Local scholars, religious leaders have fear and hope in “Ground Zero Mosque”
By Jessica Barrow
DEARBORN — Nearly three weeks after the decision against designating the site near a proposed mosque a historical landmark, paving the way for its construction, conflict still exists over the decision, even among Muslims. The site, which is near “Ground Zero,” the location of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, has prompted a split among those who see the location as a step towards religious tolerance in America, and others who see it either as being insensitive to the victims of the attack or as catalyst for increased anti-Islam sentiment.
“Some people express concern that if the mosque is built, it will harm Muslims and Islam in America. It’s not good for Muslims and Islam to be in the heart of such a controversy,” said Gamal Abd Al-Gawad, director of Al-Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies in Cairo.
Here in Southeast Michigan, views also range from those in support of the mosque to others who are concerned about a possible hostile response against American Muslims.
“There is a no question about whether they have the right…they clearly have a right to assemble anywhere they should want, to exercise freedom of speech and religion,” said Professor Saeed Khan, Lecturer in Near Eastern Studies at Wayne State University in Detroit.
Khan, among other scholars and religious leaders in Southeast Michigan, see no legal defense against the building of the mosque, including Rabbi Moredehi Waldman of the Jewish Beth Tiplath Moses in Mt. Clemens.
“Like our beloved President says, from a constitutional and legal aspect they have every right to build the mosque anywhere they want,” he said.
“The issue is now whether it is appropriate to build the center in that location.”
Like many Americans who are following the story closely, Khan has heard the argument that the site at “Ground Zero” is considered hallowed land, and that the mosque would ethically violate that site.
“If that were the case, then one has to ask the opponents if they are successful in having the mosque moved, are they going to be similarly pressuring away other entities that are in violation in the six blocks away (distance) that the mosque is? Will they be asked to move as well?”
According to Rabbi Waldman, such a comparison cannot even be made.
“It’s like anything else in life. if we step on people’s sensitivities, it stirs up a hornets’ nest. I can imagine the 2000 families who lost loved ones on September 11… their heart strings are worn out from having such a great loss. Then to have a 100 million dollar mosque a few blocks away from Ground Zero? Muslims have the right, the authority, but is it the right choice?” he said. Waldman said he fears that the mosque will be defaced or vandalized by opponents of its construction.
The mosque itself is financed by the Cordoba Initiative and is modeled after a Jewish Community Center and a YMCA. It will include a pool, gym and 500-seat auditorium for cultural events for the general public, along with a mosque and a Sept. 11 memorial.
Father Rani Abdulmasih of Mother of the Savior Church in Dearborn, feels that the building of this mosque could open up an interfaith dialogue among those in the area, and lead to the healing of wounds caused by 9/11.
“This is exactly that opportunity (for healing) and this interfaith vessel will help people to say look ‘not every Muslim is like the ones who attacked us.. This religion is not all about attacking like I thought,'” he said. “These families who have lost loved ones and developed certain views can now say ‘I can live with my neighbor and that neighbor is Muslim.'”
Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, a sponsor of the proposed mosque, and his wife, have done interfaith work in New York previous to their current project and hope that such a spirit will be engendered in that mosque.
“This type of interfaith interaction helps people see that not all Muslims are terrorist and that terrorist action was due to a rogue group. And for those who are incensed about the mosque, maybe with dialogue it will be a positive thing,” said Rabbi Waldman, “especially with setting up a special room commemorating the people who passed in 9-11. I can hope that some good will come out of this.”
Even among Muslims who are in complete support of the mosque building, there are concerns about what it will accomplish as far as moving toward more religious tolerance in America.
“I think that while there are some raw feelings surrounding the tragedy of 9-11 regarding the family members, it was not the 9-11 family members that started the campaign (against the mosque),” said Imam Dawud Walid, Director of CAIR-Michigan (Council of American Islamic Relations). “I think those people who already have heightened fear and hatred, their phobia is going to stay intact. Most who have this hatred are not going to step foot in that center.”
That is not to say he doesn’t have hope.
“With Americans who are open-minded and can be appealed to by reason, I hope this controversy opened up a discourse where we can discuss the rich history of Muslims in America and what Islam is.”