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

Lebanese Media Unite to Support Palestinians in Gaza

Joint newscast billed as Arab world’s first unified news bulletin in support of Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip More

Photogallery Australian PM Alleges ‘Coverup’ at MH17 Crash Site

Meanwhile, Russia's ambassador to Malaysia denies plane's black boxes were opened before they were handed over to Malaysian officials More

Despite Advances in AIDS Treatment, Stigma Lingers

Leading immunologist tells VOA that stigma is often what prevents those infected with disease from seeking treatment 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.
IAEA: Iran Turns its Enriched Uranium Into Less Harmful Formi
X
July 22, 2014 10:26 AM
Iran has converted its stockpiles of enriched uranium into a less dangerous form that is more difficult to use for nuclear weapons, according to the United Nations’ Atomic Energy Agency. The move complies with an interim deal reached with Western powers on Iran's nuclear program last year, in exchange for easing of sanctions. Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London.
Video

Video IAEA: Iran Turns its Enriched Uranium Into Less Harmful Form

Iran has converted its stockpiles of enriched uranium into a less dangerous form that is more difficult to use for nuclear weapons, according to the United Nations’ Atomic Energy Agency. The move complies with an interim deal reached with Western powers on Iran's nuclear program last year, in exchange for easing of sanctions. Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London.
Video

Video Relic of Saint Draws Catholics Worried About Immigration Issue

A Roman Catholic saint who is a figure of devotion for those crossing the border into the United States is attracting believers concerned about the plight of undocumented immigrants. Mike O'Sullivan reports from Los Angeles, where a relic of Saint Toribio has drawn thousands to local churches.
Video

Video Ukraine Rebels Surrender MH17 Black Boxes

After days of negotiations, a senior separatist leader handed over two black boxes from an airliner downed over eastern Ukraine to Malaysian experts early Tuesday. While on Monday, the U.N. Security Council unanimously demanded that armed groups controlling the crash site allow safe and unrestricted access to the wreckage.
Video

Video In Cambodia, HIV Diagnosis Brings Deadly Shame

Although HIV/AIDS is now a treatable condition, a positive diagnosis is still a life altering experience. In Cambodia, people living with HIV are often disowned by friends, family and the community. This humiliation can be unbearable. We bring you one Cambodian woman’s struggle to overcome a life tragedy and her own HIV positive diagnosis.
Video

Video Nature of Space Exploration Enters New Age

Forty-five years ago this month, the first humans walked on the moon. It was during an era of the space race between the United States and the Soviet Union. World politics have changed since then and -- as Elizabeth Lee reports -- so has the nature of space exploration.
Video

Video Chicago’s Argonne Lab Developing Battery of the Future

In 2012, the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Science awarded a $120 million grant to a new technology center focused on battery development - headquartered at Argonne National Laboratory in suburban Chicago, Illinois. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, there scientists are making the next technological breakthroughs in energy storage.
Video

Video In NW Pakistan, Army Offensive Causes Massive Number of Displaced

Pakistan’s army offensive in North Waziristan has resulted in the large-scale displacement of the local population. VOA's Ayaz Gul reports from northwest Pakistan where authorities say around 80 percent of the estimated 1 million internally displaced persons [IDPs] have settled in Bannu district, while much of the remaining 20 percent are scattered in nearby cities.
Video

Video Kurdish Peshmerga Force Secures Kirkuk, Its Oil

The Kurdistan regional government has sent its Peshmerga troops into the adjacent province of Kirkuk to drive out insurgents, and to secure the area's rich oil fields. By doing this, the regional government has added a fourth province to the three it officially controls. The oil also provides revenue that could make an independent Kurdistan economically strong. VOA’s Jeffrey Young went out with the Peshmerga and filed this report.
Video

Video Malaysia Reeling: Second Air Disaster in Four Months

Malaysia is reeling from the second air disaster in four months involving the country’s flag carrier. Flight 340 vanished in March and despite an extensive search, no debris has been found. And on Thursday, Flight 17, likely hit by a surface-to-air missile, came apart over eastern Ukraine. The two incidents together have left more than 500 people dead. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman reports from Kuala Lumpur.

AppleAndroid