The ongoing controversy over a proposed Islamic Center in New York is pitting constitutional rights against the sensitivity of many Americans over human losses caused by the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001. The Islamic Leadership Council, a group claiming to represent more than 55 major mosques and Islamic organizations in New York, said American Muslims are no less sensitive than fellow citizens who oppose the Islamic Center.
Imam Al-Amin Abdul Latif of New York's Ash-Shura Mosque told a news conference by local Islamic leaders at City Hall that the construction of the Islamic Center near the site of the 9/11 attacks is not the only issue at stake in the current controversy.
"The broader issue is the issue of ethnic and religious hatred being spread by groups trying to stop the building of mosques and Islamic institutions across the country," said Latif.
Another Imam, Talib Abdur Rashid, said many Americans are ignorant of the fact that hundreds of Muslims were among those who died at the World Trade Center on 9/11. Several were first responders, such as fire fighters and emergency medical workers, who came to the site before the twin towers collapsed on them.
"We do not believe that we are good enough to die, that we are good enough to minister to others, that we are good enough to respond to tragedy, but we are not good enough to be able to build a place where we can pray, right where we worked and died," said Rashid.
Speaking at a recent New York rally against the proposed Islamic Center, Sudanese immigrant Simon Deng, himself a Muslim, drew cheers when he noted there are already more than 100 mosques in New York. He spoke on the block separating the World Trade Center and the proposed Islamic Center. "Take this mosque and take it far away from those who died here. What is your problem by insulting us? What is your problem by bringing back the pain?"
The Islamic Leadership Council noted it was not Islam, but Muslim extremists, who caused that pain. The Council also rejected language that distinguishes between Muslims as them and Americans as us. Its members note there are millions of Muslims in the United States with a history in this country that goes back centuries.
Also addressing the news conference was New York Congressman Charles Rangel, who noted for every group of immigrants that came to the United States, another group did not want them here. He said the problem of opposition to Islam is not a problem for Muslims, but a problem for America. Rangel called on Americans to do the right thing by respecting the Constitution, which guarantees religious freedom for all.