May 31st, 2010
03:19 AM ET

A Muslim voice at ground zero

Stephen Prothero, a Boston University religion scholar and author of "God is Not One: The Eight Rival Religions that Run the World," is a regular CNN Belief Blog contributor.

By Stephen Prothero, Special to CNN

The United States has from its inception seen itself as something new. But populism—the politics of nostalgia—has a long history here. And the nation’s capital is, among other things, a Necropolis—a site for the memorialization of the dead.

How a nation memorializes the dead matters, not least by revealing what it lives for. The Vietnam Veterans Memorial tells us that the dead are to be remembered by name. So does the Oklahoma City National Memorial, whose 168 chairs represent the individuals taken by terror on April 19, 1995.

The memorials we are now building out of the ashes of 9/11 tell us something about the United States, too, as does the Ground Zero site itself, which is why the recent scuffle over whether there is to be a mosque in the vicinity is a matter not just for the Tea Party spokespeople who oppose it or the New York City community board that voted 29-1 to support it. It is a matter for all Americans, and the questions it calls are two.

The first concerns the so-called war on terror. Is the United States at war with Islam? If so, there should be no mosque near Ground Zero, and perhaps no mosque anywhere in Manhattan or for that matter in the United States.

The second is whether we are at war with the First Amendment. The United States may well be the most Christian country on earth (at least three out of every four Americans call themselves Christians) but until the First Amendment is repealed it is also a country that guarantees religious liberty to Christians and non-Christians alike.

So I disagree with Rod Dreher’s claim that a mosque at Ground Zero is “insane.” And I agree with Joe Klein’s call to build that mosque in the name of American freedom.

But building a mosque two blocks from Ground Zero is not enough. If the Ground Zero site, forever hallowed by those who disappeared into death there, is to reflect American values, the religion of Islam should also have a place at the Ground Zero memorial itself.

Like the Vietnam and Oklahoma City memorials, the 9/11 memorial will include a litany of the names of the dead. It should also include the names of Muslims worldwide who denounce the terrors of 9/11 as a crime against humanity and against Islam itself. These people are out there by the millions.  Let’s gather their signatures online and display them in a database at Ground Zero.

For every right-wing talk show host who says the mosque, if built, should be bombed, there are in my view millions of Muslims who know their tradition well enough to denounce terror in the name of Allah. Am I right? Let's find out.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Stephen Prothero.

- CNN Belief Blog contributor

Filed under: 'Ground zero mosque' • Culture wars • Islam • Politics • Religious liberty • Violence

soundoff (883 Responses)
  1. DB

    GB said it all with the comment – "Why do we have to have a Muslim voice at Ground Zero? They already spoke and that is why there is a Ground Zero".

    July 23, 2010 at 3:28 pm |
  2. BrianB

    This is not about the law. We all know the legal standing of this issue. This is about the human element involved which cries out over the cold hard legal aspect. There are times when we are called on as good neighbors to look past what our legal responsibilities are and consider what is best for our community. For the record, I am a liberal Democrat and the repetitive efforts by bloggers and journalists to label this a Tea Bag/Republican issue is offensive and disingenuous. You deny what is clearly the only truly bi-partisan issue to confront us in a long time.

    I have been participating in this debate since yesterday and here are my points so far.

    To muslims in particular and misguided supportive American supporters of this project in general –

    This is not about you personally or you collectively. It is about what was done in the name of your religion and to build a mosque on the site of such devastation for people to practice the religion that that devastation was done in the name of is OFFENSIVE ! It is INAPPROPRIATE ! It is COMMON SENSE ! If a christian fanatic blows up a family planning clinic and somebody buys that land and then wants to build a church on it, that too is OFFENSIVE ! That too is INAPPROPRIATE ! That too is COMMON SENSE ! It is not about muslims, it is not about christians. It is about common every day DECENCY. It is about common everyday EMPATHY for the hearts and souls of the people hurt by this and yes, the heart and soul of this Nation ! This is not a wound that will be healed for years to come.

    How is this not clear ? What is it that you do not understand ? There are muslims themselves who have stated that this is inappropriate. How is it that non muslims are so vigorously defending this project rather than empathizing with their own countrymen ? New York is a big place. There are plenty of alternative locations. Why, in the face of so much passionate opposition, is this location so vital ? I think this is a very important question that needs to be answered in full.

    There have been serious questions raised about the Cordoba Initiative, it's financial ties to Malaysia, it's president, Imam Faisal Abdul Rauf and his true intentions. These too are very important questions that need to be answered in full.

    The Cordoba Initiative claims it is well intentioned in this project. There are very few people who know if this is true and if it is not, there could very well be serious consequences. Well intentioned or not, the decent thing to do here in the midst of so much passionate opposition is to discontinue this project. This is just common sense and common decency. If it was intended as an olive branch of some sort, clearly it is not being seen as such and they should just accept that their good intentions have not been received as intended and withdraw.

    I don't understand those who refuse to acknowledge that this is a very sensitive issue for most Americans. As Americans, even if you don't think so yourself, at least respect the fact that the majority of Americans do find this offensive and inappropriate in the extreme.

    July 21, 2010 at 8:52 am |
    • justin

      Thank you finally someone is on the same page as me its NOT about religion but the fact that the area is now considered hallowed ground like Pearl Harbor, Gettysburg, Arlington, ect....it common decency not to do this.
      And to answer the questions on the Imam Rauf....he is a dangerous man and does not have the best of intentions when asked if he supports hamas he deflects, his translation of the koran is more militant and that is what bothers me the most. And the funding for this projects is over $100 million dollars. To get that kind of money for this really should raise eyebrows

      July 23, 2010 at 2:53 pm |
  3. Simon Templar

    So you obviously don't give a stink about desecrating ground zero with this obscenity?

    June 9, 2010 at 9:14 am |
  4. Simon Templar

    How much warning do we need about the dangers of Islam takign over? And how can anyone consider allowing a Mosque at ground zero!!!! Please do not allow this if you have any moral and loyal association with your fellow American!

    June 8, 2010 at 12:51 pm |
    • Jim

      i have a lot of association wmy american fellas but I am not a paranoid.

      June 8, 2010 at 3:56 pm |
  5. Simon Templar


    Please read this link:


    Its about 5 islamic law courts opening up in Britain (and may I say, done quietly). Its also happening in USA !!!!

    June 8, 2010 at 12:48 pm |
    • ssk

      I asserted the following in my post above...

      "Through excessive tolerance, India committed suicide centuries ago, Europe is in danger of doing the same thing right now and if we are not careful, America will follow Europe."

      You have just provided confirmation. Thank you.

      June 8, 2010 at 2:11 pm |
  6. sanethinker

    Yes, religion is strictly meant for private domain to be discussed among followers. We need secular alliance against these evils affecting the world, Followers and others equally.

    June 8, 2010 at 11:59 am |
  7. Peace

    Religion is the means not the end to Peace. If someone uses Islamic principles to create peace and equality so be it. Islam cares about peace and humanity not the religion itself. Everyone's religion is their personal connection with God and it should encourage them to form secular alliances with all around them. Peace!

    June 8, 2010 at 11:41 am |
    • Jack

      Don't let the guy above my post fool you. Islams about take-over and control. Look at any muslim country.

      June 8, 2010 at 11:59 am |
    • ssk

      If you believe that religion is a private matter between a man and his God, then you can not be a Muslim or at least not a very good one. The fact is Islam denies this private relationship.

      In defense of death penalty for apostasy, here are few words from Sahih Muslim, "...These words imply that in Islam religion is not a matter of private relationship between man and God, but is intertwined with society. So when he abandons Islam, he in fact revolts against the authority of the Islamic State and society. ..." Hence the death penalty.
      I will agree with you in the extent that in every other religion that I know of, religion is a private matter between man and his God. But not in Islam.

      June 8, 2010 at 12:28 pm |
    • Jim

      I agree with you. I know some Muslims very closely and they are all like that. Friendly from outside but very connected to their god, Alah from inside. But when I ask them questions about Qoran, they totally get very excited.

      June 8, 2010 at 3:54 pm |
    • Jim

      i meant to agree with Peace and not jack or ssk

      June 8, 2010 at 3:58 pm |
  8. J. M. Heskett

    Today is the first day that I ran across these comments above! There is still time for another. The series of comments certainly cover a lot of religious comments and differences. This is a great country, the USA, and we strong-willed, red blooded Americans want justice! The arguments posted here will be solved by the One who declares Himself the "I am" in the book of John! Jesus will be the ultimate judge. No fairy tales or myths. Great issues arise over who He is. Many of the comments in the many posts above can be soved by studying Who Jesus say He Is! This helps you to make the right decision about ourselves and our need of Him. Jesus said himself that He came to save people, forgiving them of their sins, regardless of your background. He says in the Living Word, the Bible, Who He is in John 11:25 "Jesus said unto her, I am the Resurrection and the Life. Whoever believes in Me, although he may die, yet he shall live. And whoever continues to live and believes on Me shall never die at all. do you believe this?" The book of John verses 1-14 help to explain more; His love for us in John 3:16; His part in He voluntary service as a human in Philippinans 2:5-8. God, the Creator of all things, all peoples (Hebrews 1: 1-8) has great love for each of us and will help us examine oursleves to deal with anything within us that He needs to forgive and remove, so we can make the right decisions and actions in this sometimes mixed up world! May He bless all of you in recognizing His love for you and forgiveness, and all the important decisions ahead!

    June 8, 2010 at 8:43 am |
  9. ssk

    Tolerance is a virtue, excessive tolerance is suicidal. There comes a time when tolerant people must decide when to stop tolerating the intolerant.

    Through excessive tolerance, India committed suicide centuries ago, Europe is in danger of doing the same thing right now and if we are not careful, America will follow Europe.

    History tells us that no people have been more tolerant than the Jews and suffered more as a result. Finally Israel resolved "never again" and made a decision not to tolerate the intolerant.

    Islam is intolerant and Muslim societies are intolerant. They expect us to grant them all the rights that they will not grant us when they are in power. Pakistan is a case in study.

    So let us resolve that we will allow them to build a Mosque near ground zero, when they allow us to build a church, temple and a synagogue in Mecca. Let us tolerate people converting into Islam when they tolerate Muslims converting out of Islam.

    Let us stop committing suicide in the name of political correctness. May be we all need to be Israelis.

    June 8, 2010 at 8:01 am |
    • sanethinker

      ssk, you are right, India had a portion turn rancid and now a full blown cancer. It was good to be cut off than suffer with it. But this cannot continue, their only philosophy seems to be "what is mine is mine and what is yours is negotiable". Their intolerance is manifesting in so many evil forms which they fail to recognize.

      The times have changed now they perceive as they are under seize, they are if they behave with same mentality. There are no more country left which is secular among them. Turkey was an example and is no more. Mullahs dictate what is the agenda or foreign policy of Turkey. They endlessly debate who is non believer, what should be length of beard or veil yada yada yada...

      June 8, 2010 at 8:20 am |
    • ssk

      sanethinker said "what is mine is mine and what is yours is negotiable".

      Let me give you a slightly different version of your statement. I read this a few years in the commentary section of "The Nation", a standard newspaper in Pakistan. It said, " Whatever belongs to the non-Muslim rightly belongs to the Muslim and it is up to the Muslim to take it or leave it." Of course they will take it if they have the power to do so and leave it otherwise.

      June 8, 2010 at 8:54 am |
    • sanethinker

      ssk, This seems to be the extreme version of what I said "what is mine is mine and what is yours is mine if I can", this smells like day light thievery a la "Bernie Lootoff". Indians invented "zero" so let us slap one on them "shoonya", "unda", "nada" "zilch"...

      June 8, 2010 at 10:03 am |
    • Umme Omar

      india still has more muslim population than Pakistan and India is doing great. No Muslim-hindu riots. They have learned to live with each other and work towards their collective welfare...Incredible India.

      June 8, 2010 at 10:32 am |
    • ssk

      sanethinker, Extreme as my version may sound, unfortunately it happens to be more accurate. To appreciate that, you must read Koran and follow the verses on spoils/bounty/ganimah etc. The spoils are the property acquired from the infidel caravans after the men have been killed and the women/children turned into slaves ("that your right hand possesses", in Koranic terms). The spoils are normally distributed among the believers and if there is a believer with conscience who is hesitant, here is Koranic verse for him, "Eat ye the spoils, they are lawful and pure" (8:69).

      June 8, 2010 at 11:27 am |
    • sanethinker

      Umme, I respect some of your thoughts, it seems to be tempered with secularism. except for your religious thoughts I agree with most if it.
      I mentioned Turkey as they have some bad history with Armenia, Kurd, Greek Cypriot. Iran has with its Sunni minority and Kurd, Iraq is a tug of war between Shia and Sunni and opposite is in Saudi, Yemen etc. Palestine has its own tension between Shia Hamas and Sunni Fatah. Lebanon, Syria is also no exception with its own Druze, shia sunni etc.
      When we think of a responsible citizen your we get a different image of Islam than you practice. In my previous reply to ssk, I mentioned my opinion based on ssk ref. to "The Nation" article. I also read once in a while "Jang" , "Dawn" and various other news paper to get their opinion/prespective.
      We notice most of these nations does not have strong minority and democracy to temper the thought process and hence the extremism. Pakistan has been inventing minority by throwing Shia and Ahmedi into that category. Also they have some of the key people who influence this ideas of propagating big lie by coming out with conspiracy theory which people follow religiously in their country. How do you explain the denial of 9/11 in Pakistan and recent 26/11 Mumbai attack.

      June 8, 2010 at 11:28 am |
    • sanethinker

      ssk, Thanks for clarifying, I may tend to agree as than seems to be the norm where ever they form absolute majority with their Sharia ruling this might be legal. I do not intend to read Koran but this is evident from various source.

      June 8, 2010 at 11:55 am |
    • Umme Omar

      ok thankyou sanethinker if it is meant to be a compliment. I sound so secular to you because a Muslim is supposed to look that way when he/she is dealing with the outside world. I have my connection with Allah in my inside and this is supposed to reflect in my outside behaviour. You know those cognitive theories where behabior, heart and intellectual have a triangle relationship with each other.

      June 8, 2010 at 4:07 pm |
    • Umme Omar

      Secondly sanethinker, I may have a secular outlook but I am a very practicing Muslim. I pray and do hijab. But these are my practices and I do not impose them on others. OTH, As a Muslim, its my job to stop people from wrong and enjoin them to do good. So if some kid is bullying in the school, I will ask him to stop and the bullied kid to be patient. Same with extremists. I don't know any extremists in my surrounding but people do get angry when they read these hate messages on CNN blog or other message boards. So I ask my people to stay calm. In any case we cannot show temper or disrespect to other people's beliefs.

      June 8, 2010 at 4:34 pm |
    • sanethinker

      Good to know that secularism works in India, would be beneficial if you could propagate the model "peace and democracy" in other Islamic country and bring peace and democracy across crescent states. Project the rights and equality of specially minority in such a state.

      June 8, 2010 at 6:35 pm |
  10. Dan G.

    A perfect example of how Muslims intend to take control of the world through the weakness of others. The fanatics of Islam feed of the weakness of the more tolerent as they quietly push for more and more inroads for Islam in non Muslim countries. As in Europe they will gradually increase their presence and ask for more Muslim laws and regulations to be introduced until they have both political and social control. Unfortunately most liberals see this as normal until it's too late. Just look at all the conflicts and oppression in the world and most likely you will find Islam present.

    June 8, 2010 at 8:00 am |

    I cant help but think that if they are allowed to proceed with this obvious slap in the face to all who perished on 9/11 and their families, there may be some "problems" getting the construction done. I cant believe any self-respecting construction worker would even consider working an such a project. What are they going to do, hire all muslim workers and material suppliers? The construction biz in NY has a few "silent" partners (wink wink) who i cant imagine would allow this to happen. And of course there are the "inevitable" accidents on the construction site. Cant you see the FDNY responding to a fire at this mosque? Why here? and why would any respectable New Yorker even consider this a good idea. The commission that approved this should be strung up by their "thumbs" and held for ridicule in the public square like in the days of the stocks. Does anyone really believe this is a gesture of peace on the oart of the Muslims? I know most Muslims are reverent and respectful, but it only takes a handful of lunatics and misguided individuals to ruin it all for an entire faith.

    June 8, 2010 at 1:18 am |
  12. Tommy

    There is no such thing as a peace loving Muslim. Want proof take a look at the world. what Muslim country enjoys peace. None. Muslims love slaughtering the helpless. They would rather cut the heads off children than to accept peace. Muslims don't aspire to peace. They aspire to martyrdom. They seek eternal happiness in the deaths of the innocent.

    June 8, 2010 at 12:48 am |
  13. Justin

    I rarely visit CNN's website anymore and tonight I am reminded why. I can't believe this joker would even consider suggesting that people, Muslims or anyone, deserve a place at the site of one of the worst tragedies in American history just because they denounce this violent act. This article is a slap in the face to those who lost their lives on that dreadful day, to their loved ones, to our soldiers and every other American that cried on that tragic day. Does CNN ever have political contributions from moderates or even non-leftists these days?

    June 7, 2010 at 11:41 pm |
  14. Simon Templar

    Its about time we citizens began showing our some loyalty: loyalty to our country and to our brothers. Either with us, or you are not with us. the middle ground is out of bounds on this one my friends!

    June 7, 2010 at 11:17 pm |
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About this blog

The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.