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on earth (at least three out of every four Americans call themselves Christians) but until the First Amendment is repealed it is also a country that guarantees religious liberty to Christians and non-Christians alike.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

    Jack, sir...there is a huge difference between praising something that you agree with and actually taking responsibility for something. For a momnet try wiping the slow poisoning that the media has done to you over the years and look for facts. The guy never admitted it. All they have on record is some statements from innocent men that were taken to Guantanamo and kept under extreme stress and torture to the extent that they started speaking what they were forced to.
    This is a standrad investigation tactic used by law enforcement everywhere. scare the person to the point where he can't say no.

    June 4, 2010 at 4:31 pm |
    • rar

      silhouette you make many assumptions without knowing anything at all but heresay and then you beleive it

      June 4, 2010 at 6:11 pm |
  2. Jack

    We're a responsible nation with a little forsight. If it were up to the rest of the world every nation would have nuclear weapons. We are the only ones with balls enough to try and stop it. You should be glad we're here because if we were not the world would be very different.

    June 4, 2010 at 4:17 pm |
  3. Silhouette

    "Baptist don't go around blowing themselves up to kill innocent people do they? "
    They don't need to. its done at the state level to try to make it sound legit, doesn't change a thing about the fact that its state run terrorism

    June 4, 2010 at 3:54 pm |
  4. Silhouette

    It wasn't the buddhists that have been murdering and terrorizing people all across the globe either buddy...its ignorant fundamentalist christians who have caused this mayhem after being brainwashed by the jews since the time of Jesus. Straighten out your understanding of the situation and there will be peace.
    Besides, I know one thing for a fact. Even if these hard liner muslims are crazy, they aren't liars. Till this day OBL has denied any involvment in 9/11. I don't like his ideology, but I do take his word for it because they never lie.
    On the other hand, all the media (read jews) do is lie, nonstop. So please don't give me references of what you heard on CCN. Its not soemthing anyone in their sane minds should be listening or beleiving.
    In the end again, this is indeen a religous conflict started by fundamentalist chsirtians since the time of the crusades. Quit hating and miscontruing facts.

    June 4, 2010 at 3:52 pm |
    • Umme Omar

      Thank you so much Silhouette.

      June 4, 2010 at 3:58 pm |
    • Jack

      I saw bin laden being exhilerated praising the attck on tape. Other evidence has shown him to be behind it. As far as I'm concerned he's just as guilty as anyone, and for you to say islamists don't lie you must be in a dream world. Many people lie and muslims do to, not all but many. the reason you see all these hate messages for Muslims is because they are waging war against us... we don't hate muslims by nature. All we ask is for the moderates to stand up against the extremists but all I can see on this site is Muslims defending their religion and being insensitive to puting the mosque near ground zero. If you can't understand that then you have other agenda's.

      June 4, 2010 at 4:05 pm |
    • Umme Omar

      jack these hate messages against Islam (including yourself) only shows your high level of intolerance for other faiths. If you attack my faith, I will defend it. i could use an all american name here like Brandy or Liz to post these messages. But I really do not lie. I am a muslim, I am not a white and I am really a mother of a 2 year old boy named Omar. But I love all fellow Americans and color or race is just incidental to me. Which means I am also very passionate about the 9/11 victims and their families irrespective of their skin color or country of origin. My name Umme Omar makes you think that I am not passionate about those victims. But like I said before, I really don't use a name which is not mine..

      June 4, 2010 at 4:21 pm |
    • rar

      silhouette go read some history books on who the killers are and how the mohams got started. you know mohammed with a penchant for little girls and wanting a religion of his very own so he could do his diabilcal deeds. the mohams have always spread their religion with the sword. hey umme i see you are a jew hater. the truth is finally starting to come out of you huh? the truth finds its way to the surface if you work it for a while

      June 4, 2010 at 4:23 pm |
    • Umme Omar

      Here it goes again. I am not a jew hater. you seem to be guilty concious. the whole world has an agenda against you, right? some Conspiracy theorist.

      June 4, 2010 at 4:30 pm |
  5. bill

    Sure we can build a mosque at ground zero...you think they'll let us build a baptist church in meca? This a stupid article. It wasn't the buddist that flew the planes into the world trade centers...was it? Have you forgot...already?? Are you an Islamic sympathizer, Or are you just Afraid of Islam? Well....IN America it is " In God we Trust"...not Allah! We're a Christian Nation....not Islamic. If you don't like it get out! If you were an immigrant than welcome to America – But you knew this was a Christian Nation before you got here...now didn't you! I get tired of the socialist press Afraid to call the problem what it is....Baptist don't go around blowing themselves up to kill innocent people do they? There is only one group in the World that does that, An that's why we have Homeland Security, to protect us from the baptist huh? If Islam is truly a peaceful religion that they need to start improving their image and mission statement and start being a "witness" to the world for something other than "death to the Infidel".. An infidel is anyone who does not believe the Islamic way! That means convert or die!
    Don't you think you should know your enemy and have the facts about what the war is all about! IMPEACH AL HUSSIEN OBAMA! YOUR CLOSET ISLAMIC PRESIDENT! WHERE'S THE BIRTH CERTIFICATE?

    June 4, 2010 at 3:36 pm |
    • Umme Omar

      Christians first took the lands from American indians, then went to Africa to kidnap and enslave blacks, brought them here in USA treated them worse than animals. . A person who follows Christ (PBUH) would never do that. They were not Christians, they were terrorists. In Vietnam war these american terrorists carried mass murder of Vietnamies. In WW2 they bombed Nagasaki and Hersshema. They were not Christians, they were terrorists. The people who blew WTC were not Muslims, they were terrorists. Terrorists do not follow religion. They are dictated by their hatred for other faiths and relgions. Just like you. You are a terrorist. Obama is a Christian., he is a follower of Christ (PBUH). I just wish he could keep up his promises though.

      June 4, 2010 at 3:55 pm |
  6. rar

    zaheer it doesn't matter to you mohams who hit the bldgs with the planes if there were other mohams in there or not. they may have been non-practicing mohams which makes them infidels of the worst sort, right? they don't mind the collateral damage at all. they think they still did allas bidding by killing them to. REMEMBER mohams will kill their own daughters for any reason at all if they think they have done wrong so who cares about the mohams that were in in the towers?

    June 4, 2010 at 3:16 pm |
    • Umme Omar

      People all over USA kills their daughters and sons for no reason at all. If you have checked law enforcement agencies, Muslims do not kill their children. They marry, have kids and take responsibilty to raise them. I think you have not read history. Pagans used to kill their newborn daughters but after the arrival of Islam, daughters were given protection and equal rights. I know you don't bother reading our answers, because you are so blinded with your hatred for islam, nothing gets through to u. But I still try my best

      June 4, 2010 at 3:47 pm |
    • rar

      hey umme muslims do kill their daughters. so called honor killings?

      June 4, 2010 at 4:08 pm |
  7. nunyabuznez

    After the September 11 attack Muslims joyfully danced in the streets. Now they want to put up a dance hall at the sight of the attack. We don't need another destination for a Hajj...especially in New York.

    June 4, 2010 at 2:17 pm |
    • Umme Omar

      That was a lie. they were palestinians and they were dancing in daylight. It was still day time in USA when these videos were shown. At that time it was already night time in palestine. Anybody could figure that out. Besides, i know Islamic fashions. The dresses that those Palestinian women were wearing were a much older fashion style. They took that video from an archive. use common sense if you have any

      June 4, 2010 at 4:03 pm |
  8. americanman

    UMME, ever hear of michigan ? They do play Adhan on loudspeakers...... Now i am not saying you can't practice your religion , just DON'T try and force it on me !!!

    June 4, 2010 at 1:06 pm |
  9. Silhouette

    "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."

    My friend, can you tell in whose name have the fundamentalist christians (which by the way most church going chrsitians are because thats all that is taught there) been murdering people specially muslims across the globe for centuries?
    I can tell you – its in the name of a group of people who have conned you into beleiving that they are somehow superior than you and that its your religious obligation to support them even if it means killing anyone who tries to preach equality and justice.
    This was their issue since the time Jesus came out saying that this is unjust and against God's teachings – they 'took care of him'
    This was their issue with islam when Mohammad came out with same God's teaching's as Jesus, Moses and all beyond them.
    And no matter how much misinformation they spew since they own the media, somethings in hears never change.

    June 4, 2010 at 12:55 pm |
  10. Afshan

    Seriously why is it that everytime Muslims want to give back to the community people pull the "They need to denounce radical Islam" card. Newsflash! WE DO! Every single flipping time something happens CAIR issues a statement that is IGNORED by media outlets because it doesn't BLEED SO IT DOESN'T LEAD! If you want to witch at someone witch at the MEDIA for not releasing the statements put out by Islamic Organizations.

    June 4, 2010 at 12:43 pm |
  11. Silhouette

    This is the whole issue that Judaism has with Islam. Islam says all humans are born equal and in after life will be judged solely on their deeds and intentions of their deeds on earth.
    Judaism says Jesus was a liar and so was Mohammed. We are god's chosen people so its your job to come under our direct command and acknowledge that we are chosen to run the show. This doens't sit well with the teachings of Islam that forces nothing on its followers or non followers. Until they let go of their insecurities and stop being cunning and murderous, this will never end.

    June 4, 2010 at 12:38 pm |
  12. Silhouette

    To all those who keep saying US/ Chrsitians have raised voices against injustices etc.
    Do you know how old this illegitimate state that is called Israel is? It was imposed more than 60 years ago on people who had been living there for generations (and please don't give me the incorrect bible version excuse that its their land since the start of time and that they are somehow some God's chosen people. There is no such thing as a racist god. For him to be just, all humans are to be considered equal regardless of their faith, color, creed etc.).
    Since the day of its forced creation, they have looted, murdered and occupied umpteen number of times. Where is the voice of moderate US citizens/ christians on this? This issue/ injustice based on extreme racism and religious superiority is the root cause of 90% violence in the world today. Get out of those innocent people's land and all thsi will end. If you ask me Israel is the real terrorist and those muslims have to be the most patient and peaceful people in the worl who have been taking the brunt of this injustice for three generations now as you sit here and do nothing.

    June 4, 2010 at 12:31 pm |
  13. sparkle

    in islam if you read the hystory or the quran muslims have never killed another person because the dont want to convert and in islam people never wanted to start war nd how about world war 2 who started and when muslims fight in war they are defending them selves. the muslim religion was not started by violence and they have never killed a chriastian. also many many peple live in islam contries.

    June 4, 2010 at 12:20 pm |
  14. Lou

    Umme,
    You make good sense here, because you are practicing understanding. From all of the posts above, it is obvious this is quite an emotionally charged topic. FP may have said it all best, 'let he who is without sin ...' It is important to realize and be aware of how those who were affected by the 9/11 tragedy feel about a mosque being built at or near ground zero. While your intentions may be good and you are not trying to mock the victims, understand that there will certainly be some people who feel they are being mocked. While I appreciate religious freedom, I also understand that if I had a family member killed in the Twin Towers, I would probably feel that it was somewhat insensitive to have a mosque erected where the Twin Towers once stood. This would be totally on an emotional level, though. On the other hand, I do understand how peace loving people, whether Muslim or any other religious people would want places of worship 'to bring the community together'.

    June 4, 2010 at 12:16 pm |
  15. joe Turner

    The muslim religion was started by violence ( convert or die ) what makes you think it has changed ??? Check your history people. How many jews or christians live in muslim run countries ??? None for very long. The crusades were a response to muslims killing christians DUH !!! Check your non government censusored history.

    June 4, 2010 at 12:10 pm |
  16. sparkle

    all of you that dont want a mosque for muslims are just cruel and need to study about the islam religion before you say anything bad about . this is a selfish act and you know it amarica if you are not going to put a musque there. if in all countries you can have a church there and you can have your religion rights in any country than why dont you alow the muslims to have there rights because if you can have a church than muslims can have a mosque and if muslims cant have a mosque than chriastians cant have a church and that will be equal if you want to deal with it that way.

    June 4, 2010 at 12:05 pm |
    • Eric G

      Someone had suggested this earlier in the blog........ If the Muslims are concerned about the feelings of the victims of 9/11, why not build a non-denominational worship center on the site? That way, muslims/christians/jews can all worship together? Would you support that idea?

      June 4, 2010 at 2:27 pm |
  17. franklovesfl

    America has not declared war on Ilam. Islam has declared war on America.

    June 4, 2010 at 11:56 am |
  18. geckopelli

    This entire blog is a testament to the derogatory influence organized religion has on Humanity.

    Time to Grow Up, Move Past It, and Start Thinking for Ourselves!.

    June 4, 2010 at 11:49 am |
  19. MDropp

    Putting a mosque around ground zero is exactly what the 9/11 hijackers would want. Think of the message it sends, to the lunatic extremists, "Burn them down and they will build a mosque from the ashes." Is that the message you want to send. All the rhetoric about showing acceptance is misguided because these extremists don't see the world the way civilized people do. They'll see a mosque built there as a reason to keep killing.

    June 4, 2010 at 11:48 am |
  20. Jack

    It makes no sense to knock peoples religions because everyone thinks their religion is the right one. I personally think all religions a brainwash. What I don't understand is of all the places in the US to build a mosque why would Muslims choose the site so close to ground zero. It seems insensitive to me that after what happened there that it really isn't the right timing if they really want one. It seems it would only be that important to build it there to muclims if they were wanting it for a trophy. are we really asking that much to ask you to build it somewhere else. It's a big country and a big city.

    June 4, 2010 at 11:22 am |
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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.