Sunday, August 29, 2010

Where should Muslims build mosques?

    Sunday, August 29, 2010   No comments

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The Muslim-American community is growing, and with growth comes the need for community centers, mosques, and a public presence. Every state in the United States contains at least one mosque, according to the multicultural marketing agency Allied Media. However, the plan to construct a large community center in Manhattan has started a heated debate about the "wisdom" of building a mosque two blocks from where the World Trade Center once stood.
Some of those who are protesting the plan claim that they are not against American Muslims' rights to worship, they are merely opposed to the erection of a mosque near Ground Zero.
Hence the obvious questions: Why can't Muslims build a mosque there? Where can they build mosques? And why do Muslims really want to build a mosque there?
While some of those opposed argue that building an Islamic center near Ground Zero is disrespectful to the victims of the 9/11 attacks, many are simply opposed to any public presence of Islam in America.
Representatives of American Muslims in Manhattan contend that they need the center because the current prayer hall is too small. They further add that blocking American Muslims from building a place of worship on private land and in accordance with city ordinances would (1) stoke fear domestically and further marginalize American Muslims and (2) give credence internationally to extremists' claim that America is at war with Islam.
Given these positions, the third position (that the center be built elsewhere) obviously makes no sense — Muslims have mosques elsewhere. And where exactly is "elsewhere?" Ten blocks away? Outside Manhattan? Outside New York City?
To suggest that a mosque should be built away from Ground Zero implies that Islam (all forms and expressions of it) is guilty of killing innocent people in the World Trade Center. If we opposed the building of a religious center near areas (or cities) where innocent people were killed, then there would be no place on Earth to build a synagogue, a church, or a mosque — throughout the history of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, self-described Jews, Christians, and Muslims (and in many cases, official representatives of these faiths) have committed, encouraged, and/or catalyzed acts that resulted in the killing of thousands of innocent people.
There is, without a doubt, an undercurrent of hate and total rejection of Islam in the West. There are many (beyond the usual fringe elements) who are opposed to building mosques anywhere. Indeed, there are organized groups around the world whose aim is to ban any public manifestation of Islam in the West. Europe's ban on minarets is one example; the bombing and vandalizing of mosques in numerous American cities is another.
Just recently, a self-proclaimed Christian group in Florida applied for a permit to inaugurate the so-called "International Burn a Koran Day," which would coincide with the remembrance of the 9/11 tragedy. Should the trend persists, 9/11 could turn into "International Bomb a Mosque Day" event.
Sadly, 9/11 is being used as a pretext to demonize Islam and Muslims. And that need to be addressed.
At the same time, Muslims should build their mosque if they need it for the community, not use its proximity to Ground Zero as a context for interfaith dialogue. I am of the view that using tragedies such as 9/11 and the loss of civilian lives anywhere for political or religious propaganda purposes is suspect.
And that applies to both sides.
UI Associate Professor Ahmed Souaiaia teaches courses in the College of Law, International Programs, and religious-studies department.

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