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

India PM Modi's Party Distances Itself From Religious Conversions

BJP under fire for being slow to rein in hardline affiliate groups allegedly trying to promote Hindu-dominant agenda by luring Muslims and Christians to convert More

Anti-Whaling Group Found in Contempt of Court

Radical environmentalists who threw acid and smoke bombs at Japanese whalers in the waters off Antarctica continue their campaign to disrupt Japan's annual whale hunt More

UN's Ban Urges End to Discrimination Against Ebola Workers

Ban was speaking in Guinea on the second day of a whistle-stop tour aimed at thanking healthcare workers of the countries at the heart of the epidemic 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.
US Decision on Cuba Underscores Divisions Among Miami Cubansi
X
Sharon Behn
December 19, 2014 9:34 PM
For decades, older, more conservative Cubans have been gathering at Café Versailles on the corner of Calle Ocho to eat Cuban food and talk politics. After hearing of President Barack Obama’s decision, a number of them gathered in front of the café with posters to protest. VOA's Sharon Behn reports on the situation.
Video

Video US Decision on Cuba Underscores Divisions Among Miami Cubans

For decades, older, more conservative Cubans have been gathering at Café Versailles on the corner of Calle Ocho to eat Cuban food and talk politics. After hearing of President Barack Obama’s decision, a number of them gathered in front of the café with posters to protest. VOA's Sharon Behn reports on the situation.
Video

Video Three Cities Bid for Future Obama Presidential Library

President Barack Obama still has two years left in his term in office, but the effort to establish his post-presidential library is already underway. The bid for the Obama Presidential Library is down to four locations in three states -- New York, Hawaii, and Illinois. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, each of them played an important part in the president’s life before he reached the White House.
Video

Video Cuba Deal is Major Victory for Pope’s Diplomatic Initiatives

Pope Francis played a key role in brokering the US-Cuba deal that was made public earlier this week. It is the most stunning success so far in a series of peacemaking efforts by the pontiff. VOA religion reporter Jerome Socolovsky has more.
Video

Video Fears of More Political Gridlock in 2015

2014 proved to be a difficult year politically for President Barack Obama and a very good year for the U.S. Republican Party. Republican gains in the November midterm elections gave them control of the Senate and House of Representatives for the next two years -- setting the stage for more confrontation and gridlock in the final two years of the Obama presidency. VOA National Correspondent Jim Malone has a preview from Washington.
Video

Video Sudan School Becomes Target of Aerial Attacks

The school dropout rate is at an all-time high in Sudan's South Kordofan state because many schools have been destroyed during the three-year civil war between the government and SPLA-N rebel forces. Adam Bailes visited Sudan's Nuba Mountains' region and reports many children are simply too scared to go to school
Video

Video VOA Reporter Tours Devastated Peshawar School

Islamist militants wearing military uniforms and strapped with explosives attacked a military run school Tuesday in the northwestern Pakistani city of Peshawar. At least 141 people were killed in the horrific attack, most of them young students. VOA reporter Ayaz Gul visited the devastated school and attended the funeral of the principal who courageously tried to save her students from the deadly attack.
Video

Video Nigerians Fleeing Boko Haram Languish in Camp Near Capital

In its five-year effort to impose Islamic law in northeastern Nigeria, the Boko Haram extremist group has killed thousands of people and forced hundreds of thousands to flee. Some of those who ran for their lives now live in squalor on the edges of the capital, Abuja. Chris Stein reports for VOA.
Video

Video Aceh Rebuilt Decade After Tsunami, But Scars Remain

On December 26, 2004 there was an earthquake in the Indian Ocean so powerful it caused the Earth’s axis to wobble a few centimeters. Onshore on the island of Sumatra, the resulting tsunami was devastating. A decade later, VOA Correspondent Steve Herman reports from Banda Aceh, Indonesia, where although there is little remaining evidence of the physical devastation, the psychological scars among survivors remain.

All About America

AppleAndroid