The proposal for a Muslim community center called the Cordoba House has unleashed a torrent of emotions. The New York Times described some of the speech emerging from debates in the media and during protests against the centre as "vitriolic commentary, pitting Muslims against Christians, Tea Partiers against staunch liberals, and Sept. 11 families against one another."
The proposed project is organised by the Cordoba Initiative, a New York City organisation focused on improving Muslim-Western relations. Organisers describe the Cordoba House as a "community centre with Islamic, interfaith and secular programming." Though frequently described as a mosque because it will have an Islamic prayer room, the Cordoba House will be more of a public space that will celebrate our common humanity and further community harmony.
Several other mosque-construction projects across the country, including in Brooklyn, Staten Island and Dayton, Ohio, have encountered similar acerbic opposition in recent months. This suggests that something more is going on than just outrage over the proposed centre's proximity to Ground Zero.
Fears of terrorism and its erroneously perceived links to Islam are cited by detractors as their most common concerns. However, the detractors either ignore or are ignorant of the fact that those who perpetrate terrorism betray the teachings of Islam, which is why 9/11 has been unequivocally condemned by all major Islamic scholars, organisations and countries. One only needs to Google the phrases "Islamic statements against terrorism" or "Muslims condemn terrorism" to read a sampling of the many condemnations issued by Muslims worldwide.
Linking Islam, a faith practiced by over a billion people worldwide, to the terrorism being committed by a handful of fanatical and misguided Muslims is absurd. This absurdity is perhaps best exemplified in the signage on display at one of the protests near the Cordoba House site that read, "Building a mosque at Ground Zero is like building a memorial to Hitler at Auschwitz."
Certainly, we should preserve the memory of the Sept. 11 tragedy and be respectful of those who lost their loved ones. But this does not mean that as a nation we can succumb to fear mongering about Muslims. A commentary in the New York Post further stoked such fears by stating, "Where there are mosques, there are Muslims, and where there are Muslims, there are problems."
Many complain that moderate Islam does not condemn terrorism. However, many do not seem to be listening to moderate Muslims who continually condemn terrorism and involve themselves. Unfortunately, the condemnation of terrorism by moderate Muslims do not make the news cycle, or are not deemed newsworthy enough. That condemnation however is voiced in the actions of many Christians, Muslims, Hindus, Jews and many others who are involved in many interfaith projects and communities nationwide. Last year I attended an interfaith youth conference where 700 young people of all faiths came together in Chicago to build a new generation of dialogue, cooperation and peace based on common faith values. It seems we will need to leave it to the new generation to correct the misgivings of their parents and grandparents.
Catholics in particular need to become better informed as to the interfaith commitment we have with Islam, and with all faiths. The Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI has underlined this commitment many times.