Last week, I was among several dozen Muslims who attended an iftar at the White House with President Obama. This has now become an annual tradition where the President extends greetings to the Muslim community and occasionally chooses to speak to other relevant issues. Two years ago, for example, President Obama selected this occasion as a platform to weigh in on the sensational anti-Muslim hysteria taking place in the debate around the proposed Cordoba House project in Lower Manhattan, otherwise known as the Ground Zero Mosque. At the time, the critique was mainly from extreme edges of the right wing who managed to make some noise about the President’s alleged “pro-Muslim” leanings.
This time around, most of the push back regarding the iftar I heard was coming from voices within the Muslim community.
-So why did I attend?
I am the executive director of a nonprofit organization that organizes around a number of key issues impacting low-income communities of color while providing direct services to those same community members.
I went because I believe in the process of critical engagement which I define as a long-term commitment to shape, deeply inform and/or passionately contest the often disparate policies and conditions that govern our lives or sustain profound inequalities in the world. Such a process carries with it an admission that we certainly will make mistakes along the way and perhaps even fail to insert ourselves more forcefully around an issue or two.
Ramadan is an ideal time to interrogate how far our private and public actions are from the loftier ideals that our faith traditions call us to. It is a perfect time to scrutinize the privilege that some of us disproportionately benefit from and to honestly consider all the types of unjust power structures and policies we contribute to through our tacit support or deafening silence.
Is there a way to overcome religious intolerance?
Given global demographic changes, it’s a vital question. “The most certain prediction that we can make about almost any modern society is that it will be more diverse a generation from now than it is today,” the political scientist Robert D. Putnam has written. “This is true from Sweden to the United States and from New Zealand to Ireland.”
In the United States, the question holds special significance for the simple reason that American society is highly religious and highly diverse and — on matters concerning faith — considerably more politically polarized than a quarter-century ago.
The United States prides itself on welcoming people of different faiths. The Bill of Rights begins with a guarantee of freedom of worship. In 1790, George Washington sent a letter to a Jewish congregation in which he expressed his wish that they “continue to merit and enjoy the good will of the other inhabitants,” and declared that the government “gives to bigotry no sanction.” In 2010, Mayor Bloomberg’s impassioned and courageous defense of the Cordoba House — the so-called “Ground Zero Mosque” — became an important addition to a long and noble tradition of inclusion. (It’s a speech worth reading.)
It took Muslims a full three months to figure out a strategy to counter the campaign against Cordoba House, otherwise known as “the Ground Zero Mosque.” This time around, it took about three hours.
I’m referring to the lighting-fast organizing that took place once word got out that Lowe’s had pulled its ads from All American Muslim, pressured by the Florida Family Association who were disappointed that the show didn’t offer enough airtime to Muslim extremists (That’s true by the way. You can’t make this stuff up).
The hashtag #loweshatesmuslims lit up the Twitter-sphere, thousands of people threatened to boycott, mainstream television channels started reporting on the story, star power in the form of Perez Hilton and Russell Simmons jumped on board.
Lots of other people have weighed in on the bigotry at play here. I’d like to comment on a somewhat different dynamic: the Americanization of the Muslim community, especially the immigrant segment. A community that not long ago wanted only the comfort and confinement of its own bubble is learning the great American art of building bridges.
The anti-Ground Zero Mosque campaign showed that it’s not enough to have a bridge to the influence-centers in American society, we needed the ability to respond rapidly. If the #loweshatesmuslims campaign illustrates anything, it’s that Muslims will never be Ground Zero Mosque-d again.
Amid rift, Imam’s role in Islam Center is sharply cut. Long-simmering tensions between co-founders of the proposed Islamic center and mosque near ground zero led to a parting of the ways on Friday that sharply reduced the role of one: the imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, long the project’s public face.
To Mr. Abdul Rauf’s surprise, the split was announced unilaterally by Sharif el-Gamal, the real estate investor who owns the former coat store at 51 Park Place where the 13-story center is planned. “While Imam Feisal’s vision has a global scope and his ideals for the Cordoba movement are truly exceptional, our community in Lower Manhattan is local,” said Mr. Gamal, referring to the imam’s longstanding work in promoting interfaith understanding. “Our focus is and must remain the residents of Lower Manhattan and the Muslim American community in the greater New York area.”
The break-up sent ripples of uncertainty through a community of religious and political leaders in New York who rallied last summer to the side of Mr. Abdul Rauf and his wife, Daisy Khan, when opponents assailed the plan to build near the site of the 9/11 attacks.
But the divide was most apparent in the different names each leader has used for the project. The imam has always referred to the proposed Islamic center and mosque as the Cordoba House. To Mr. Gamal, a businessman and real estate developer, it is Park51.
By Karina Loffee
The Cordoba House mosque, part of a Muslim center to be built two blocks from what is now known as Ground Zero proposed as a conciliatory move, was overwhelmingly approved by a local community board in May.
But the plans are being resisted by some New Yorkers who say a mosque would be inappropriate so close to the place where nearly 3,000 people were killed.