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on earth (at least three out of every four Americans call themselves Christians) but until the First Amendment is repealed it is also a country that guarantees religious liberty to Christians and non-Christians alike.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

    For some facts are bitter, most of us knew Islam spread through sword, they started as peaceful intention using sufi way of salvation in subcontinent. On other side king Dahir was defeated in 7th century by Kassim and destroyed places of worship in Sind. So for outsider it is carrot and stick. 250 years ago a imam falsely implicated the student of defiling islam, he was provoked into saying, and the only option was to "CONVERT" or death. He preferred death, this is the occasion Pakistani minority was celebrating Basant and is currently banned. Sounds like similarity to Ahmedi type persecution. One of the culprit in mosque shooting admitted to believing that Ahmedi were drawing pictures of prophet "flimsy ground with no basis".
    Imagine the mosque on ground zero, very peaceful for all good intention, however down the line they get a new imam straight from N Waziristan?
    110 years ago the peaceful people believing animist called kalash (some believe were descendants of Alexander solder) were converted to islam (the land near Pak-Afghan border was named deliberately Kafiristan before conversion and now it is Nooristan (land of light). They are the violent Talibanis who are viciously attacking coalition army in Afganistan.

    What about Hindukush, the (in)famous mountain where most of Al Queda are holed up (kush means kill or slaughter in Persian language)???
    My opinion is spread democracy, dissociate religion from politics and spread modern education. The youth will all have avenues to learn and enjoy life in "pursuit of happiness". That might be the better tribute for ground zero.

    June 7, 2010 at 12:01 pm |
  2. Mike

    Am going to built a chirstian church in the middle of lebanon. Will they allow me? without blowing up church followers/believers? So why we have to go to a corner, jesus apostoles had swords !!

    June 7, 2010 at 12:00 pm |
    • Mandy

      No they won't allow you to. Because Islamic nations opprese people. That's one of the nice things about us, we have the freedom to build anyone's relgious facilities. Your complaining about them opressing people but then you want to do it too??

      June 7, 2010 at 5:53 pm |
    • thsak

      Hey mike i am going to let you in on a little secret, maybe you would like to sit down because this is probably going to be hard for you to believe. LEBANON does have churches. OMG i know right like it sounds crazy but most Arab countries have churches because they have people with different religions. seriously stupid people like you should not be allowed to post things they don't even know anything about.

      June 8, 2010 at 8:26 am |
  3. Ben Cooper

    Learnyourfacts: You just don't get it. There are millions of Muslims that, while not violent, sympathize with the Muslim killers, the ones that set off bombs in Western cultures, killing and maiming as many as possible. The Muslim world cheered as the towers burned. Palestininans danced in the streets. American Muslims were utterly silent. And now we have a stinking monument to Islamic terrorism right there in the ghostly shadows of the old towers. And, believe me, there are more than a few "peaceful" Muslims in this country who are smugly satisfied to see that monstrosity erected...as though the Islamic killers got the last word.

    You just don't get it, Part II. When is it going to sink in on you that Mohammed was a FALSE PROPHET? Any "religion" that instructs one to kill his neighbor in the absence of belief in the words of this slimeball is to be shunned. Where the hell do you think the Koran came from, anyway?! This guy simply read the bible and the gospels and then re-stated those scriptures and fed it piece by piece to ignorant, illiterate, stupid Muslims of their time that swallowed every word. He deliberately made himself appear to them as though he was some sort of sage, daring to call himself God's prophet. Next to Bernie Madoff, he was one of the biggest con artists of all time. And, other than the fact that he told his followers to kill those that don't believe in him, exactly what did he have to say that was new or more enlightened than the words of Christ? Not a damn thing. He was nothing but a snake-oil salesman who never had an original idea in his life. After Jesus told those who would have stoned to death a woman for committing adultery, 'let he who is free of sin cast the first stone', now we have a charlatan telling those that, regardless of your sins, go out and murder in God's name because I say so. Mohammed was an egomaniac, a religious psychopath. I find it eminently pleasing to see that the son of a senior Hamas leader turned on his father's murderous ways and converted to Christianity. He may be one of the most perceptive Muslims in the world today...someone who saw the rampant evil in Islam and got the hell out.

    June 7, 2010 at 11:57 am |
    • learnyourfacts

      Ben I actually thought you were a civilized person but you’re not your words are vulgar and are total nonsense. You say millions sympathize with the attacks well sorry to burst your bubble but that is BS I see and know so many Muslim people who think that the attacks being made are not crimes a true person with any religion would commit. You are just against Islam because of what you hear and see on the news so maybe you should get that WHAT YOU SEE AND HEAR ON THE NEWS IS NOT TRUE, and that although it might be hard for you to believe a lot of Muslims get terrorized by people of other religions, whether it be here in America or in any other country but you do not see me cursing Christianity or any other religion for that matter. I also agree that any religion which allows slaying of innocent people and neighbors should not at all be a religion. On that note I would like to point out that Islam prohibits killing of innocent people and neighbors. The Quran and many Hadiths say that one of the most important things is respect to your neighbors. I do not know where you get your information from but please check it before posting silly comments that are not valid and lack a reliable source.
      Thank you

      June 7, 2010 at 12:58 pm |
    • Jim

      I agree with learnyourfacts. Moslims are really nice people. I have many nice Moslim friends and they never use any kind of language this Ben guy is using. I think learnyourfacts you and other Moslims have done your part. Besides, the Mosque is already approved. You really do not have to come in this blog. Let these extremists increase their blood pressure 100 notches up.

      June 7, 2010 at 3:06 pm |
    • Total non sense

      dear learnyourfacts, a name that suit better is leftoverfacts. The thrue is that Islam is the most hated religion on the planet (and with good reason). If Muslims are so much agains terrorist why are they so many of them killing them self blowing up INNOCENT? whhy when a Islamic terrroist attack is succesfull, muslims all over the world celebrate in the streets? Islam is a disease and the only way to cure it is to BAN it. All of Islam symbols must be destroyed and prevented from spreading. Islam is several trillions time whorst then Natzi Germany.

      June 7, 2010 at 6:20 pm |
  4. Matt

    Islam is not a religion, it's a cult. An evil, terrible cult. The opening ceremoney for this cult's new building is scheduled for 9/11/11. Just to rub it in, I guess.

    June 7, 2010 at 11:50 am |
  5. paula123

    Any game can be played nicely only when all the players play nicely and by the rules. One bad player can ruin the whole game for the rest. Secularism is also such a game which can only be played when all the religions play along nicely. Islam is a bad player. It is poison to secularism. Either throw this player out of the game or the game will be ruined for the rest of the players. As simple as that.

    June 7, 2010 at 11:50 am |
  6. Daryl

    For the life of me I can not understand the ignorance and narrow mindedness of some people as they rail againest Islam. Blaming all muslims for the actions of a very small number of fanatics. And I refuse to apologize for the disdain that I feel for those who disparge the beliefs of more than 1.5 peaceful billion people when their own religious history is replete with massacres, institutional murder, blasphemy and the destruction of ways of life. To use the same critieria of their own arguements againest themselves, this country should have no churches, temples or catherdrals near any Holy or memorial ground. From the day before Jesus' death to the present, christianity as a whole seems to have forgotten His teachings. And if each so-called christian was to actually have to learn the history of their church's dogma this world would probably become more tolerant of each other and truely find their way to God.

    June 7, 2010 at 11:42 am |
  7. Jack

    kahn... It's good to hear an outside voice on this. I like your response and it makes good sense.

    June 7, 2010 at 11:28 am |
  8. Al

    A question to a Muslim, "could a church be constructed 2 blocks from the Holy Mosque in Mecca? Or what about a church in Saudi Arabia, Iran, or any other of the closed Islamic countries?"

    June 7, 2010 at 10:27 am |
  9. Ben

    Wow, the fact that this is even being considered blows me away. I do not hate the Jampanese, but I would not want a memorial to their dead from the attack at Pearl Harbor, nor to German sodldiers on the grounds of Auschwitz.

    You can believe in freedom of speach and religion, as I do, and then you can be a fool making a foolish point (whether because you have no sense or you are just looking to stir up something).

    We are not at War with Islam. No more than we are at war with Buddhism when we fought Japan. But, they are muslims we are fighting. This group with the mosque is the insensative group, and I would wager it is not an accident. And, even if this is not a provocation, you are creating a shrine for all Jihadists,

    It is loonacy.

    June 7, 2010 at 10:01 am |
  10. James Richardson

    Let us determine if there is cause to learn what happened at the time of Jesus, also is there any need to remember what you have learned.
    If one studies they will learn there is very little fact to any of the books that have been written. Including the Bible. I listen to people talk about the last supper (painting) Since it was painted 400 years later, how did anyone know what those folks looked like. The term "The Church" is used frquently refering to the Catholic Church. Why is it located in Italy with a satellite office in Isreal. Why were there no women allowed in the Catholic church? Most of the Catholics pray to a Statue of Mary Magdalene believing the statue represent the mother oif Jesus. The church has never attempted to correct this.
    Then there was a guy up in Iraq who recognized that have several followers was a cool way to become powerful, weathy, He began preaching to the locals and developed a following. After traveling to several other villages he determined there was a need for some body guards with the additional duty of beating all those who denounced him.
    This guy had a habit of walking into the mountains, talking to the rocks, and returning with new information that had to passed to the following.
    Read all the gospels as they were written, also at least 46 of the 51 Bibles then you will get s small idea of your religion.

    June 7, 2010 at 8:38 am |
    • Tom

      James, May I suggest to you that you buy a New International Version Life Application Study Bible? In the front is a timeline that shows the events that occurred over the 1000's of years of history covered by the Bible. Also, each book of the Bible is prefaced by an explanation about the author, when he lived, who he was, and the main themes of that book. Maps, drawings, archeological information, and cultural information is also provided throughout to help provide context. Don't think of the Bible as a "religion", or as being about a church. Read it as being the story of God's relationship with people. The books themselves, while arranged in chronological order, generally have no relationship to each other. Most of the authors didn't know each other. Despite this, what comes to be revealed is a large-scale plan with way too much consistency for it to be coincidence. I did this myself and it really opened my eyes. Many of your comments pertain to the post-biblical period.

      June 7, 2010 at 9:25 am |
    • Eric G

      Tom,
      Quick question. Who wrote the biographies for the authors? Does the timeline provide proof of the events in the bible? Or, does it just put all the stories into a chronological chart? I have a book that shows a complete timeline for all of the events and characters in all the writings of Tolkein about Middle Earth. It also shows all of the events in the books and provides a bio of the author with actual photographs! My book is a factual reference based on a series of fictional texts. Your book is a interpretation and speculation about a fictional text. Neither one represents reality. Only one of them claims to.

      June 7, 2010 at 9:55 am |
    • A1beachguy

      Perhaps with all of your insight you can point out ONE false statement that is in the Bible.

      June 7, 2010 at 10:31 am |
    • Eric G

      A1beachguy: The burden of proof lies with those making extraordinary claims. If I were to tell you that "The Lord of the Rings" is a true historical text, you will probably want some proof. Perhaps with all of your belief, you can prove that god exists? Here is an easier one. Tell me a story from the bible that is not stolen from another religion? Please do your research first, because I have. As for your request, ONE false statement in the bible? "God created man in his image". If this is true, why am I not invisible?

      June 7, 2010 at 10:50 am |
    • Tom

      Eric, The authors were real persons. Other historical texts and references and archeological ruins validate their existence and position in life during the time in which the particular book of the Bible was written. If there is a question about the authorship (and occasionally there is) the preface acknowledges this. Other people, places, and events likewise have been validated. Daniel, Ezekiel, John, Luke, all of them.

      Believe me, you're not asking any questions that I haven't. You've heard of a "doubting Thomas?" That was me. A born skeptic. But truthfully, my skepticism was primarily due to my own laziness and unwillingness to crack a few books and do some independent research. It didn't happen overnight, but one by one my arguments against and my doubts were picked off. Then one day after about 10 years it came to me, "Wow. Now I see it." Not that I don't still have some doubts. Jonah and the whale is hard to swallow. 😉 But overall I have come to understand enough of the context of the Bible as a whole and the context of the individual books that am not willing to let details that I don't understand (most likely due to my own limitations) get in the way of my appreciation and understanding of the greater message.

      I have also learned that pop culture perpetuates a lot of misinformation. "God hleps those who help themselves." Not in the Bible. "Money is the root of all evil." Not in the Bible. The bible says "The LOVE of money..." That bit about wifes submitting to their husbands that people like to get hung up on? Does anyone ever mention the next verse, the one that tells husbands to die for their wives? The interesting thing is, the more I learn, the more I understand and the meaning of certain verses grows and becomes more profound. A verse that was 'OK, whatever' a year or two ago now turns into 'WOW, I never realized it meant THAT!' as my understanding increases.

      Finding a church that teaches the Bible instead of 'religion' also makes a huge difference. And finally, learning about and understanding the Bible should never be about "personality." But finding the right minister or pastor is very important, too.

      I wish you well on your journey.

      June 7, 2010 at 11:51 am |
  11. YOLO

    Islam does preach hatred against all others. This is fact. It is the Quran. It is how MO recruited. Islam does not respect Jesus as christ. The quran calls it a lie that jesus died on the cross. In every almost every country that has other religions those other religions are not free at all. The copts are being murdered and driven from Egypt as I type. Iran persecutes the Christians and the Jew. The only country that really looks out for christians is Syria. Nigeria,Sudan,Liberia muslims murder every day. The quaran states that all non muslims must convert,be subjagated or be murdered. This is fact. I could go on as I have read the quran many many times. It is not misinterperted,it is what it is a book that 60% of the teaching is how to deal with the infadel.

    June 7, 2010 at 8:34 am |
  12. Tom

    The Muslim community displays an astonishing lack of sensitivity by choosing to build a mosque in this location 2 blocks from Ground Zero. No one with common sense would think of building a Nazi museum in the middle of Jerusalem, would they? Body parts probably landed at the proposed site of this mosque. This is a clear case of political correctness and Islamic proselytizing run amok.

    June 7, 2010 at 8:19 am |
    • Mandy

      Your right it is insensitive. I think they are stupid to do it. However, they do have the right to do it. By the way, Nazi symbol and Nazism is illegal in Israel, Germany, and I'm pretty sure Poland. So something like that would never happen. Plus all Nazi's all hateful, not all Muslims are hateful.

      June 7, 2010 at 5:59 pm |
  13. jo

    The Nazi's were atheists for the most part. And regarding slavery, the muslims to this day have BLACK slaves in Sudan. Everybody do research on Sudan will see how "peaceful" the muslims are to non believers and christians in Sudan.

    June 7, 2010 at 6:08 am |
    • Eric G

      The Nazi's were christian. You really need to read a book.

      June 7, 2010 at 9:10 am |
    • sanethinker

      For some facts are bitter, most of us knew Islam spread through sword, they started as peaceful intention using sufi way of salvation in subcontinent. On other side king Dahir was defeated in 7th century by Kassim and destroyed places of worship in Sind. So for outsider it is carrot and stick. 250 years ago a imam falsely implicated the student of defiling islam, he was provoked into saying, and the only option was to "CONVERT" or death. He preferred death, this is the occasion Pakistani minority was celebrating Basant and is currently banned. Sounds like similarity to Ahmedi type persecution. One of the culprit in mosque shooting admitted to believing that Ahmedi were drawing pictures of prophet "flimsy ground with no basis".
      Imagine the mosque on ground zero, very peaceful for all good intention, however down the line they get a new imam straight from N Waziristan?
      110 years ago the peaceful people believing animist called kalash (some believe were descendants of Alexander solder) were converted to islam (the land near Pak-Afghan border was named deliberately Kafiristan before conversion and now it is Nooristan (land of light). They are the violent Talibanis who are viciously attacking coalition army in Afganistan.

      What about Hindukush, the (in)famous mountain where most of Al Queda are holed up (kush means kill or slaughter in Persian language)???
      My opinion is spread democracy, dissociate religion from politics and spread modern education. The youth will all have avenues to learn and enjoy life in "pursuit of happiness". That might be the better tribute for ground zero.

      June 7, 2010 at 12:00 pm |
  14. Amadea

    When all the Imams in North America stand in solidarity to condemn terrorist attacks prefaced by the shouting of Allahu Akbar, then perhaps we non-Muslims might begin to believe there IS a silent majority of peaceful Muslims. Until then, I can never get out of my head the pictures of little Muslim children dancing and shouting in victory as they watched the twin towers collapse, or the pictures of celebration from all over the Muslim world, that day. Building this mosque at ground zero is a deliberate and heartless act against the memory of the people who died there.

    June 7, 2010 at 6:01 am |
  15. Thor

    The argument is not about wether they can or cannot build a mosque. The issue is about being respectful to the families of the victims of 9/11 that are still living with grief. If they know that this will truly upset so many individuals why not pick another location and prevent any more anguish. If Muslims want to portray themselves in a good light then moving to a new location would be an act of good gesture. I find it very interesting that they would pick this site out of all places available. I find it very offensive and disrespectful on their part. This will not help them bridge the gap of mistrust that exists.

    June 7, 2010 at 4:24 am |
  16. PHILLYRICK

    i dont doubt your belief and i hope it sustains you for life

    June 7, 2010 at 4:06 am |
    • calitex

      I've met so many people who wish it could be true that God is really there, but are so turned off by having religion shoved down their throats. And then topping it off – seeing how many horrible things have happened in His name. I've wondered if this kind of thinking goes on in countries where there is only one religion accepted and everyone around you is believing the same thing. Do they have people walk away in disgust from churches/mosques/temples?

      June 7, 2010 at 4:15 am |
  17. calitex

    Sorry, Philly – I didn't answer another part of your post. You are so right about the crap that peole have done in the name of religion. It turned me off too – for quite awhile. But, the turn around for me was seeing it this way – there is a difference between religion and spirituality. God is real. People are a mess. The leaders of the different religions are just people. Good religious can make mistakes and cause bad..., bad people worm their way into powers of position in any religion and cause bad. Either way – we can choose to see the bad. OR we can see famous people like Mother Theresa or countless unknown people who are truly truly truly doing good in their religions.

    June 7, 2010 at 4:06 am |
    • Tom

      Speaking as a flawed Christian, one of the biggest mistakes people make is to judge Christ's teachings by those who now carry his name. It is a well known fact that mistakes made by believers create obstacles for non-believers. The tragedy is when a non-believer closes his mind and stops seeking truth because of them.

      June 7, 2010 at 8:29 am |
    • Silhouette

      I say build a church there. Any monument that comforts the families of the ones who lost their lives there should be the agenda. I support feelings of the loved ones.
      It was a terrosist attack, I am just sure it wasn't done by who are portrayed to be the perpetrators. I don't believe a single word uttered by the mainstream media in US.
      Try looking in your own closets before passing hate messages to others though. Your own closet is so full of it its been becoming really hard to even hide the smell.

      June 7, 2010 at 12:37 pm |
  18. calitex

    Yes, I so understand what you are refering to Phillyrick. I lost count of how many churches/denominations/religions tried to "save" me, convert me, condemn me, scare me, etc. .. All I knew was that there was a God. Maybe more than one God – like the Hindu religion. Maybe female. The next step was figuring out WHICH one was right. And I kept trying to get to the bottom of where and how and Who and what was expected of me. Throw into the mix was I was working in a job that put me in the bowels of society with people treating each other as awfully as imaginable. So, I don't come from a naive place.

    June 7, 2010 at 3:56 am |
  19. calitex

    And as far as all of this debating about Islam /Christianity/and the rest – and who is right and who is wrong.... my opinion is that it all comes down to this – do you know that God is a God of love or of hate. And for those who are talking about how horrible religions and faiths are and that there isn't a God anyway... I can tell you as a person who was not in a family or church or community or country that told or forced me what to think – there is God. And He is absolutely pure love. I have experienced for myself. And I completely understand that if you haven't experienced what I'm talking about, then why should you believe me. All I can say is – the God of love I experienced first hand – would NEVER be pleased that one of His beloved children would harm another one of His beloved children, no matter what.

    June 7, 2010 at 3:08 am |
    • PHILLYRICK

      that is the problem....there are too many "gods of love". if you are a pious man then you believe. but how can all of these so-called religions be right? According to all contemporary religions, their "God" is the one true god. but this cannot be if there is truly only one God. God was a name and face put upon on idea to give the early peoples some form of connection to their god. As a recovering catholic, i cannot really believe a benevolent god would allow all this bloodshed. More people in history have been killed in the name of god then in all wars combined. It is just a large, steaming load of BS. If you have peace of mind and body and believe it came for your god, great for you. I hope you live a long and fruitful life in this belief. I, for one think it is all a scam and most of us have fallen for it at some times in our lives. But when the people in charge of their "religions" can't be trusted, what then? Start your own religion? The ATF doesnt like that

      June 7, 2010 at 3:27 am |
  20. calitex

    A mosque at ground zero would be viewed by extremists as proof that they were right about violence to do God's wishes. Also I think it would aid them to recruit others who were already vulnerable to their extreme views – like those students in schools run by extremists for youths who wouldn't ordinarily receive an education. I don't see it as a question of religious freedom at all.

    June 7, 2010 at 2:53 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.