In Theory: Weighing an Islamic center near Ground Zero

Those for and against a proposed Islamic center and mosque near Ground Zero butted heads during a passionate three-hour hearing of New York's Landmarks Preservation Commission last week, CNN reported. At issue is whether a more than century-old building should be preserved and made into a mosque and community center at the site where the Twin Towers once stood. What do you think? Is it appropriate to build an Islamic center and mosque on the site where the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center were destroyed by Islamist hijackers on Sept. 11, 2001? If not, what should be done with the building instead?


Is it appropriate to build a mosque on the site where the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center were destroyed by Islamist hijackers? It's certainly legal. This is America! I assume it's possible.

By some stretch it may even be ethical. But is it appropriate? Of course not!

What could be less appropriate than building a mosque on the ashes of the Twin Towers, where innocent men, women and children were savagely murdered at the hands of Islamic terrorists shouting, "Allah Akbar"? Could there be a greater gift to Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and Osama bin Laden than to erect a mosque on the very site where they committed their religious slaughter?

Understandably, many New Yorkers are resisting this effort by the Kuwaiti-born imam, Feisal Abdul Rauf, to build a mosque near Ground Zero. I join with those who argue that the Twin Towers site has become far more than just real estate in lower Manhattan. Hallowed by the blood of its victims, Ground Zero has become a symbol of America's sacrifice and resolve.

Building a mosque there, where the radical Islamic crusades became real to Americans, would be an unnecessary provocation and a finger in the eye of the families of the victims who still grieve.

I remember that day. Along with other disbelieving Americans, I watched with horror as Muslim children around the world danced in the streets and their parents gave them candy. On that day we began to question what we had been told was a "religion of peace."

Though he is not against building the mosque, Mayor Bloomberg understands the lingering pain New Yorkers feel.

"I think it's fair to say if somebody was going to try, on that property, to build a church or a synagogue, nobody would be yelling or screaming," Bloomberg said in May.

In the interests of healing this lingering American wound, I would hope that thoughtful and kind-hearted Muslim Americans would reject this planned building.

Paul the apostle said: "Everything is permissible — but not everything is beneficial. Everything is permissible — but not everything is constructive."

Rev. Jon T. Karn

Light on the Corner Church


I don't believe that that the primary motive behind the opposition to the proposed Muslim mosque is its proximity to Ground Zero. Naturally there is lingering pain and anger in New York from the tragedy of Sept. 11, but the suggested location for the building at 51 Park Place, which Google Maps indicates is two blocks away from Ground Zero — a significant distance in overcrowded Manhattan. Also, what is being built is not primarily a mosque but rather a Muslim community center that will also contain a mosque.

I feel that the fierce resistance of New Yorkers to this development stems primarily from the fear of creating a Muslim gathering place in their midst. A recent New York Post article states as much by declaring its objection to any mosque in New York City, citing concerns that the Islamic radicalization that has become common in Western Europe may take hold on this side of the Atlantic as well.

Over the past several decades, freethinking and altruistic European countries opened up their borders and welcomed millions of immigrants from Muslim countries. They hoped that the convergence of various cultures under the aegis of freedom would produce positive multi-cultured societies. In reality, the opposite happened. Instead of an open and tolerant Western Europe, today we see an alarming growth of religious extremism and frighteningly belligerent Muslim elements in almost every European country west of Poland.

Thankfully, Muslims here in the United States have generally integrated fully into our society and feel every bit as American as anyone else.

Nevertheless, when discussing the proposed building in New York, there are legitimate concerns that need to be addressed. I believe it is incumbent upon the Muslim leadership to take the first steps in discussing all relevant issues and alleviating the fears that are ever-present. It is also equally critical for those opposing this project to listen with an open mind and truly try to comprehend the other side's views. Hopefully, this approach will bear positive fruit, and an amicable solution will be found.

Although there are many obstacles along the path, there is merit to the notion of a Muslim community center that is sensitive to the memory of those killed in the attack, conducive to a spirit of peaceful tolerance, and symbolic of our nation's religious freedom — all of which would offer a hopeful contrast to the violent extremism of Sept. 11.

Rabbi Simcha Backman

Chabad of Glendale and the Foothills


How odd would it be if the question was, "Is it appropriate to build a church near the site where the Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City was destroyed by a Christian Identity movement bomber on April 19, 1995?"

Posing the question implies that Christianity has a cause-and-effect relationship with this tragic act of terrorism. I categorically reject that for both Christianity and Islam because terrorism has no religion. A small group of extremists cannot be allowed to malign a world religion with centuries of contributions to human civilization.

I support the building of the proposed Islamic center, not mosque, two blocks away from Ground Zero as an affirmation of the American value of religious pluralism and our common shared religious value of peace. The purpose of the center is to serve the wider community to improve interfaith relations and promote tolerance in addition to providing religious services to Muslims. The proposed community center will include offices, meeting rooms, a gym, a swimming pool, a performing arts theater and a prayer room.

The vitriolic opinions expressed in Manhattan follows a pattern of behavior experienced across our country to other construction projects initiated by American Muslims expressing their religious freedom. As New York's Mayor Michael Bloomberg said, "If somebody wants to build a religious house of worship, they should do it, and we shouldn't be in the business of picking which religions can and which religions can't. I think it's fair to say if somebody was going to try to, on that piece of property, build a church or a synagogue, nobody would be yelling and screaming. And the fact of the matter is that Muslims have a right to do it, too."

This is what is great about our country. A Jewish mayor is supporting American Muslims by saying no to religious bigotry in New York City.

Muslims are part of the American mosaic of pluralism as U.S. citizens who are educationally, socially, economically and politically integrated. No longer are American Muslims predominantly immigrants; many are second- and third-generation citizens. Islamophobia is a social cancer as unacceptable as racism and anti-Semitism, a threat to the very fabric of our American principles of liberty and justice for all.

Levent Akbarut

Islamic Congregation of La Cañada Flintridge


Wow. We can frame this question with so many trigger words that blood pressure will never come down far enough to have a real conversation: "Ground Zero," "Sept. 11," "Twin Towers," "Islamic hijackers." What if the question read more like this: An Islamic group committed to mutual recognition and respect within Muslim-West relations has been meeting in a former Burlington Coat Factory two blocks from Ground Zero. On that site, they hope to build a $100-million 13-story community center with Islamic, interfaith and secular programming. What issues should New York City be considering?

I'm breathing a little easier now — hope you are, too. Because now we can actually talk about freedom of religion, property rights, the reasons for and values of landmark designations, and the long-term work of getting to know our neighbors. I'm not going into all that here, mostly because I don't know anything about property rights and landmark designations in New York, but let's talk about religious neighbors.

Jewish and Christian voices are coming out in support of the Islamic center. Why is that? Because at the heart of our shared Abrahamic faiths, we have a witness for peace and reconciliation. Although the traditions and texts of each Abrahamic faith at times allow for violence and war, peacemaking is so basic to our three faiths that justification of wanton destruction in the name of war is, we hold, a perversion of God's will and plan for humanity.

When we acknowledge this, we can travel back together from the extreme ends of our traditions and the blood-pounding trigger words, and begin to sort out what it is to be deeply faithful religious people living in the same city, country and world. We can build the bridges of relationship that lead to peace, and work together for human rights and preservation and allocation of the planet's resources.

Not that this work is easy. I'm part of an Abrahamic Faiths Peacemaking Initiative, and sometimes our best efforts at working together come to calamitous, screeching halts. And then we pick ourselves up and try again. We have to.

Rev. Paige Eaves

Crescenta Valley United Methodist Church


In most cases, a building's location has no moral significance. But in this case, it would be morally wrong and extremely foolish for Islamists to build a mosque only two blocks from Ground Zero.

Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, an ongoing advocate of this project, claims the intent is to improve relations between the West and Muslims. But the injury of Islamists murdering 3,000 innocent New Yorkers is too deep for this project to do anything but create greater division. Its presence would be a slap in the face to every family who lost a loved one on Sept. 11.

Should the project necessarily be outlawed? No. The religious freedoms Americans enjoy are too precious. They shine out in brilliant contrast to the well-known policies of the countries that raised and financed the terrorists. But the moral imperative on the site's owners is to make the old Burlington Coat Factory a community center, and to pursue peace and healing by not promoting the faith to which the terrorists adhered.

Joshua and the Israelites built a stone memorial as a reminder of how God helped them cross the Jordan River into the promised land. David built an altar and Solomon built the temple at the place where the Lord stopped a plague of judgment against Israel. That's good construction. But let's not forget that the Lord confounded the building of the Tower of Babel, a monument to man's God-denying self will. And because of the traumatic history of Ground Zero, that's all I believe this proposed mosque would ever be.

Rev. Jon Barta

Valley Baptist Church


"As Jesus came near and saw the city, he wept over it, saying, 'If you, even you, had only recognized on this day the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes'" (Luke 19:41-42).

Those at the contentious hearing, if they had listened very closely, might have heard the voice of a robed stranger, speaking up from somewhere in the back of the crowded room: "You're familiar with the old written law, 'Love your neighbor,' and its unwritten companion, 'Hate your enemy.' But I say, love your enemies. Let them bring out the best in you, not the worst.

When someone gives you a hard time, respond with the energies of prayer, for then you are working out of your true selves, your God-created selves. This is what God does. He gives his best — the sun to warm and the rain to nourish — to everyone, regardless — the good and bad, the nice and nasty. If all you do is love the lovable, do you expect a bonus? That's no big challenge. If you only talk to the people you know, do you expect a medal? Anybody can do that. In a word, what I'm saying is, Grow up. You're children of God. Now live like it. Live out your God-created identity. Live generously and graciously toward others, the way God lives toward you" (Matthew 5:43-48; "The Message," revised).

Christ proclaimed, "Peace to those who are far off, and peace to those who are near" (Ephesians 2:17), and called us to a ministry of reconciliation, in which we are to extend hospitality to strangers, and pray for and with our enemies — until we no longer see them as enemies.

Surely we can understand, and should applaud, the same striving for peace in the Muslim community.

Amy Pringle

St. George's Episcopal Church


I visited Ground Zero not too long ago, and after all these years there still wasn't much happening that I could see. I don't know all the things needed to repair the damage below ground, but here we are almost a decade since the attack and still we continue to see the evidence a giant black eye left by those who screamed "Allahu Akbar" and beat us momentarily senseless.

If we are to build anything, it should be the largest edifice in the world with all the names of the victims running up and down its façade, and have the biggest American flag ever seen waving over its massive spire. We should do this to say "In your face" to our enemies, and "Thank you for providing us an opportunity to grow bigger and better than before!" Our current lack of visible recovery must encourage them to no end.

What I think absurd is this notion that putting a mosque at or near the site will help bridge any rifts created by the Muslim hijackers. It will do quite the opposite. Muslims in America should do all they can to distance themselves from that dreadful day's event, not run to the front of the ideas committee and suggest building a reminder of the religion that incited the suicide devils to commit their horror.

We are the land of the free, and freedom of religion is one of our constitutional rights, but just as it is inappropriate to shout "fire" in a theater, it's equally inappropriate to put a mosque at Ground Zero. Imagine if the American Nazi Party put in a request to have their headquarters across the street from the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum. Who would think that a "healing" opportunity?

Nobody is denying a congregation its American privilege of having a worship center in New York or anywhere else. What nobody finds particularly palatable is having such a sensitive situation served with such insensitivity by a religious group that claims it's as patriotic to America as everyone else. Fine, then do your patriotic duty and back off.

Rev. Bryan Griem

Montrose Community Church

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