Questioning The Agenda Behind The NYC Cordoba Mosque
Muslims indisputably have a constitutional right to build a mosque at Park 51 in New York City. However, prudence and compassion make it highly questionable to do so.
First, building a mosque near the altar of respect and sympathy for 9/11 families will reek of Islamist triumphalism—the kind that gloats over the death of the "infidel" as divine justice; the intransigence of the supporters of the Islamic centre in holding onto their plans undoubtedly lends credibility to this view.
Also, the proposed mosque near ground zero has already generated too much controversy for any healthy interfaith exchange to occur within its confines. Any structure built on the heels of such unspeakable grief and anger is, at the very least, unlikely to yield positive dialogue.
Despite this, the proposed Islamic centre enjoys support from stalwart journalist Fareed Zakaria. He believes Imam Rauf has been unfairly portrayed in the media as a potential radical or extremist sympathizer. He reminds us of Bin Laden’s threat to kill the imam as proof of Rauf’s “moderate” views.
Zakaria believes the imam is a moderate Muslim because he supports equal rights for Muslim women. Not true. When the imam talks of equal rights, he merely repeats the orthodox narrative on the limited notion of gender equity, rather than full equality for Muslim women.
Other views of the imam also remain suspect. In the same Newsweek article Zakaria states “the imam routinely denounces all terrorism.” Again, not entirely true. The imam has never openly denounced Hamas and Hezbollah as terrorist organizations. These worrisome signals have rightly fueled the uproar against the construction of the mosque.
Zakaria also seems to be missing the point on other counts. Will Imam Rauf be the only one frequenting the mosque? Certainly, a building of such immense influence is likely to attract Muslims of various persuasions who will see the venue as an opportunity to promote their religio-political agenda.
Thus far, arguments over the desirability of the ground zero mosque have centered on the views of the imam and his wife. But the cultural centre will seek to attract thousands more. Are their views not relevant to this debate? Since Rauf is unwilling to condemn much of what is reprehensible in the Muslim world, it is appropriate to ask what the imam is willing to tolerate within the confines of the Islamic centre.
Will he bar extremists from entering the mosque? Can he discern who is and isn’t an extremist? In short, how does he propose to retain the “moderate” character of the mosque?
Of course the same concerns over the radicalization of the centre would persist wherever Imam Rauf takes his mosque. And indeed he must address these concerns if he believes in genuine dialogue, pluralism and bridge-building.
Many assert that opposition to the Islamic centre will alienate “moderate” Muslims such as the imam and destroy any chances for a moderate brand of Islam to take root in North America.
Moderate Islam does need to thrive in America. However, for all our sakes, it must be the kind that condemns the doctrine of armed jihad unequivocally. Furthermore, it must acknowledge a clear separation of religion and state. Finally, it must accord full equality to Muslim women.
Thus far, Imam Rauf and his cohorts have failed on all counts.
Farzana Hassan is an author and former president of the Muslim Canadian Congress