Should Muslims build the Islamic Center near Ground Zero?

Category: Americas, Life & Society Topics: Muslims Views: 4766

Muslims, like any other American religious community, have every right to practice their faith and build institutions for that purpose as guaranteed in the US constitution.

Should they build the proposed Islamic Center near Ground Zero? My suggestion is ... No, they should not. Not because Islam is responsible for 9/11. Not because Muslim Americans are violent or radical. But, simply because the majority of Americans, rightly or wrongly believe that it would hurt their feelings. Some 64 per cent Americans believe that building a mosque close to ground zero is not a good idea. So the first task of Muslims should be to win over the hearts of the people rather than their anger.

Unfortunately, the media and the politicians have framed the issue in a manner that promotes emotions over decency and common sense.

Some thirty years ago, a small scattered Muslim community in Las Vegas wanted to build a masjid in a residential neighborhood. When the matter came up before county commissioners, the whole neighborhood was there to oppose the proposed masjid. The president of the masjid withdrew the application instantly saying that his community failed in its attempts to convince the neighbors about the reasons for building the Muslim place of worship. 

Thirty year later, Las Vegas has more than six masaajid, with two of them completed in 2010, the year when anti-Muslim incidents all over the country have become common as witnessed in Tennessee and Temucla, California.

There are three major issues involved in the Islamic Center Project in Lower Manhattan. 

First, it is a project of a local community just like any other local community projects. The entire US Muslim community did not adopt it or initiate it. A group of local Muslims conceived in an idea and proceeded with that. Did they convince their neighbors? Did they convince the city? Apparently, the city government did not oppose. but the neighborhood had mixed reaction. An Islamic center in a neighborhood that does not understand the relevance of the Islamic center is a futile exercise. 

Those who opposed the project initially were the ones who have shown a general hostility towards Islam and Muslims in the last 10 years. Most prominent among those opposed to the Islamic Center are Tea party leaders, Republican activists and groups such as Anti-Defamation League and Simon Wiesenthal Center who draw their support primarily from Christian right groups and the extremist Zionists who believe that only they have the right to speak on behalf of America and God. The leadership of these groups have used provocative language to exploit the emotions of people. They called the project a stab in the heart, a manifestation of violent Islam, a bid to take over America or an assertion of the radical Islam. The media promoted their ideas and thus created a situation where the entire issue appeared to be almost like a mini crusade. If these people had spoken to the organizers of the Cordoba Institute, the things could have been different. In fact, the Center could have been seen as a a symbol of an Islam that is opposed to the ideas of those who want to use violence and terror to promote their interests.

The third issue involving the Islamic Center is much more serious. The notion that Islam is involved in the destruction of America and engineering of 9/11 is a dangerous notion. Those who are opposed to the project assume that Islam is responsible for 9/11 and hence no symbol of Islam be allowed to manifest itself near the world trade center ruins as it would hurt the families of the victims. However absurd that notion is, the reality is that Islam is seen as a perpetrator of this act of violence. Obviously, Muslims have failed to dispel this notion and the objective mind has failed to separate the faith from some of its practitioners, despite the fact that some 300 people who died in 9/11 were Muslims. 

America is a Christian majority country. Yet not many people are willing to even suggest that Christianity is responsible for the Vietnam War, or the first Iraq War or the Second Iraq war or the War in Afghanistan despite the facts that some of the top generals and politicians have used Christian symbols and phrase's to justify the US military intervention. Osama bin Laden did not represent Islam or Muslims. Osmana bin Laden was not given a mandate by Muslims to speak on their behalf. On the contrary, it was our congressional leadership that authorized our defense and state departments to support in his bid to raise money and an army against the Russians in Afghanistan. Osama did not speak on behalf of Muslims when his comrades are reported to have engineered 9/11. To use his justification to attack the world trade center as an excuse to blame Islam is absurd. It is this absurdity that is evident in the argument of those who are opposed to the project.

Off course, the Muslim American community has to do much more to convince the masses about this absurdity. But, it is this absurdity that is at the moment shaping this issue. Politicians like Sarah Palin and Newt Gingrich and the Tea party activists are taking full advantage of the situation and beating the drums of war against Islam and Muslims. They are preparing conditions that are reminiscent of Hitler's pre holocaust Germany. Their words and actions are encouraging extremists to unleash dogs at Muslim places of worship or to burn the Quran or to flush the Quran in the toilet.

However, there is another issue that cannot be ignored at this time. While Muslims are also quoting the freedom of religion as the most sacred constitutional guaranteed that is available to American citizens, they are generally silent about the freedom of religion to non-Muslims in places like Saudi Arabia or Kuwait or the Gulf countries. The Quran recognizes the plurality of religion in a given society and it demands respect for all religions. The silence of Muslims in general gives ammunition to the Islamophobes to claim that Islam and Muslims are not sincere in their commitment to freedom of religion. This is an issue that Muslims have to internally recognize and debate.

Now the issue of the constitutional legitimacy of the Islamic Center in Lower Manhattan is settled and the country's highest authority has spoken in support of the project, the Cordoba Institute leadership should thank all those who supported it in this project and announce that it would hold off the construction unless those who are opposed are won over and unless the majority of America becomes supportive of the project. After all the purpose of the project is to create goodwill and good relations among people of different faiths.


Dr. Aslam Abdullah is editor of the Detroit based English weekly, Muslim Observer, director of the Islamic Society of Nevada, Las Vegas and the recently elected General Secretary of the World Council of Muslims for Interfaith Relation. He is also the vice President of the Muslim Council of America, MCA.

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  25 Comments   Comment

  1. Nuraini from Malaysia

    i rather think that the specific location is negotiable, and that it should not be a deal-breaker, considering that the purpose of the centre is to bring people together. we should consider the feelings of others, and not immediately reject discussing options, because muslims must be good neighbours.

    but i also think that the organisers need to be clear and firm that they still want their legal rights to build the centre at a suitable location and not have it blocked no matter where they plan it for - like all the other recent instances where all over the US any plans to build any mosque was met with hateful street protests, thereby suggesting it is not true that the right-wingers are only opposed to this location but not the general legal right itself. they need to make sure they control this narrative, so that later if need be they can show that they have been considerate and reasonable and yet it is the other side that has unreasonably prevented them from exercising their legal rights.

    plus, if there are more practical reasons making it difficult to move, perhaps the planning had been done for years, before it was apparent how much the interfaith relations would deteriorate, part of that negotiation should include compensation for sunk costs due to possibly agreeing to relocate. even if they end up forgiving these costs, it should be on the table so that it is clear that it is fair for them to have compensation but that they are freely remitting it back in goodwill.

  2. Zinedine from Morocco

    Salamu alaikum,

    I can't believe what Dr Aslam Abdullah wrote. He sounds like a self hating Muslim. Does he realise that saying that Muslims should not build a masjid two blocks from ground zero because of Christian sensitivities implies nothing else other than Islam is responsible for the 9/11 tragedy period

    Truthers are stilling waiting to find out who was behind the tragedy in 9/11: I strongly believe that Muslims were not behind it & it's possible that it is an inside job.

    I 've never heard any politician from the black community saying on national TV that we should 've build more predominantly white churches in Mississippi because white Christianity is responsible for slavery or the Christian KKK extremist views dirty history & the lynching of black people hurts the feelings of the black community whose loved ones were hanged on trees by the CHRISTIAN KKK. I never heard any political leader saying we shouldn't build a church in San Francisco because it offends the sensitivities of the gay community.

    On another note, Dr Aslam should be reminded that NOT just Saudi Arabia that bans the building of churches, the Vatican, Greece, Serbia and Spain do ban the building of mosques as well.

    La mosque de Paris was built ONLY with high costs: Muslim blood. This simply was a reward not a right because North Africans were forced to fight the Germans in WWI & WWII & 100's of thousands died. My father was excempt from joining the Moroccan army because he is what we call a SHARIF. I know Moroccan neighbours who died in the Vietnam war & were never ever compensated & died poor. Their sacrifice was never even recognised in the main stream Western or Zionist media.

    Dr Aslam fell into the trap of the GOP power politics and its constituents the Christian Right movement (or rather the Christian Wrong mov) & their Zionist allies fear mongering tactics that display nothing but hate and contempt for the Muslim community in America.

  3. Butool from USA

    Well written argument, but I believe this mosque should be built, it is a testament to religious tolerance in the US. All over the US, Muslims, Imams, Masjids are being attacked. There is much religious intolerance and this should be a symbol for what America stands for, tolerance and respect. Muslims have nothing to do with 9/11, horrible people who hijacked a religion did that. Im in favor of building the Masjid because I don't believe they will be accepted soon in that area, it is a change that must be brought to the people. If you wait for people to understand, it may never happen. You have to show them that we exist and we are just as American as anyone else.

  4. paagle from USA

    I am pleasantly surprised to see the number of Muslims who say they should respect the wishes of the families of the 9/11 victims and of Americans in general. It shows a sensitivity to non-believers that I thought was far more rare among Muslims.

    However, I would ask those of you who are Americans or American residents to support the construction of the Park51 mosque based purely on American values. This is America. You are free to practice your religion however you like in the private sphere so long as you cause no harm nor impose your faith on others. The Park51 mosque is on private property and is zoned such that a religious building is permissible. You are free to build your mosque, and freedom (rather than, say, submission to what is believed to be God's will) is the highest value here. Don't back down to the un-American Americans who reject Muslims' freedom to build houses of worship. Many Americans will vociferously stand with you. Hopefully with time, space and (re-)education about American values, the overwhelming majority will.

    The author does, however, make a good point regarding the liberty and equality of non-Muslims in Muslim lands. Muslims should stand up for the rights of non-believers anywhere to peacefully and openly practice their religion or practice no religion at all. Muslims should also stand up for the rights of Muslims to become non-believers. Regardless of how much this might improve the image of Islam in America, however, conditions in Muslim lands should have no impact on what we do in America. We should have the courage of our convictions, and I hope that Muslim Americans can proudly remind us of our collective American values.

  5. Shuja from Canada

    My freinds, there is no such thing as Ground Zero. Watch this. Keith Olbermann Special Comment: There Is No 'Ground Zero Mosque' - 08/16/10

    The center must be built despite the arrogant protest. There is no such thing ever exists as ground zero mosque. The concept is more to attack Islam than to show sympathy for the dead. Also, I totally agree with the author that we Muslims have repeatedly failed to condem the Saudi and other Gulf Despots as if such things do not even exist. We have time to cry for Kashmiri Muslims, but we don't have time to cry for Pakistani Muslims stranded in Bangalesh waiting to go to Pakistan for decades. Nobody talks about that. We are hypocrites. Our ulema are hypocrites. This is really disgrace we selective criticise the issues.

  6. Katrina from United States

    Thank you for your article. I lost my husband on September 11th - yet, I still want to see both sides. I appreciate your views, there are many aspects of building the Islamic Center, good and to some - not so good. I agree with you in the fact that building the Mosque should be done with a beneficial outcome, and in good spirit. But, at this point as you wrote - that is not the case. I am sure a more positive view of the Islamic community could be had if the Islamic Community perhaps were to build in a location that will benefit all. We Americans want freedom - freedom to practice all religions, which I support - even though this is not the case with other countries. However, they expect that from us when they enter this country. That is the United States - America - that is what we are about. We should not feel sorrow or mistrust, but, we do. I came to

    this website to learn more about your community. I think we should and can be sensitive to all sides.

  7. Karamoko Samassi from US

    It is almost 3000 people believed to be dead on ground zero and not 300.

  8. raji from usa

    Why no one has mentioned the fact that; there has been a mosque one block over on Warren St. for around 40 years?

  9. Roger Burr from USA

    Aside all the hoopla over this issue people who oppose to this project keep forgetting one thing. This is United States of America & we stand for peace harmony democracy & for our constitutional rights. Building community & cultural center in Lower Manhatten is a good idea to build bridges between communities.In fact this whole project is in itself a very first bridge needed to build more bridges between communities,if American Muslims succumb to this well orchesterated racist opposition to this project then i am afraid, their every future attempts & efforts to join mainstram America may suffer beyond repaire.

  10. Romesh Chander from USA

    The area around Ground Zero is full of bars, lingerie shops, topless dancing lounges, salon, strip clubs, porn shops, etc. There is Pussycat Lounge and Thunder Lingerie.

    Do you really want a Mosque in the area? Are you sure, muslims won't be tempted by them? They are human beings, you know. To reduce their temptations, they want women to cover their bodies completely.

    I think building a mosque there is a dumb idea.

  11. shahid khan from canada

    The author needs to stop and think for a second. If he wants to be so sensitive about other Americans...he needs to learn to be an American first. America is a nation that gives you rights and freedoms which very few if any country in the world offers. This is the power of America. You will always find different opinions here. Doesn't mean you back down because a certain number no matter how large disagree with you.Would you be against the project if 30 % Americans were against it?how about 10%? How about 1 Person? Our prophet PBUH considered the impact of his actions on every single human being so please stop trying to compare yourself with our beloved prophet's ways. Most Americans want Muslims to leave the USA...why don't you if you are so considerate about their sensitivites? Should the muslims in the other communities also stop building mosques because people there are offended too? I love America because it gives every person a right. Rights which were fought to come by. Unfortunately there is a whole army of bigots (which we are constantly reminded of in our faith) who feel these rights are exclusive and not for every American.

  12. samin from usa

    Mr. Siddiq510,

    You never go to Jakarta, don't make an assumption. There are dozens mega church in Jakarta and hundreed the smaller one. One of them side by side with Istiqlal Mosque the largest mousque in Indonesia. The church is huge. There are total 1,129 (one thousand one hundreed twent nine) registered churches in Jakarta (again this is only in Jakarta, not Indonesia) Jakarta is about the size of Los Angeles. Who says that Muslim majority country is not tolerant. In Indonesia less 7% of it's population are Christians but we have 4 (four) national Christians holidays (including good Friday, ascension, Christmas), we have Hindu national holiday, we have Buddhist national Holiday, we have Chinese (Confucian) national holiday. Where is in the Christian majority country have Islamic holiday, Buddhist holiday, Hindu holiday. Wake up brother.

    Just for references:

    - Indonesia have 5 national Islamic Holiday (Birth Prophet, Nuzulul Quran, Eid Adha, Eid Fitr, Islamic New Year).

    - Indonesian demography (2000 census): 240,271,522 people, 86.1% Muslim, 5.7% Protestant, 3% Catholic, 1.8% Hindu, and 3.4% "other or unspecified".

  13. siddiq from USA

    Aslkm Dr. Aslam,

    Astaghfirullah I read your article wrong; that's what I get for skimming while drinking coffee. I commend you for your courage; Muslims should be sensitive to the majority of Amercicas feelings. InshaAllah we pray the relations will improve soon.

  14. siddiq510 from USA

    If the majority of Americans dont want the mosque, we shouldnt build it. Technically we have the right to build but the sensitivity issue should not be ignored. The only way we will win the hearts of non-Muslims is by cleaning up are own backyard. While we constantly try to convince others not to fear Islam, bombs are going off in the background, airplanes are being hijacked, women are being oppressed, governments are corrupt, the list goes on. We need to stop talking about how good we are and SHOW people how good we are. This is the great hipocrisy of the Muslims, we go into other peoples countries and demand the building of mosques while in the Muslim countries it's quite a different story for the minorities. You cannot build a mega Christian center in downtown Riyadh, Tehran, Jakarta or Kirachi.

  15. Gary Sevener from Canada

    I can appreciate the sentiments of Dr Abdullah; however I do not agree. How do we define "near Ground Zero"? How many blocks? how many miles? What if a Muslim group wants to put up a centre half a mile from Ground Zero? What if a Muslim group proposes in the year 2012 to build a big centre in New York, and the opponents say that New York is hallowed ground and the Muslims should build elsewhere?

    You see where this goes?

    Should we give in now? if we do here are the implications:

    1. We admit Muslim (Islamic) responsibility for 9/11.

    (This is an issue we should fight tooth and nail in a decent way)

    2. We lay the guilt for 9/11 on the shoulders of our dear children for generations to come.

    3. We set a dangerous precedent. It just emboldens the people whom we know are fighting Islam, not just fighting "a building near ground zero". They are not going to stop. If you believe that, then you are living in a fool's world.

    I suggest that we delay the project and we spend all the money collected so far in educationg the public.

    a. We ask hard questions: Should Christians be allowed to build near Hiroshima? Should Christians be held accountable for Hitler's crimes?

    b. We seriously question 'the fact' that Muslims did 9/11. Before Allah now, and before we appear before Him on the day of judgement, we should, by hard evidence, know that Muslims murdered 3000+ persons on 9/11. If we cannot furnish this evidence then we should seek answers from those who claim to have evidence that Muslims did NOT committ 9/11. See 911Truth.Org or (amoung hundreds of others) If then we see indications that indeed Muslims were actually framed then the entire Mulim community in the US should stop ALL their projects and dedicate ALL the project monies to exposing the 9/11 truth.

    If we do not do this then I say that we have been advised and we shall answer for this on the day of judgement.

  16. Aslam Abdullah from USA

    If following the footsteps of the Prophet is falling into the trap, then I would fall in this trap lovingly. If being sensitive to the feelings of my American fellow citizens, means timid and coward, then i would do that often.

    Yes, those leaders who are opposed to the building of the Islamic Center, are anti-Islam and anti-Muslim. They have no respect for the victims of 9/11. the majority of the Americans has been misled by these anti-Islam goons. My responsibility to convince my fellow citizens is that Islam is a faith that respects them and all those who suffer injustice.

  17. halim aziz from malaysia

    YES brother Yusef Hassan is VERY VERY RIGHT !

    Prophet Mohammed, (pbuh) postponed his and his companions' right to perform the pilgrimage at Makkah (a God given right to all Muslims) following the opposition of the Quraish (the first islamophobes). He did so in trying to appease the situation.


  18. shahid khan from canada

    Very disappointed in this article. Clearly the author has fallen in the trap and now has only given more fodder to the anti-muslim league of america. if muslims have failed to clear their names in a decade...then they wont be able to in a century. All thanks to timid writers such as this author and the Bigots.

  19. Fatima from USA

    I agree with Dr. Abdullah, if the purpose of the mosque is to create goodwill and good relations, then doing so in such an environment with the sentiments that are prevailing goes against the purpose of building the Masjid. I agree with the last paragraph...

    "Now the issue of the constitutional legitimacy of the Islamic Center in Lower Manhattan is settled and the country's highest authority has spoken in support of the project, the Cordoba Institute leadership should thank all those who supported it in this project and announce that it would hold off the construction unless those who are opposed are won over and unless the majority of America becomes supportive of the project. After all the purpose of the project is to create goodwill and good relations among people of different faiths."

  20. Romesh Chander from USA

    I thought Ground Zero area and surrounding area is an office complex area full of banking houses, stock brokerages, hedge funds, law firms, etc. They care for one thing and only one thing -- making money and nothing else. I wonder how many people live in that area? Or they just come from other places in the morning, work there, and leave by the evening? And how many muslims live in the area to justify even a small mosque? And if muslims do come there to work, will they care to visit the mosque for prayers, or just go home by the evening. Nobody, included Imam Rauf has provided any data. So what is the puropose of the mosque in the area? Wild imaginations fly.

  21. Saeed from USA

    Totally agreed with Dr Aslam Abdullah.

    It is time so thanks to supporter and show the Greater Tolerance of Islamic teaching.

  22. AbuIsmael from USA

    This article sends the wrong message. This is indeed an exercise of constitutional rights of freedom of religion. Building this mosque breaks now laws. Not only that, but there is already a masjid in the neighborhood, so it's not something new. This IS about Islamophobia.

    Pure fear of the Muslims and our faith.


  23. Pervez from USA

    This is a idiotic argument. Rosa Parks should have waited for goodwill from the racists to assert her rights? Which masjid is built with approval of entire Muslim community? This project merely moves an existing masjid in the area with addition of new facilities in this case an infrastructure to facilitate interaction with rest of the diverse new York community to build an understand about peaceful coexistence.

    Every country has its self image USA is fighting wars and issuing edict on other countries governing systems don't cry if you are held accountable to your own claims. If USA wants to be like Saudi Arabia then say so.

  24. Ayesha from USA

    This is another of Dr. Abdullah's run with the hare and hunt with the hounds attempt. Knowing his views and activities, I am not surprised a bit that he is opposing the building of the Masjid.

    I also find it contradictory that Dr. Abdullah wishes the site to be one for reflection and dialogue between faiths to promote harmony but then goes on to oppose the project.

    Should I stop traveling by air because it makes my fellow passengers uncomfortable? Should I not walk around in the Manhattan area with my hijab on? If prayer times come should I leave and pray ouside the Manhattan? What about carrying a copy of Quran and reading it in a public lounge?

    I fail to understand that why we cannot see the trap which is designed to treat all Muslims as coconspirators of OBL.

  25. Yusef Hassan from USA

    Dr. Abdullah's analysis and recommendations are insightful and right on target. I am a Muslim and I support his view that it is best at this point to suspend this project. I have heard none of the opponents to the project state that it is illegal for the center to be built. This is an emotional issue that must be understood in its context. When we refer to history, Prophet Mohammed, (pbuh) postponed his and his companions' right to perform the pilgrimage at Makkah (a God given right to all Muslims) following the opposition of the Quraish (the first islamophobes). He did so in trying to appease the situation, and the rest, as it is commonly said is history. Let his exemple serve as a guide to us as we navigate the complexities of human relations. Blessed Ramadan to all.

    K Luntan