Islamic community leaders campaign for NYC mosque
Friday, September 03, 2010
By JERRY WOLFFE
Of The Oakland Press
Islamic community leaders in southeastern Michigan have started a campaign to enlighten Americans about their culture and the right to build a community center near the ruins of the 9/11 terrorist attack in New York City.
“I think racism is raising its head again,” said Victor Ghalib Begg, chairman of the Council of Islamic Organizations of Michigan, concerning vehement criticism against the center.
“It’s important to continue dialogue about Islam’s beliefs as well as construction of the $100 million community center and mosque,” he said.
The proposed center is two blocks from where the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center were located when they were destroyed in the worst terrorism attack in U.S. history, in which 2,819 people died.
Dawud Walid, executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations in Southfield, said “we must remember” some of the 9/11 victims, including workers and first responders, were Muslims.
Ghalib Begg, Walid and Dr. Fadi Demashkieh, met Wednesday afternoon for one hour and 45 minutes with members of The Oakland Press Editorial Board to discuss the proposed New York community center and Muslim issues.
Southeastern Michigan has the largest concentration of people of Arab descent, numbering more than 400,000.
“We are out there day and night to correct misinformation that’s being thrown at us,” said Ghalib Begg regarding the proposed construction of the 13-story Muslim community center by Rauf and Daisy Kahn.
Kahn is the executive director of the American Society for Muslim Advancement.
The project has been criticized by Americans who believe it is sacrilegious to construct an Islamic center near the spot where so many died nine years ago.
To try to convey that Islam is not a religion of radicalism but one of peace, several public service announcements are being distributed nationally by Islamic leaders, Walid said.
These include “9/11 Happened to Us All” and “We Have More in Common Than We Think.”
It is an infringement on “anyone’s First Amendment rights” to deny construction of the Islamic community center in New York, Walid said.
The Islamic leaders said since the project was proposed there have been “nationwide hysteria” and acts of violence against mosques and Muslims in Kentucky, Tennessee and Connecticut.
“We’ve seen vitriol spewed regarding Park 51 and anti-Muslim sentiment,” Walid said.
The center will include a basketball court, swimming pool, a cooking classroom, a mosque and other facilities, said Walid.
Ghalib Begg said Muslims believe in helping those of all faiths.
“If my neighbor is hungry, I cannot let him go to bed without food unless I do something as is required by my faith.”
In the 2008 election, Ghalib Begg said the economy was the “political football” and in the upcoming November election, it is the community center being proposed in New York.
Walid said the building, a former coat factory, that is to be converted into Park 51 Community Center was purchased in July 2009. Only about 10 percent of the money needed for the project has been raised.
Extremism is not typical behavior in countries where Islam is the dominant faith, said Walid, noting there’s “no radicalization” in Senegal or the Republic of Mali.
“Cultural differences can’t be used to demonize a faith,” said Ghalib Begg, noting that the Islamic community must work harder to convey the message Muslims want to assimilate in America as other immigrants have in U.S. history.
“We’re doing a lot to build relationships throughout metro Detroit” with all faiths, said Ghalib Begg.
Muslims who are U.S. citizens are required by their faith to follow the laws of America, Walid said.
The support of New York Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg for completion of the Park 51 Community Center is helpful, Walid added.
“If people like Bloomberg and others, including Jews, create public discussion on the center, this will be worked out” and the center will be built, he said.
Demashkieh, who has practiced medicine in Rochester for 20 years, said his children were born in America.
“One of my sons is criticized by other students because of his name,” he said. “He is not comfortable. Some have hate regardless of what we do.”
Ghalib Begg predicted the New York center will be “no different than the Muslim Unity Center” in Bloomfield Hills, where “mutual respect” between those of different faiths is being built.