consider also that Imam Rauf lied about funding sources and while talking up a dialog between faiths, in speaking to fellow Muslims in the Middle East he was quote saying there is no dialog in religion. A true man of God would be sensitive to the feelings of the people still in pain over the 9/11 attack.
    Finally, yet another Tim McVeigh reference by those seeking moral equivalence in all things. McVeigh may have been born and raised Catholic, but he was not a practicing Catholic, was not inspired by Catholic teaching, and did not invoke Catholic doctrine in his rantings against the government! And no Catholic clergyman praised or supported his criminal actions. McVeigh is just not relevant in this discussion.
    The people against this mosque do not hold all Muslims responsible for the Islamic extremists, nor do they want to deny them their right to worship freely. No one has said that, there are mosques everywhere in the US. But when you say "To deny the free exercise of religion to some is ultimately to deny it to all", I recall this quote: "I have complete faith that Islam will invade Europe and America, because Islam has logic and a mission." -- Muslim Brotherhood leader Muhammad Akef, 2004.
    You wonder why we are concerned?

    By Anonymous Gerry, at 6/28/2010  

  • Dear Gerry,
    Two remarks.
    1. Reiterating the information I have just demonstrated is false does not make it any less false.
    2. The Muslim Brotherhood is hardly representative of all Islam. It is not even representative of all Egyptians. It is a small group of radicals in Egypt, whose Syrian branch was easily eliminated. Akef's remark aims to strike fear in fearful people; it is not something his organization can accomplish. The USA is simply not that weak.

    By Blogger Paul Flesher, at 7/08/2010  

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