On August 3rd, 2010, a New York City Landmark Preservation Commission vote cleared the way for construction of a much-debated Islamic center. The center will be called Cordoba House, after the city in Andalusia where Muslims, Jews, and Christians lived together in tolerance and respect. I wrote about Cordoba last December, when the plans to build this cultural center emerged. Cordoba House will include a mosque, but it will much more than that–it will be like a YMCA and open to the community. Although it is frequently referred to in the mainstream media as the “Ground Zero Mosque,” it is not primarily a mosque, nor is it located at Ground Zero. Opposition to the project has received a lot of attention recently, but it should be noted that there is also a good deal of broad-based support for Cordoba House as well.
Among the arguments for the cultural center is the right to build a place of worship and the need to encourage moderate Muslims who are trying to counter the voices of the extremists. These were points that Mayor Michael Bloomberg reiterated in his speech in support of building the center. Mayor Bloomberg emphasized the right of Muslims, as well as other religious groups, to build places of worship and rejected the idea that the government should strip them of this right because some do not like their faith. One of his most important points was that Muslims are part of America, just like other immigrants.
President Obama also spoke out about Cordoba House this past week. At an iftaar dinner hosted by the White House, President Obama said that Muslims, like all other religious groups, have the right to build a place of worship. He added that religious freedom is part of what defines America and that this freedom should never be compromised. He also reminded the audience that Muslims are very diverse and the ones who carried out the 9/11 attacks do not represent the vast majority. President Obama, like Mayor Bloomberg, emphasized that Muslims are just as much a part of America as any other immigrant group.
Although the opposition to building Cordoba House has been very vocal and visible, the support that Muslims have received demonstrates that there are many who understand that Islam does not explain the behavior of the extremists, but rather it explains the behavior of the millions who live peaceful lives and are motivated by their faith to positively contribute to their societies.
On the next Inside Islam show, Wednesday, August 25th, Jean will be discussing the Cordoba House controversy and whether it indicates higher levels of Islamophobia with Moustafa Bayoumi, author of How Does It Feel to Be a Problem: Being Young and Arab in America and Edward Linenthal, professor of History and American Studies at Indiana University.
What do you think about building Cordoba House? Do you think the protests against the center represent intolerance or a legitimate concern? Who should define a faith? To what extent should religious freedom be respected? Please share your comments below.