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

China’s Influence Grows With New Infrastructure Bank

Multibillion-dollar China-backed and BRICS-supported Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank seen as possible challenger to such lenders as IMF, World Bank More

Video Rabbi Hits Road to Heal Jewish-Muslim Relations in France

Rabbi Michel Serfaty makes the rounds in his friendship bus to encourage dialogue and break down barriers between the two groups More

Post-deal Iran Leaders Need 'Economic Momentum' to Solidify

Economists say deal could inject more than $100 billion into coffers - not enough to entirely rescue ailing economy - but maybe adequate to create 'economic momentum' 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 Gay Marriage Ruling Yields Real-life Impacti
X
Michael Bowman
June 28, 2015 10:05 PM
Friday’s landmark Supreme Court decision legalizing same-sex marriage throughout the United States is an outcome few thought possible just years ago, and shows a nation that increasingly tolerates and even celebrates the hopes and aspirations of gay people. VOA’s Michael Bowman spoke to a same-sex couple that will benefit from the high court ruling, and to a Christian scholar who is apprehensive about its potential consequences for America’s faith community.
Video

Video US Gay Marriage Ruling Yields Real-life Impact

Friday’s landmark Supreme Court decision legalizing same-sex marriage throughout the United States is an outcome few thought possible just years ago, and shows a nation that increasingly tolerates and even celebrates the hopes and aspirations of gay people. VOA’s Michael Bowman spoke to a same-sex couple that will benefit from the high court ruling, and to a Christian scholar who is apprehensive about its potential consequences for America’s faith community.
Video

Video Syrians Flee IS Advance in Hasaka

The Syrian government said Monday it has taken back one of several districts in Hasaka overrun by Islamic State militants. But continued fighting elsewhere in the northern city has forced thousands of civilians from their homes. In this report narrated by Bill Rodgers, VOA Kurdish Service reporter Zana Omer describes the scene in Amouda, where some of the displaced are taking refuge.
Video

Video Rabbi Hits Road to Heal Jewish-Muslim Relations in France

France is on high alert after last week's terrorist attack near the city Lyon, just six months after deadly Paris shootings. The attack have added new tensions to relations between French Jews and Muslims. France’s Jewish and Muslim communities also share a common heritage, though, and as far as one French rabbi is concerned, they are destined to be friends. From the Paris suburb of La Courneuve, Lisa Bryant reports about Rabbi Michel Serfaty and his friendship bus.
Video

Video S. Korea Christians Protest Gay Rights Festival

The U.S. Supreme Court decision mandating marriage equality nationwide has energized gay rights supporters around the world. Gay rights remain a highly contentious issue in a key U.S. ally, South Korea, where police did a deft job Sunday of preventing potential clashes between Christian protesters and gay activists. Kurt Achin reports from Seoul.
Video

Video Saudi Leaks Expose ‘Checkbook Diplomacy’ In Battle With Iran

Saudi Arabia’s willingness to wield its oil money on the global diplomatic stage appears to have been laid bare, after the website WikiLeaks published tens of thousands of leaked cables from Riyadh’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video Nubians in Kenya Face Land Challenges

East Africa's ethnic Nubians have a rich cultural history that dates back thousands of years, but in Kenya they are facing hardships, including the loss of lands they have lived on for generations. They say the government has reneged on its pledge to award them title deeds for the plots. VOA's Lenny Ruvaga reports.
Video

Video Syrian Refugees Return to Tal Abyad

Syrian refugees in Turkey confirm they left their hometown of Tal Abyad because of intense fighting and coalition airstrikes, not because Kurdish fighters were engaged in ethnic cleansing, as some Turkish officials charged. VOA Kurdish Service reporter Zana Omer, in Tal Abyad, finds that civilians coming back to the town agree, as we hear in this report narrated by Roger Wilkison.
Video

Video Military Experts Question New Russian Tank Capabilities

Russia has been showing off its new tank design – the Armata T-14. Designers claim it is 20 years ahead of current Western designs - and driving it feels like playing a computer game. But military analysts question those assertions, and warn the cost could be too heavy a burden for Russia’s struggling economy. Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video In Kenya, Police Said to Shoot First, Ask Questions Later

An organization that documents torture and extrajudicial killings says Kenyan police were responsible for 1,252 shooting deaths in five cities, including Nairobi, between 2009 and 2014, representing 67 percent of all gun deaths in the areas reviewed. Gabe Joselow has more from Nairobi.
Video

Video In Syrian Crisis, Social Media Offer Small Comforts

Za’atari, a makeshift city in Jordan, may be the only Syrian refugee camp to tweet its activities, in an effort to keep donors motivated as the war in Syria intensifies and the humanitarian crisis deepens. Inside the camp, families say mobile phone applications help hold together families that are physically torn apart. VOA’s Heather Murdock reports.
Video

Video Chemical-Sniffing Technology Fights Australia's Graffiti Vandals

Cities and towns all over the world spend huge amounts of resources battling graffiti writers who deface buildings, public transport vehicles and even monuments. Authorities in Sydney, Australia, hope a new chemical-sniffing technology finally will stop vandals from scribbling on walls in the passenger areas of commuter trains. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Cambodia Struggling to Curb Child Labor

Earlier this year a United Nations report found 10 percent of Cambodian children aged 7-14 are working – one of the highest rates in the region – and said one in four children in that age bracket are forced to quit school to help their families. Although the child labor rate has dropped over the past decade, Cambodia has a lot more to do – including keeping more children in school. Robert Carmichael reports for VOA from Phnom Penh.

VOA Blogs