With the controversy surrounding the so-called “Ground Zero Mosque”, one would think that the Muslim community is building a mega-mosque right where the Twin Towers used to stand. That of course is far from the truth.
In fact, the building is planned to be several blocks away from Ground Zero. It won’t even be visible from the location of the 9/11 attacks. The planned building is also a 13-story community centre, which happens to have two floors dedicated to a prayer hall. A mega-mosque it is not. It is not designed to have a minaret, nor calls to prayer. It is planned to have a memorial to the victims of the terrorist attacks, as the Wall Street Journal reported on Aug. 2. Even the Pentagon, where the 9/11 attacks claimed 125 lives, has a prayer hall &- not near it, but inside it!
The very objective of the community centre is to address tensions between different faiths. In an interview with Intersections International, a New York-based initiative dedicated to promoting interfaith reconciliation, Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, the religious leader of the community centre and man behind the project, stated that it “will address the issues both within the Muslim [community], such as Sunni-Shia problems and tensions, and also between Muslims and Jews and Christians.”
There is also a movement by the group Stop Islamization of America in opposition to an Islamic community centre planned to be built in Murfreesboro, Tenn. &- is 1,200 km not far enough? The issue here is clearly not proximity to so-called “hallowed” ground; it’s bigotry. Those people think that the terms “Islam” and “terrorism” are interchangeable. That, of course, is absolutely false.
Opponents of the community centre are unyielding in their claim that the imam is a terrorist sympathizer, but this claim is unfounded. In fact, while the controversy was stirring in the U.S., Imam Abdul Rauf was on a government-sponsored tour around the Middle East, promoting peace and reconciliation. He was on a similar tour under Bush’s presidency, and was generally the Bush administration’s go-to man when it wished to appeal to the Muslim community in its fight against terrorism.
The centre is now being named Park51, referring to its 45-51 Park Place address in Manhattan. But there was a claim that the initially proposed name for the community centre, “Cordoba House,” belies a desire to dominate. This shows a lack of grasp on history. While Cordoba was undeniably part of the Islamic empire, it was also the most progressive and democratic city within it. Cordoba was a city buzzing with public discussion forums, where everyone was able to discuss the Qur’an and Islam.
Cordoba was also the centre of scientific advancement and learning in Europe. People went to Cordoba from all over Europe and the world to study. It was a cornerstone of civilization, as well as the bridge connecting the Islamic world to the West. Going back to Cordoba means going back to the Islam of democracy and progress. It means going back to cooperation rather than antagonism.
What opponents of the community centre fail to see is that not only have several Islamic scholars, such as Muhammad Tahir-ul-Qadri, issued fatwas against terrorism, but that the movement for a progressive Islam is alive and under way. There are many liberal, democratic and secularist Muslim scholars, politicians and intellectuals, and they have been on the rise ever since the 9/11 terrorist attack. It doesn’t take much effort to find them, either, like the members of the American Islamic Forum for Democracy. The Park51 project is clearly a great leap forward for this movement. For the sake of liberty and freedom, democracy and reconciliation, this community centre needs to be built.