Whether to build a 15-story mosque and Islamic Center two blocks from Ground Zero is not an easy call.
Many have rightly said the debate over the mosque’s location is not chiefly a matter of religious liberty. After all, those behind the Cordoba Initiative, as it is being called, have a right to build the mosque on the private property in question. And, in one sense, there would be no better snapshot of our religious liberty in action than a mosque two blocks from the site of the 2001 Islamic terrorist attacks. Of course, that very liberty is something that profoundly separates America from much of the Muslim world.
Some, like former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and others, have said the matter of the mosque’s location is more a question of wisdom. Just because they can, doesn’t mean they should.
But perhaps even more so, it is a matter of love.
In the wake of the tragedy of 9/11, moderate Muslims worked to distance themselves from the radical Islamic attackers, standing on the long-repeated claim that Islam is a peaceful and loving religion. If this is true, now is the perfect opportunity to prove it.
Though the Qur’an does not contain the command to “love thy neighbor,” as do the Christian scriptures, it does enjoin Muslims to “do good to parents, kinsfolk, orphans…the neighbor who is near of kin, the neighbor who is stranger” (Qur’an, chapter 4, verse 36). In keeping with that injunction, the group Muslims for Peace has chosen the motto, “Love for All, Hatred for None.” They believe that Muslims should be the most loving and understanding people of the earth, especially to non-Muslims.
Feisal Abdul Rauf, the imam behind the Cordboba Initiative, hasn’t gone that far, but he has said: “Many of us were born in the United States. We have no higher aspirations than to bring up our children in peace and harmony in this country.”
Pollsters, however, have repeatedly told us Americans are skeptical of claims that Islam is a peaceful and loving religion. The latest survey by the Gallup Center for Muslim Studies found a majority (53 percent) of Americans view Islam unfavorably. What better way for Muslim Americans to help change those numbers than to choose now to exercise love?
Love demands taking the high road, which means not demanding one’s rights if exercising those rights would cause others to suffer. And since the families of those who lost loved ones in the World Trade Center attacks are pleading that the mosque not be built, the potential suffering already is all too palpable.
Would love really ask those who have suffered the ultimate loss to relive it day after day by seeing a reminder - no matter how distant - of those who had taken their loved one from them? Or would love say instead, “I lay down my rights for your good”?
To those behind the Cordoba Initiative, may I suggest there are other, better locations for the mosque and Islamic center to be built - locations that would help revitalize other parts of the city. Please prove wrong those who claim that your choice of location is “an attempt to gloat” over the work of the 9/11 terrorists. Show us instead that Islam truly is a peaceful and loving religion.