CNN’s “Unwelcome: The Muslims Next Door”

On Sunday, March 27th, CNN aired “Unwelcome: The Muslims Next Door,” in which correspondent, Soledad O’Brien went to Murfreesboro, Tennessee, to examine the controversy around the building of an Islamic center.

In 2010, the city commission committee approved  plans  for the local Muslim community to build a 52,000-foot facility that would include not only a mosque, but also a school, a swimming pool, a gym, and a cemetery. Residents of Murfreesboro, which houses 180 churches and currently one mosque, came out in protest of the the Islamic center. In addition to protests, the sign at the site of the future center was vandalized twice: the first time the words “not welcome” were sprayed on it and the second time it was cut in half. Also, the construction equipment at the site was doused with gas and lit on fire. Finally, some residents filed an unsuccessful lawsuit to stop construction of the mosque.

O’Brien interviewed both opponents and supporters of the project. The question that emerged throughout the interviews was this: Is the problem with the building of the mosque itself or is the prevalent emotion symptomatic of a broader Islamophobia?

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Support for Cordoba House from the Mayor to the President

President Obama speaking about Cordoba House

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. Continue reading

Islamic Center near Ground Zero

Ground Zero in New York

An Islamic center near Ground Zero? That’s what Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf is hoping for.  Al Farah Mosque on West Broadway has already bought the building at 45 Park Place that used to be the Burlington Coat Factory. The significance of this building goes beyond the fact that it is close to Ground Zero: on September 11th, a piece of one of the two planes went through the roof of the store. The staff were in the basement.

For years the owner of the building was unable to sell it. But this past July, the Cordoba Initiative, an interfaith group founded by Imam Feisal, was one of the investors that finally bought the building. Imam Feisal’s vision for the space is to build a cultural center that would build bridges between the Muslim community and other faith communities. For Imam Feisal, the proximity of the building to ground zero and the fact that a piece of the wreckage fell in that space is a central reason why this building was choosen. A place of prayer and interfaith dialogue, Imam Feisal asserts, will send a different message than that of the extremists.

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Updating Mosques?

The Prophet's Mosque in Medina

The Prophet's Mosque in Medina

Among the most prominent symbols of Islam is the mosque. The dome and the minaret instantly come to mind when someone thinks of the Muslim place of worship. The designs that dominate the Islamic world tend to stem from Arabesque styles from the early periods of Islam. However, there have been calls to modernize mosque architecture to reflect the changes in the Muslim world. Those who make such calls argue that there is no such thing as “Islamic architecture” and that the only real requirement for a mosque is that it be clean and suitable for prayer. Others, though, contend that there must be something recognizably “Islamic” about the structure so that anyone who sees it associates it with Islam. Continue reading

The Imagination Age and Digital Diplomacy

Second Life is a virtual world that users can enter from anywhere, create an avatar, and build communities with others. In “Understanding Islam Through Virtual Worlds,” a short documentary that follows dialogues about Islam happening in Second Life, hosts Rita J. King and Joshua S. Fouts enter a mosque, take the Hajj, and even visit the online office of a real-life charity. Below is a video of the documentary or you can watch it here in high definition.

Fouts and King feel that the project’s main goal is to tell the story of Islamic virtual realms and give people the chance to share their message with a larger audience. On their blog, Fouts says:

We had many tense discussions with Muslims and non-Muslims alike in virtual space around issues such as Islamic Law and Rape, perceptions about the evolution of the Muslim Brotherhood, free speech, women’s issues, the conflict in Gaza and the war in Iraq. Many Muslims are fed up with violence and virtual worlds offer a new opportunity, especially for people who live within oppressive regimes, to reach out and discuss these issues and even begin to seek creative solutions.

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