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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on earth (at least three out of every four Americans call themselves Christians) but until the First Amendment is repealed it is also a country that guarantees religious liberty to Christians and non-Christians alike.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. Umme Omar

    I think I have said what I wanted to say already. I have to leave now. Assalaamu alaikum. peace to all of you. Will catch you (if you bash Islam) somewhere else. bye.

    June 4, 2010 at 11:09 am |
    • Eric G

      I question all religions equally. Please don't think that I am "bashing Islam" because I am asking questions that you cannot answer. I have asked you the same question several times and you refuse to answer it. Were the terrorrists of 9/11 true believers in Islam? If you do not think they were, why do you believe that your interpretation of Islam is correct and theirs in wrong? Please answer the question.

      June 4, 2010 at 11:32 am |
    • Umme Omar

      Ok Eric I did not see your question before. But I have answered it in my other posts. But I am going to try it one more time. First of all, I am a Qur'an teacher and I teach online. I help my students build character based on the beautiful teachings of Quran and the Prophet (SAW). So I know what I am talking about. The people who carry the acts of terrorism are not Muslims because they are not following teachings of Islam at all. The word 'Muslim' means total submission to Allah. Allah commands us to be kind to others, and they are just doing opposite. You are not bashing Islam but there are many others who are. Alhumdulillah I have not retaliated because the teachings of Quran help me cool down and use logic.

      June 4, 2010 at 1:16 pm |
  2. americanman

    Speaking of mosque's , how is it fair or even reasonable to allow large speakers on the outside so they can call to prayer numerous times a day ? Are there not noise laws >? If i play rock n roll to loud i am told to stop . If anything , that is forcing your religion on me !

    June 4, 2010 at 11:00 am |
    • Umme Omar

      americanman ...next time try to follow the law of the land. Muslims do not play Adhan on loudspeakers in my state or anywhere else becaue they follow the law of USA In some muslim countries they allow adhan and music too. Go play music there.

      June 4, 2010 at 11:05 am |
  3. Downtown Resident

    I understand that people want to make this into a religious debate and for all of those who say that it is in the best interest of religion and tolerance, try living 3 blocks from ground zero. It is easy to condemn those who fear the implications this will have when you're sitting on your couch a thousand miles away, but when you routinely pass the area on your way to the subway, you have a daily reminder of the pain this event caused. I am all for tolerance through education and understand that the Muslim community would like the opportunity to have a place of worship in downtown, but the exact location is simply not necessary. Some of us have spent the past 9 years trying to rebuilt our community and this is only going to cause more pain and choas for us. Dont we deserve some respect too? Without so many of us willing to stay and fight for our neighborhood, this area would still be in disarray – and who would want to build a Mosque there then?

    June 4, 2010 at 10:26 am |
    • Umme Omar

      dear downtown Resident, you make a lot of sense to me. have you spoken to these mosque people about it? They should not build the mosque if the residents don't like it. they should take approval from every resident before going forward. Thanksfor sharing. I used to work right in front of WTC and used to visit 'Border' book store there. I still sometimes dream about it. it was a very sad day that changed so much since then.
      I was really not big on buiding this mosque in the beginning. I only have a problem when someone says that he hates Islam or islam is a terrorist's agenda and that is why he does not want this mosque. Because it is really not true. The idea behind the mosque was to bring the community together and not to make a shrine or to mock at the victims.

      June 4, 2010 at 10:46 am |
  4. Rachel

    I am a Christian.
    People need to realize that humans do many things in God's name, that God Himself would not approve of. However, He gave us free-will. If we just "love our neighbor" and "love our enemy" like Jesus requests, we wouldn't have these so-called "Holy Wars". People need to take a look at the New Testament before they start passing judgements about Christians as a whole being full of hate.
    There are fundamentalists in EVERY religion. But there are peaceful Muslims out there; unfortunately, the peaceful ones don't get any air time.

    June 4, 2010 at 10:23 am |
  5. Jon

    Forget about the religious freedom it's supposed to represent. Deep down isn't it in poor taste to build a Mosque within the vicinity of where thousands of civilians lost their lives by Islamic extremists? If they had religious freedom in Turkey, I wonder how they would feel if the small Jewish community there decided to build a synagogue within the vicinity of where the slain crew members lived with their families.

    June 4, 2010 at 10:23 am |
    • Umme Omar

      Are you talking about the Turkish aid fortialla's slain crew member? Oh I am so happy today, at least one person who admits that there were some turkish slain crew members and the jew have something to do with it.

      June 4, 2010 at 10:51 am |
    • Umme Omar

      Jon ...Are you talking about the Turkish aid fortialla's slain crew member? Oh I am so happy today, at least one person who admits that there were some turkish slain crew members and the jew have something to do with it.

      June 4, 2010 at 10:52 am |
  6. rar

    umme, mohams don't draw pictures and cartoons of jesus etc. they are a lot worse. they kill christians at the drop of a hat. all they need is one little excuse and they slaughter them. i know your religion is wrong because if someone takes something(steals) they cut off a hand. no true god would condone that. there is no forgiveness in the quran only punishment

    June 4, 2010 at 10:08 am |
    • Umme Omar

      rar ...drawing pictures and making fun of somebody's religious symbols can provoke violence. good responsible Jesus loving people would never draw pictures of other faiths. plus Serbians christians carried mass murder and genocide of Bosnian Muslims two decades ago. No muslim country has ever done that to any ohristian country in the history of civilization. Crusaders killed millions of Muslims and Christians. You guys really need to check what Jesus (PBUH) taught you a long time ago. Christians fought the vietnam war. Christians dropped atomic bombs on Nagasaki and heroshema. learn some history.

      June 4, 2010 at 11:01 am |
    • rar

      umme if you are truly peaceful in your relgion, cartoons and drawings should not bother you at all. if it does then you are not telling the truth about the mohams

      June 4, 2010 at 6:08 pm |
  7. Captain Gort

    I wonder if there are any synagogues or Christian churches in Hiroshima / Nagasaki / Dresden / Hamburg / Tokyo????

    June 4, 2010 at 9:12 am |
    • Jon

      There is at least one Synagogue in Tokyo. Why wouldn't there be any in Germany, much less Christian churches in every place you mentioned?

      June 4, 2010 at 10:31 am |
  8. Umme Omar

    When someone commints a crime and someone who knows it doesn't say a word is considered an accomplice, then any non Muslim who knows an extremist and doesn't turn him is also an accessory. There are people in our society who are backlashing at innocent Muslims. They are also extremists. If we don't clean up our society , how can anyone?

    June 4, 2010 at 9:00 am |
    • Umme Omar

      bob I am waiting...say Correct. Or you still didn't get it?

      June 4, 2010 at 9:02 am |
    • bob

      Lets be friends.

      June 4, 2010 at 9:03 am |
    • bob

      Correct. But I do get it.

      June 4, 2010 at 9:07 am |
    • bob

      Umme Omar
      Why did you twist the other comments around and add the word "non muslim??? You did not answer the persons statement, you deflected it.

      June 4, 2010 at 9:10 am |
    • Umme Omar

      These are two questions, and you are right lets be friends and try to answer them both. There are bad followers in every religion and faith. If some people in the name of islam did 9/11, there are other people who are doing bad things to Muslims in their hatred for islam. Both people are wrong and need to be questioned, punished and brought to justice. But we should be clear about two things 1) there is nothing in Quran that can preach terrorism 2) there is nothing in USA consitution to preach backlash at Islam and innocent Muslims

      June 4, 2010 at 9:25 am |
  9. americanman

    When someone commits a crime and someone who knows it doesn't say a word is considered an accessory , then any MUSLIM that knows an extremist and doesn't turn him in is also an accessory. If they don't help to clean up their culture , how can anyone ?

    June 4, 2010 at 8:48 am |
    • bob

      Correct.

      June 4, 2010 at 8:56 am |
  10. Mark H.

    One shouldn't judge Christianity by the customs of this country either. A lot of our customs don't show Christianity in a very good light. A lot of Americans calling themselves Christians do a lot of things Jesus would not smile upon.

    June 4, 2010 at 8:47 am |
    • Umme Omar

      yes i agree with you. When people practice relgion and they believe in God and the day of Judgment, they refrain from evil They do evil when they do not have to answer to a Supreme being. But the problem is that most people who are posting messages are accusing religion for preaching terrorism

      June 4, 2010 at 8:52 am |
    • Eric G

      Umme Omar,
      "They do evil when they do not have to answer to a Supreme being." So, using your logic, if someone "believes" that they are a Muslim and they "believe" that their god wants them to fly planes into buildings, they are not evil because they are doing their god's bidding? Good people will tend to do good things. Evil people will tend to do evil things. If you want to get good people to do evil things, that takes religion.

      June 4, 2010 at 9:47 am |
  11. Joe

    Let's have the families of all the victims of 9/11 take a vote on this.

    June 4, 2010 at 8:44 am |
  12. Umme Omar

    I agree with FP and Citizen of US. Muslims all over the world condemn terrorism but mainstream media does not cover it. I am a Muslim woman who works from home and teaches Quran online. Quran does not teach terrorism. It preaches kindness and social justice and all great moral and human values. Eversince 9/11 Muslims in USA live under the constant threat of backlash from others. But it does not mean that all the citizens of USA hate us or our religion. The reason Islam is growing so much in USA is that the American values of equality and social justice go so well with the teachings of Quran.

    June 4, 2010 at 8:37 am |
    • bob

      I have a Palastinian neighbor, I am a secular jew, I call myself a "Pork eating Jew." The neigbors are nice, we exchange some food, our kids play together. Our kids are young. I overheard my child asking his child if " they could forget about us fighting each other, and just play. Not to worry about the "Chanukah" people." My son knows nothing about these topics, so he would be getting this from the other boy. That is the problem. I don't want Islamist coming here and creating trouble. You say you want to be American but you want to stir up trouble behind my back. That is what I see.

      June 4, 2010 at 8:53 am |
    • rar

      umme, they can never go together sharia law is much different and tries to impose its laws on the people who want freedom. mohammedins religion is a government not just a religion. they enslave you. you i guess don't have to worry about that because you probably come form a rich family so those sharia laws probably don't pertain to you.

      June 4, 2010 at 10:15 am |
    • Umme Omar

      Bob you call yourself a secular jew because you really like pork. Otherwise from inside you are not secualr otherwise why would you call a palestinian Muslim an Islamist just on your assumption. This racism did not come from your religion because Moses (PBUH) and other Apostles did not teach you to be a racist. You are racist from inside and want to look secular from outside so u can eat pork. You pick what suits you from the religion and secularism and dump everything else that does not suit u.

      June 4, 2010 at 10:26 am |
  13. Citizen of US

    I agree 100% with the author. Muslims all over the world condemn terrorism. There are 1.5 Billion Muslims in the world, 85% of them are Non Arabs.

    June 4, 2010 at 8:28 am |
  14. FP

    I encourage everyone to go to the CAIR website http://www.cair.com/. This organization has continued to denounce terrorism and extremism on behalf of the millions of Muslim Americans who just want to live in peace. No one hears about this organization on the news, on the radio, etc because the media doesn't highlight the good things that Muslims in this country do. Muslims everyday denounce violence and extremism on the radio/blogs/discussion boards like this one, but, still I see comments asking "where are all the moderate muslims and why don't they speak out"? Well, HERE I AM. I AM A MUSLIM LIVING IN AMERICA SPEAKING OUT AND DENOUNCING VIOLENCE AND EXTREMISM OF ANY KIND. I AM ONE OF MILLIONS AROUND THE WORLD WHO DENOUNCE TERRORISM. The terrorists who commit these acts of violence do not represent me or my religion. For anyone to make sweeping generalizations about a religion or its followers based on the actions of a few misguided people is ridiculous. That would be like saying that all Catholics are child molesters since some of their priests are- Catholics still go to church and make donations knowing full well that some of the money is going to pay off victim families, they are not protesting by the millions in the street against the Vatican for doing nothing or against priests that molest children, they are not speaking out in the media against child molestation... Should we then generalize that all Catholics condone pedophilia or child molestation? That would be ridiculous. It's no different for Muslims. Let he who is without sin......

    June 4, 2010 at 8:07 am |
    • bob

      All Catholics are child molesters. ha ha

      June 4, 2010 at 8:09 am |
    • bob

      Muslims molest children also. Just is not the current hot topic of that religion.

      June 4, 2010 at 8:10 am |
    • Umme Omar

      bob you just don't get it. Do u?

      June 4, 2010 at 8:32 am |
    • bob

      Umme Omar- I get it very clear.

      June 4, 2010 at 8:39 am |
  15. bob

    Muslims want to take over the world, and a moderate Muslim is just one that is in a little less of a hurry to do it. Beware of Islam.

    June 4, 2010 at 7:54 am |
  16. Sheila

    As far as I am concerned, it is a direct insult to the survivors of those who lost their lives on 9/11!! Putting a mosque there is their way of mocking Americans – stupid, disgusting, bad decision but I am not surprised seeing the path this country is now on – what a waste!

    June 4, 2010 at 7:42 am |
    • bob

      True. We have no balls anymore. What will it take to make Americans take to the streets demanding blood and protecting our own culture? The left has spent great effort over decades to convince us that we have no culture, that we can't define what it is to be "an American." So no one is, and everyone is. Now, we can't act. Only the odd ball liberals, or foreign point of veiw in our own country feels comfortable making demands and expressing rage.

      June 4, 2010 at 8:00 am |
    • Umme Omar

      Just for the information of ignorants, when Muslims build mosques, they do not mean to mock anything. Mosques are meant to worship Allah and to learn kindness and modesty. Why don't you go ahead and make your places of worship and learn to love humanity.
      What line USA is going? what do you think looking at what BP did in the Gulf? Oil spill, marine life dying, fisherman losing business, people getting sich. Such a waste!

      June 4, 2010 at 8:47 am |
    • Observer

      I totally agree. I think it's just adding insult to injury. Sure, legally it should be allowed but I find it to be in very bad taste.

      June 4, 2010 at 9:55 am |
  17. Sammy

    "i promise you this, study islam for 3 months with the sole intention of becoming closer to God, and your life will change forever."
    Yes, I'd get to force my wife to hide her face and decare jihad on anybody who looked at me sidways. Yippee.

    June 4, 2010 at 7:39 am |
  18. Bob

    "Bob, you need to learn a little USA history. What is the only nation in history to use nukes in a war? What is the only country in the world that has used nukes, chemical and biological weapons? Which nation has destroyed the most other nations in the last 500 years?"

    What does that have to do with anything? I didn't say a word about who started what.

    "When the USA is sinless then we can pass judgment in such a silly manner. Till then you just look very ignorant."

    Considering that my statement is an objective fact (the hijackers did what they did in the name of Islam), I fail to see how it can be called "ignorant" unless you simply prefer to ignore objectrive facts. That's not a judgement call on the religion itself, it's a statement of the well-known motivation for the terrorists. If you have a problem with ignorance, you can start with them, not someobody simply acknowledging the truth.

    Umme, I understand that many Muslims believe the US "declared war" on them first. Again, that has nothing to do with what I said. The hard, cold fact is that these 19 people did what they did in the name of Islam. Doesn't matter if you agree with them or not, that was their motivation. Therefore, based only on that objective fact, building a mosque at Ground Zero is a terrible idea. A memorial should recall the victims, not the perpetrators.

    June 4, 2010 at 7:36 am |
    • bob

      Poison gas attacks in WW1 and many other incidents. Someone needs to brush up on THEIR history.

      June 4, 2010 at 8:20 am |
  19. Gretchen

    Wow...my head hurts. 🙂

    June 4, 2010 at 5:57 am |
  20. ricky

    You know what is wrong with America. there are to many people fighting for something they feel is right for themselves. Selfish people that want everything to be just right for them. Well to start let the government take care of making laws and defending the country. Let only Christianity be the only religion and all others band. Lets move all the illegal immigrants out of the country and make tougher laws if there broken. Today’s society is so lopsided with the poor, middle class, and the rich that we are headed for a big disaster in the future. I think it's time to go back to the way things use to be in the early 40.

    June 4, 2010 at 4:33 am |
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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.