August 5th, 2010
10:34 PM ET
From CNN Senior National Editor Dave Schechter:
Would you be more comfortable with a strip club in your neighborhood than a mosque? What about a toxic waste site? I admit those questions sound extreme, but considering the opposition to the proposed location of mosques in this country, perhaps they’re not so far-fetched.
Look beyond the controversial Islamic center and mosque to be situated in a building (above) near the site of the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks in New York City.
In the New York City borough of Staten Island, the board of a Catholic Church reversed an agreement initially made by its pastor to sell a building that formerly housed a convent to Muslims seeking to create a mosque and community center.
“There is a sense of sadness because people are so much misinformed in their opposition,” said Hesham El-Meligy, of the Arab Muslim American Federation. “You would think we’re in Nazi Germany and Muslims are Jews. I mean people are claiming so much nonsense. I know myself and I know Muslims. I don’t know where they get this information. Why don’t they ask a Muslim?”
In Murfreesboro, Tenn., hundreds of people opposed to construction of a mosque held a public rally. Hundreds have attended meetings of the Rutherford County planning commission, which has approved the plan, and similar numbers may turn out at next week’s meeting. A Republican candidate for Congress proclaimed that the mosque was "designed to fracture the moral and political foundation of Middle Tennessee."
In Temecula, Calif., the idea of local Muslims building a larger mosque sparked fears. "The Islamic foothold is not strong here, and we really don't want to see their influence spread," Pastor Bill Rench told The Los Angeles Times.
"There is a concern with all the rumors you hear about sleeper cells and all that. Are we supposed to be complacent just because these people say it's a religion of peace? Many others have said the same thing."
That attitude confounded at least one Muslim community leader.
"Our children go to the same schools their children go to. We shop at the same stores where they shop," said Mahmoud Harmoush, the imam of the Islamic center and an instructor at the California State University-San Bernardino's World Languages and Literatures Department.
"All of a sudden our neighbors wake up and they're opposed to us building the Islamic center there, the mosque. I hope it's a small group," Harmoush told the Times.
Back to Manhattan for a moment. Arsalan Iftikhar is a Washington, D.C.-based human rights attorney and creator of http://www.themuslimguy.com. His book, Islamic Pacifism: Confessions of a Muslim Gandhi, is to be published next January.
Referring to the “ground zero” controversy, Iftikhar asks: “So, to the fear-mongering xenophobic opponents of this mosque; my only question is this: How far away would be acceptable for you? Five blocks away? Ten blocks? Twenty blocks?”
That question would seem to apply to other locales in this country.
Washington Post contributor Pamela Taylor advertises herself as a “Muslim. Feminist. Progressive.” and recently offered this advice: “American Muslims and our friends must redouble our efforts to show how ludicrous the fears that right wing and conservative media have been whipping up actually are."
"As for those who are so scared by Muslims, I suggest you get to know some of us," she wrote. "Before you picket to forbid a proposed mosque, go meet the people who are going to pray in it. Before you burn that Qur'an, read a few pages of it.”
There are some 2.5 million Muslims in the United States, according to the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life. As their numbers grow, American Muslims are moving to communities where many people may never have met a Muslim and have little knowledge of Islam, creating the potential for greater understanding and awareness.
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