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Cordoba House

August 18, 2010

Appropriate.

This is the chief argument being used by those who would deny Imam Feisal Rauf, a voice of progressive and peaceful Islam the right to house a Muslim community center, Park51, or the Cordoba House some 3 blocks away from the site of the 9-11 tragedy. 

Whether it is appropriate to have a Muslim center there or not – that seems to be the question of the hour. Not the constitutionality – the constitution is clear, there is an inalienable right to the “freedom of religion” in the United States.  So there is no legal reason for denying the existance of the Cordoba House, only the subjective view of its appropriateness.  But why would it not be appropriate? Few of the opponents of the center claim that those asking to build Park51 are directly responsible for Sept. 11. Only that the community center, which includes a mosque, would be an inconsiderate act, callous to those who lost loved ones during the terrorist attacks nearly nine years ago. While many more are using the proposal as an opportunity to score political points by casting the proposers as insensitive to the feelings of those who lost blood and treasure.  However, these arguments have no bearing in a supposed democratic society.

How many times have I heard a political talking head, or even a member of Congress begin their discussion of Park 51 with the refrain, “We recognize that this is a religious freedom issue…”, but end in some attempt to bypass the right to religious freedom on the basis of bigotry. The tragedy of such arguments is two-fold, first  it denies the basic rights of a entire faith to participate in the civic process, as the Cordoba House is designed to do as an institution dedicated to education, fostering mutual understanding, and facilitating reconciliation; and secondly it denies the history of this Nation. Lest we forget that 9-11 was not the first act of the evil we call terror on this soil.  We cannot forget the forced removal of Native American tribes from their lands – surely this was an act of terror to those families, the mothers and fathers, the sons and daughters who traveled that Trail of Tears.  Did not Christian churches acquiesce to this act of horror? Slavery, the colonial way to prosperity was certainly terror to the enslaved, the lynched, the murdered.  Wasn’t the Christian faith used as a vehicle to prove the necessity of slavery?  Maybe Native Americans and African Americans should ask for the halt of all new Anglo-Saxon Christian churches on former tribal lands or near former plantations?  Christians around the country would be outraged! Storming the streets with cries against RELIGIOUS DESCRIMINATION!

But Muslims, they need to be sensitive to everyone elses feelings, even when their own people were amongst the aggreived. The absurdity of the argument is staggering – it reeks of descrimination, religious and ethnic.  It calls to my memory a conversation Jesus has at a well with a Samartin woman. A conversation that because of the difference was tabboo.  A conversation that begins with Jesus asking for water, and concludes with them both knowing “that the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship [God] in spirit and truth, for [God] seeks such as these to worship him. God is spirit and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth” (John 4: 23-24). What does this mean?  It is to know that to understand that God seeks those who worship beyond the confines of this or that religious doctrine. Who live the love of God by loving God’s creation. It is to be able to participate in dialogue and in community with all. 

This is the supposed function of Park51, the Cordoba House.  To offer water to the thirsty, to offer a dialogue between cultures. How can this be inappropriate? It’s more than appropriate. It’s necessary.

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