I have known the man behind the community center in lower Manhattan, Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, for more than a decade. We met at the International Sufi Symposium, held annually in the Bay Area. I know Feisal as the kind of Muslim who is an intelligent, conscientious world citizen. He is a Sufi, a man of the heart. He supports moderate Islam and a broader mission “to strengthen relations between the western and Muslim worlds and to help counter radical ideology.” (You can read about his reasons to continue with the community center at its present location in the piece mentioned here.)
Feisal has been a steady presence in New York City for 25 years. Since 9/11 He and his wife, Daisy Khan, have stepped forward into positions of leadership, and have the support of the local communities there. This is particularly important since there has been a vacuum of moderate Muslims who are willing to speak up and put themselves at risk from both Muslim radicals and political Islamophobes.
In July, the plan for a community center, over two blocks from Ground Zero, (known as Cordoba House and Park 51) with a swimming pool, basketball court, classrooms and a play space for children — along with multi-denominational prayer rooms — was approved by Mayor Bloomberg, City Council Speaker Christine Quinn and many others. A twenty-three person Board of Directors controls the building itself and what goes on there. So what happened? Zealots and irresponsible politicians were moved to name it “The Mosque at Ground Zero,” and now 70% of Americans think that is a bad idea.
Think what a bad idea this is: A spokesman from “The American Families Association” is quoted as saying, “No more building permits for any mosques in this country… unless the congregation is willing to renounce the Qur’an.” Which brings me to the fringe Florida Evangelical, Terry Jones, who spoke of initiating Qur’an burning during the holiest days of the Muslim calendar – the celebration at the end of the Ramadan month of fasting.
We must be sensitive to the terrible loss from 9/11, but are we to sit by as the news media spews accelerated disinformation, Islamophobia, and religious scapegoating? If we fail to support a moderate, intelligent man such as Feisal who will replace him?
Please read Imam Feisal’s NY Times piece and Keith Olbermann’s speech on this issue. We can only hope the Florida Evangelist will be brought to see the bigger picture.
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Jeanne G: a deeply significant commentary. thank you.