Breaking the Muslim fast of Ramadan with diplomats from Islamic countries and members of the US Muslim community last Friday night, President Obama reminded the US of its constitutional duty to support freedom of religion, including the right of New York City Muslims to build a mosque and Islamic community center near Ground Zero.
Today, amid a storm of criticism—a recent CNN/Opinion Research Corp. poll found that nearly 70 percent of American opposed the planned construction–the President told CNN that in defending the right of Muslims to build a community center and mosque, he was “not commenting on the wisdom” of the project.
“I was commenting very specifically on the right people have that dates back to our founding,” the president explained. “In this country, we treat everybody equally and in accordance with the law, regardless of race, regardless of religion.”
The President made his comments while hosting the fast-breaking Iftar dinner at the White House. The dinner represented a gesture of goodwill toward Muslims worldwide who are now participating in the month-long, dawn-to-dusk Ramadan fast that started on August 11. One of the pillars of Islam, Ramadan is also supposed to be a time of prayer, reflection, and peace.
Opponents of the mosque complex term the proposed construction near “hallowed ground” provocative and insensitive to the victims of the attacks of September 11, 2001, in which some 3,000 people perished. Yet, the Masjid Manhattan mosque, established in 1970, lies only two blocks north of the Cordoba House and has not attracted any controversy.
Let’s not forget that innocent Muslim passengers and visitors to the World Trade centers, perished, too during 9/11. The hijackers, according to the majority of Muslims worldwide, do not represent them or their faith at all. In fact, most of the victims of Al Qaida’s continuing terrorism are and have been Muslims.
While the builders of the proposed mosque complex certainly have the right to seek to build it, their timing was ill advised, and their discretion nonexistent. The mosque complex may not materialize after all. Significant legal and other hurdles remain.
America needs to demonstrate to the world, especially to the Muslim World, that it still upholds the principles of freedom of religion. Our nation needs to stand above religious intolerance everywhere, here as well as in those Islamic nations, such as Saudi Arabia, that do not allow the construction of churches, temples, or other non-Muslim houses of worship within their territories.
If you seek additional perspectives on the Arab World, in particular the events taking place in the countries of the Arabian Peninsula, check out Bill’s other stories at dampfang.com.