Very quickly, the news came out that these attacks were the work of As-Qaeda, and the prophetic part of my ministry emerged. We were contacted by a local Sufi group who had a visiting leader, and they asked to come and do a presentation on Islam at our church. We had them come for an evening presentation and also a Sunday morning presentation. The local paper did a very large article on the event, which was a plus. As the country's attitudes toward Muslims in America grew increasingly hostile, and sometimes violent, it became clear to me that a very important part of the religious purpose of Unitarian Universalists right then needed to be in response to this, building interfaith dialogue and cooperation.
Here we are, nine years later, and Islam and the attacks of September 11th, 2001 are back again in our news, showing that this need for interfaith dialogue and cooperation, as various people weigh in on the issue of "the Mosque at Ground Zero."
Let's get some of the misconceptions cleaned up first:
Is it a mosque? Those who are against it are quick to call it a mosque. Those on the other side respond that it's a community center. Which is it? Well, I think it's primarily a community center, but the site for Park51 does say future plans include:
- a mosque, intended to be run separately from Park51 but open to and accessible to all members, visitors and our New York community
- a September 11th memorial and quiet contemplation space, open to all
Is it at "Ground Zero"? No. It's really not. The Park51 center would not be on the footprint of the World Trade Center. It's on Park Place, one or two blocks north, depending on how you count. This map may prove helpful:
View Larger Map
Also, take a look at this map, which shows where the buildings of the World Trade Center were.
Those who argue against Park51's placement need to explain the following, in order for their stance not to be hypocritical, anti-Muslim, or just plain silly:
- Do you believe that no religion should have a house of worship at "Ground Zero," or are you just restricting Muslims from this wide geographic area? If the former, fair enough. If the latter, you need to explain how this is consistent with a land of equality and religious freedom. There's a Catholic Church even closer at 22 Barclay St. Of course, it's possible to believe that they should be allowed to have a mosque there but that the planners should just chose respectfully not to--similar to my arguing that we have the right to draw Mohammed, but I choose not to, for example.
- What span of land do you consider "Ground Zero"? If you think this stretch Park Place is included in "Ground Zero," what does "Ground Zero" include? If you just realized that your definition doesn't include the Park51 location, then your apology is humbly accepted.
- If you are restricting all religious groups from this large area of commercial land in lower Manhattan because this is hallowed ground in some way, by what reasoning do we restrict religious groups from creating houses of worship while still allowing everything from strip clubs to a "hookah lounge" in the same radius? What should this hallowed land include? Understanding that this is a huge piece of commercial land in the middle of New York City, what would you put there? And how do we allow business but restrict it to only that which is palatable to all the victims' families?
Next post: I'll address this argument that putting a mosque within a few blocks of "Ground Zero" is distasteful and offensive to the victims' families and argue for what is most needed.