News / USA

Ground Zero Muslim Center Produces Strong Feelings

Related Articles

Multimedia

A proposal to build a Muslim community center near the site of the September 11, 2001 attacks tested the limits of American religious tolerance this year.  Although the controversy has ebbed, it shows that the wounds of the terrorist attacks are still raw for many Americans.

It is Sunday Mass at St. Alban's.  Worshippers pray in the small parish church that lies in the shadows of Washington's National Cathedral.

Like religious Christians all over America, St. Alban's parishioners take their faith seriously.  But they are also curious about other creeds.

So after Mass, the pastor introduces a special speaker, saying, "I would like to introduce Dr. Ahmed."

Ambassador Akbar Ahmed is a professor of Islamic studies at American University who recently wrote a a book about his travels around America meeting Muslims who live here.

He said the September 11 attacks put many of the country's estimated seven-million Muslims on the defensive.  And, he said, that includes those who came to live here from abroad because of America's tradition of religious freedom. "And yet, immigrant family after immigrant family told us on this journey that America is the best place to be a Muslim, the best place in the world," he said.

Ahmed's trip predated the controversy over a proposal by New York imam Feisal Abdul Rauf to build a community center two blocks from where the World Trade Center once stood.

In an interview at his office, Ahmed says that controversy taught him a couple things about Islam in America.  One is that the wounds of the September 11 attacks are still raw for many Americans. "It also taught me that Muslim leaders are capable now in America of taking an action - not having thought through the consequences - and by that action creating so much controversy that it drags in the rest of the Muslim community, and the rest of America," he said.

Ahmed personally feels Rauf's center - which will include a Muslim prayer hall - should be located elsewhere.  But he praises Christians, Jews and others who stood up for the rights of Muslims to build mosques in their neighborhoods. "So from this crisis we do see some hopeful signs from people conscious that it is not just an issue of Islam that is being debated, but it is an issue of American identity.  What does it mean to be American," he said.

After listening to Ahmed's talk, St. Alban's parishioner Wayne Williams says he bears no ill feeling against Muslims. "The events of 9/11 did not change my view of Islam.  I view Muslims as peaceful people, just like Christians," he said.

But this is a church with a largely liberal congregation.  A recent survey by the Public Religion Research Institute found that 45 percent of people in this country think Islam is at odds with American values.

In the midst of the controversy over the proposed Muslim center in New York, the pastor of a tiny church in Florida made worldwide headlines by threatening to burn a Quran in public.

That worried Reverend Jim Wallis, who has served on President Barack Obama's Advisory Council on Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships.

Wallis and some other Evangelical clerics got together to stop the Quran burning.  He recalls what they told the Florida pastor so he would consider the ramifications for Christian clergy elsewhere. "Pastor will you sit with me, and talk with the widow of a pastor who was killed because of what you are about to do?"

Wallis accuses right-wing media of whipping up anti-Muslim sentiment, and also of sowing doubts about President Barack Obama's faith as a Christian.  A survey released last summer found that 18 percent of Americans mistakenly believe Mr. Obama is a Muslim. "The conflict media is wrong, what they say is not true," he said.

Wallis says that Christians, Muslims and Jews are learning to get along in America.

The truth of that may depend on whether there is another crisis about  Islam's place in America, and perhaps more importantly - how it is handled.


Jerome Socolovsky

Jerome Socolovsky is the award-winning religion correspondent for the Voice of America, based in Washington. He reports on the rapidly changing faith landscape of the United States, including interfaith issues, secularization and non-affiliation trends and the growth of immigrant congregations.

You May Like

Philippines, Muslim Rebels Try to Salvage Peace Pact

Peace process faces major setback after botched military operation to find terrorists results in bloody gunbattle between government forces, Moro Islamic Liberation Front fighters More

Republicans Expect Long, Expensive Presidential Battle

Political strategist says eventual winner will be one who can put together strongest coalition of various conservative groups that make up Republican Party More

Video New Wheelchair Is Easier to Use, Increases Mobility

Engineers have come up with a lever-operated design that makes use of easily accessible bicycle technology More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Liberia's Almost Last Ebola Patient Grateful but Still Grievingi
X
Benno Muchler
March 26, 2015 3:41 PM
Beatrice Yardolo was to make history as Liberia’s last Ebola patient. Liberians recently started counting down 42 days, the period that has to go by without a single new infection until the World Health Organization can declare a country Ebola-free. That countdown stopped on March 20 when there was another new case of Ebola, making Yardolo’s story a reminder that Ebola is far from over. Benno Muchler reports from Monrovia.
Video

Video Liberia's Almost Last Ebola Patient Grateful but Still Grieving

Beatrice Yardolo was to make history as Liberia’s last Ebola patient. Liberians recently started counting down 42 days, the period that has to go by without a single new infection until the World Health Organization can declare a country Ebola-free. That countdown stopped on March 20 when there was another new case of Ebola, making Yardolo’s story a reminder that Ebola is far from over. Benno Muchler reports from Monrovia.
Video

Video Cambodian Land Grabs Threaten Traditional Communities

Indigenous communities in Cambodia's Ratanakiri province say the government’s economic land concession policy is taking away their land and traditional way of life, making many fear that their identity will soon be lost. Local authorities, though, have denied this is the case. VOA's Say Mony went to investigate and filed this report, narrated by Colin Lovett.
Video

Video US, South Korea Conduct Joint Military Exercises

The Eighth U.S. Army Division and the Eighth Republic of Korea Mechanized Infantry Division put on a well orchestrated show of force for the media this week during their joint military training exercises in South Korea. VOA’s Seoul correspondent Brian Padden was there and reports the soldiers were well disciplined both in conducting a complex live fire exercise and in staying on message with the press.
Video

Video Space Program Status Disappoints 'Last Man on the Moon'

One of the films that drew big crowds last week at the annual South by Southwest festival in Austin, Texas, tells the story of the last human being to stand on the moon, U.S. astronaut Eugene Cernan. It has been 42 years since Cernan returned from the moon and he laments that no one else has gone there since. VOA’s Greg Flakus reports.
Video

Video Young Filmmakers Shine Spotlight on Giving Back

A group of student filmmakers from across the United States joined President Barack Obama at the White House this month for the second annual White House Student Film Festival. Fifteen short films were officially selected from more than 1,500 entries by students aged 6 through 18. The filmmakers and their families then joined the president and a group of celebrities for a screening of their films. VOA’s Julie Taboh reports.
Video

Video VOA Exclusive: Interview with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, during his first visit as president to Washington, gave a one-on-one interview with VOA Afghan Service reporter Said Suleiman Ashna, about his request for a change in U.S. troop levels, the threat from the Islamic State, and repairing relations with the United States and Pakistan. The interview was held at Blair House, late Sunday, in Pashto.
Video

Video California Science Center Tells Story of Dead Sea Scrolls

The ancient manuscripts were uncovered in the mid-20th century, and they are still yielding clues about life and religious beliefs in ancient Israel. As VOA's Mike O'Sullivan reports, an exhibit in Los Angeles shows how modern science is bringing the history of these ancient documents to life.
Video

Video Angelina Jolie Takes Another Bold Step

Hollywood actress and filmmaker Angelina Jolie has revealed she had her ovaries and fallopian tubes removed to lower her odds of getting cancer. Doctors say the huge publicity over her decision will help raise awareness about the importance of cancer screening. VOA’s George Putic has more

All About America

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More