Controversy surrounding the construction of a Muslim mosque near ground zero in New York City has been growing steadily the past several weeks. While Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf pushes the project forward in the hopes of obtaining city approval, a growing number of people are speaking out to halt this project in its tracks. Some question the intention of building a large Islamic center so near the site of the tragic 9/11 attack, while others oppose the construction of any Islamic structure due to the suspicion that most — if not all — Muslims encourage or practice terrorism.
The Cordoba House (now being called Park 51) is a $100 million development of a 13-story Islamic center to be erected two blocks from where the World Trade Center once stood. At a hearing Tuesday at the Landmarks Preservation Commission, an angry crowd of nearly 100 people gathered, seeking to block this Islamic center from being built. Despite all opposition, the sponsoring group continues to pursue this project, hoping the new structure will stand as a symbol of tolerance.
This is certainly not the first time neighborhoods have opposed the construction of mosques. Locally, the Portland chapter of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community traveled uncharted territory back in 1986 when it proposed to construct the first mosque in Portland. Many strongly opposed the idea of the Rizwan Mosque being built in a Southwest Portland neighborhood. But the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community did not respond by forcing it through the city like Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf is doing in New York City.
Instead, they reached out to the neighbors who had issues with the mosque construction and listened to their concerns. Members of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community also listened to concerns at City Hall hearings. Some feared the Islamic call to prayer would be broadcast on loudspeakers five times a day while others feared what Muslims would do inside. All fears — based on ignorance of the purpose of a mosque — were addressed with direct dialogue. In the end, several people who originally opposed the mosque construction welcomed the mosque with open arms, which has seen no issues in the 23 years it has been open.
More recently, the nationwide Ahmadiyya Muslim Community attempted to purchase a large plot of land from a private owner in Walkersville, Md., for use as a prayer space and for national events. Their plans, however, were met with fierce opposition from the township. After months of discussions and dialogue, the people of Walkersville remained adamant. So the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community backed away from plans to purchase the land because forcing this down everyone’s throats is not the right thing to do.
What should be a matter of concern is the fear many Americans have of the presence of Muslims or a mosque in their neighborhood. This cannot be ignored, and a construction project cannot simply be forced onto people as Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf seemingly is doing with the Cordoba House at ground zero. Any Muslim group hoping to build a mosque must take it upon themselves to reach out to the surrounding neighborhood and personally share their intentions behind the construction project. This is the only way to combat the fear — and hatred — that some others spread about Muslims.
Mark Williams, a national tea party leader, is so opposed to a new mosque near ground zero that he expressed his hatred for Islam by stating on his website that Muslims “worship the terrorists’ monkey god.” The National Republican Trust PAC also has launched a vicious advertisement against the mosque that implicitly accuses all Muslims of participating in the 9/11 attack. While showing dramatic images of the attacks and of rejoicing militants set to a soundtrack of Muslim prayer, a narrator says: “On September 11th, they declared war against us. And to celebrate that murder of 3,000 Americans, they want to build a monstrous 13-story mosque at ground zero. This ground is sacred. Where we weep, they rejoice. That mosque is a monument to their victory and an invitation for more.”
Call it fear or bigotry, such words must be addressed head-on by Muslims if they want any hope of improving the impression many have of Islam. Let us follow the example of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community by going out and candidly discussing people’s fears. A mosque is meant to be a symbol of peace and must not be used as the source of hostility. If Muslims want to stand for peace, they must act with peace.
(Originally published in the Oregonian on Sunday July 18th. Click here for original article.)
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