(Photo: AP Images / Louis Lanzano)
Rather than move the mosque further away from the site of the 9/11 terrorist attacks in New York City, the chairwoman of the city's community board has suggested adding an interfaith component to help heal the divide.
"The mosque and community center near Ground Zero should not be enshrined as a battleground of discord, but rather be transformed into an inter-faith center for reconciliation and peace-containing nondenominational houses of worship to be shared by Muslims, Christians and Jews," Julie Menin, chair of Community Board 1, wrote in a commentary Monday in the New York Daily News.
"Its purpose – to bring us closer together, not split us further apart – could be reaffirmed in modified plans."
Menin, who voted in May to support the development of an Islamic cultural center and mosque two blocks from ground zero, acknowledged that the project has become "a symbol of discord and dissidence."
She expressed her desire to see the $100 million project transformed into an interfaith center for reconciliation and peace as a way of bridging the gap in what has become a national debate.
She suggested that Muslims behind the project dedicate a floor of the 15-story Islamic center to an interfaith, nondenominational space. The interfaith chapel at the Pentagon, which was also attacked in 2001, was cited as an example of a place of worship that was built on hallowed ground without controversy.
"The project, open to all, would celebrate all faiths and inter-faith understanding," Menin wrote.
The planned community center at 45-51 Park Place has been promoted as part of an effort to improve Muslim-West relations and to promote tolerance and pluralism. The center will include fitness facilities, education programs, meditation rooms and a mosque. Over the last several months, however, the project has drawn fierce opposition, with many families of the nearly 3,000 victims of the 9/11 attacks accusing the developers of the project of insensitivity.
According to a recent Pew Research Center poll, 51 percent of Americans agree with those who object to a mosque being built near the World Trade Center and only 34 percent agree with those who say it should be allowed.
At the same time, a majority of Americans say Muslims should have the same rights as other groups to build houses of worship.
Still, more than a third (35 percent) of respondents believe the Islamic religion encourages violence more than other religions. Also, fewer Americans (30 percent) have a favorable view of Islam compared to five years ago when 41 percent held a favorable view. A majority (55 percent), however, say they don't know much or anything at all about the Muslim religion.
The survey was conducted Aug. 19-22, 2010.
This week, American Muslims launched an online ad campaign to fight the negative views.
"A lot of people have been telling you what to think about Muslims. They say you should fear me, suspect me, hate me. But the truth is, I don't want to impose my faith on you. I don't want to take over this country. And I don't terrorism," Muslims say in the ad.
"I am here and have been here for generations wanting the same thing you do – life, liberty, peace and happiness. I am an American. I am a Muslim. This is my faith. This is my voice."
The ad is a grassroots effort by American Muslims from across the country. It was launched by an independent network that has no affiliation to any one organization or school of thought, according to the My Faith My Voice website.
Meanwhile, opponents of the mosque near ground zero are asking for transparency with the source of funding for the Islamic community center. Some fear it could be linked to Sharia-compliant organizations. According to The Associated Press, the developers incorporated on Aug. 23 a nonprofit organization, which is required before beginning a capital campaign. The developers also owe $227,570 in back taxes on the building where the center will be built.