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on earth (at least three out of every four Americans call themselves Christians) but until the First Amendment is repealed it is also a country that guarantees religious liberty to Christians and non-Christians alike.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

    >Christianity support slavery (Ephesians 6:5).
    The God of Christianity ordered his followers to murder non-believers (Deuteronomy 13).
    Many Christian priests in the Catholic church have been found guilty of child sxeual abuse.

    If you believe Islam supports terrorism, you have to admit that Christianity supports slavery, murder, and pedopheila.
    Christianity support slavery (Ephesians 6:5).
    The God of Christianity ordered his followers to murder non-believers (Deuteronomy 13).
    Many Christian priests in the Catholic church have been found guilty of child sxeual abuse.

    If you believe Islam supports terrorism, you have to admit that Christianity supports slavery, murder, and pedopheila.<<

    However, NO Christian leader of any national or world prominence today advocates any of those things–unfortunately, the same can't yet be said for Islam. Part of the problem is that the most radical of Islamic sects happens also to be at the home of Islam itself.

    June 1, 2010 at 2:13 pm |
  2. RDKirk

    >>Sirreal: Have you ever read the New Testament? In the book of Luke Jesus says "If I have enemies, bring them here and slay them before me."

    Where does it say that?

    June 1, 2010 at 2:07 pm |
  3. Joe

    If they build a mosque at ground zero, we should all get spray cans and graffitti it up with drawings of Muhammed. Seroiusly, I find it 1000 times more offensive that Muslims would build a mosque at the site of their religions greatest act of terrorism on American soil, than a silly little drawing of a prophet would be.

    Maybe we should all riot, burn down all of the middle eastern countries embassies here in the US, and start killing off Muslim archetects who would design such an offense building. What an afront to our sensitivities this is.

    Oh wait, we won't do that because we are not dark age fear mongering psychopathic animals.

    June 1, 2010 at 1:56 pm |
  4. Edward

    Unfortunately as all other societies we (Americans) disagreed with were labled and discredited, it is now Islam's turn. Simply misguiding and diluting the facts with ones own agenda only help provide a base for popularity and deeper understanding of the faith that is followed by billions over time. There is always a reason behind every incident and I believe this is no different, where true and moderate ISLAM will rise again to take over the world. Some examples of societies or cultures that have had the same fate - CHINA, INDIA, PERSIA, CHRISTIANITY, Boheminans,JUDAISM, African Americans and now ISLAM.
    I love the way Gods plan come together – Like it or not you will not be able to control God's destiny.

    June 1, 2010 at 1:44 pm |
  5. DM

    I've got nothing against mosques in the U.S., but building one in this particular location is really obnoxious.

    June 1, 2010 at 1:42 pm |
  6. cardog

    Why do we have to accomodate Muslims in any form or fashion.This religion is the mostb intolarent religion in todays modern world.If we were to vote on allowing a mosque anywhere near ground zero, my vote would be a resounding NO.

    On another subjetc involving muslims, this recent incident with Isreal and the so-called aid armada, as a nation that has been under siege for 50 years or more, I would do the same thing as the Isrealis did and more when pushed as this country has been. Why is it that there is no protests around the world (western nations) when one of these fanatics blows himself or herself up in order to kill innocent civilians and children or when Hamas continues to send rockets into settlements, again killing innocent civilians?
    Are most of you out there in this screwed up world anti-semetic/Isreal like the peaceful muslims around the world?

    June 1, 2010 at 1:24 pm |
  7. Donna

    My question is why has nothing been built on the actual site yet? A monument, a wall, a statue to honor what we went through as a nation......something honorable......anything! I would like to know just who is the numbskull in charge of this task?

    June 1, 2010 at 1:08 pm |
  8. Pablo

    In 2010 we have been knowingly at war with radical Islam, now referred to using euphemisms designed to deny that very fact but recognized as such by anyone paying attention, for almost 10 years. Radical Islam (with very little demurral from "moderate" Islam, esp based on the idiotic comments by Al-Latif and those like him) has been at war with the West since the 1940s, more openly since the 1967 Middle East War, and most directly against America since 1993 (the first WTC bombing.) A mosque at ground zero is as ignorant as it is arrogant.

    June 1, 2010 at 12:26 pm |
  9. Jack

    Abd Al-Latif...All religions have a past that they may not be proud of but have evolved from the barbaric ways of the past. Islam seems to not have evolved. All we see is a religion that doe's nothing against its extremists. If I saw someone trying to murder someone and did nothing i would be just as guilty as the murderer for doing nothing and allowing it. That's how we feel about Islam. The moderates sit on the sideline and do nothing as to condone the violence. That's why you hear the negative or hateful comments come from this and other forums. Your moderates need to stand up and show us or we will assume you agree with the extremists.

    June 1, 2010 at 12:15 pm |
  10. Bob Ussery

    To see anything other than a mockery of America by allowing a mosque to be build near ground zero would be insane in my opinion. By definition the Muslim faith stands totally against the roots of our history. To somehow blame the Tea Party or those who support a normal reading of American history as being "radical" just goes to show you how radicals are trying to flip the coin against any honest view of the EAST vs WEST conflicts over history. There is no mixing of oil and water, no common mutual interests between the Muslim faith and the Western normal world view.

    Liberal writers can try to twist and wiggle out this obvious conflict of interest, but in the end, who attacted who?

    June 1, 2010 at 12:07 pm |
  11. Dan, CA

    Abd al-Latif, what are your thoughts about Sharia law? How should they be applied in the U.S.?

    June 1, 2010 at 11:47 am |
  12. WinterClover

    Such a joke. This mosque is a slap in the face of all Americans. This mosque they want to put up is not a memorial, it is a place for this sordid religion to mock all who died at that place. They purchased the land only days after the attacks with the intention of building a mosque there, while America was greiving these crazy jihadists were plotting and planning. The city council is seriously twisted to believe that these people have any sort of good intentions. It is disgusting.

    June 1, 2010 at 11:43 am |
  13. Jack

    That's like saying, this guy beat me up and destroyed my house and now I'm going to let him build a monument on my property next to where my house was to show off the power he had to destroy my house to the world.

    June 1, 2010 at 11:41 am |
  14. JJ

    I am an American Muslim, and I agree and 100% denounce terrorism. Shame that many of these comments have nothing to do with your topics, but are rehashes of typical islamophobic rants.

    June 1, 2010 at 11:38 am |
    • Jack

      You're the first muslim I've read that they say they renounce terrorism. We wern't born to hate muslims. More need to come out and renounce it to send a message to the extremists and you won't see those types of comments so much. You have to be in our shoes to feel our rage.

      June 1, 2010 at 11:46 am |
    • stephen douglas

      There is no such thing as Islamaphobia. Phobias are unwarranted fears. Islam is a vengeful, intolerant, dangerous cult, so it should be feared. No other modern religion has it's members killing innocent people with such impunity. You have a 4th century mindset with 21st century weapons, and that is scary as he11.

      June 1, 2010 at 3:45 pm |
    • omdusa

      So, all Muslims are suspect unless every one publicly denounces terrorism? What kind of moron are you?

      June 1, 2010 at 8:09 pm |
    • omdusa

      @stephen douglas: Islamophobia is the fear of not only the religion but of everyone who belongs to the faith (over a billion people). It does NOT refer only to those who instigate violence in its name. Get a clue idiot.

      June 1, 2010 at 8:13 pm |
    • stephen douglas

      omdusa...First of all, it's the religion that is to be feared, not every person. Newsflash: I beileve there are many good, but seriously misguided individuals, who are Muslim. But, Muslims themselves cannot keep from getting themselves blown to bits by other Muslims. And, many Muslim leaders will not speak out against the extremists because they themselves would become targets. Why would I want to allow that in my country? Furthermore, there were 19 murderers on 9/11 and, to refresh your memory, they were – another Newsflash for you – MUSLIMS. You use a book that was at least partly plagiarized from the Christian bible by a person who had been run out of his own hometown and came to power by robbing caravans and beheading those who opposed him. His so called revealations from God are frequently self serving, like allowing him access to nieces, widows, daughters, slave girls, basically any woman who ws not married. Since you fools believe the "holy" Quaran are the actual words of God and cannot be altered, you will continue to live with a 4th century mindset and access to 21st century, and you better believe, that frightens me. It is not a phobia. When Islam can reconcile it's teachings with the modern world; when the major leaders of Islam – not the average person on the street – stand up and shout to the world that they will not tolerate terror and will hunt down those who support it; when Muslims can stop dredging up events that happened 500 to 2000 years ago or more in order to justify their actions today; THEN I might start to feel like it is not as much a threat. Until these things happen, Islam will continue to be a violent, intolerant religion. Go read the history as written by other countries, not the bogus glop dished out by Muslim "historians", if you are able to read.

      June 1, 2010 at 9:37 pm |
  15. Jack

    Prothero is nuts. people like him with no forsite or sense on how to defend this country are why we're in the state we're in.
    We don't need Pacifists

    June 1, 2010 at 11:34 am |
  16. SueK

    Why should Ground Zero have ANY religious monuments ? Why are only the Muslims being appeased with a mosque ? Where is the temple for the Hindus killed in 9/11, ot the Gurudwara for the SIkhs ? No ! Because they are peacful religions anyway, lets shove them under the carpet and mollycoddle Islam so they'll stop bombing us. Dream on !

    "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." Yeah, the last time we checked, about 3 Muslims actually voiced their denunciation of the attacks publicly and vociferously. Others gave meek nods when questioned. Most chose not to respond at all.

    June 1, 2010 at 11:33 am |
    • Joe

      "Why should Ground Zero have ANY religious monuments ? Why are only the Muslims being appeased with a mosque ?"

      Because they own the property where they plan to build it. It's their property, and they want to build a Mosque on it. You want to build a church there? Buy it from them.

      June 1, 2010 at 2:05 pm |
  17. Mike

    Let the Muslims stand up and denounce the terrorists in mass protest around the world. They are silent as a group. No more supposedly respected mullahs calling a fatwah on terrorists. It does not work. The muslims need the regulars to stand up and protest terrorism. Until americans see that they will think all Muslims have the possibility of being terrorists. Until the media starts reporting it, instead of the new Israeli thing, then we will never forget. But this country is starting to forget and shame on us all. But no shame on us before shame on Muslims, because I will not forget Palistinians dancing in the street when the towers came down. Good Muslims have a job to do, they have a responsibility to humanity....wake up an open your mouths in denouncing radical islam. Have Muslims be outraged at themselves! Hey, we all forgot the mosque in Pakistan that was blown up last week......why? Because Muslims do not have a real world ideology. Just a bunch of sound butes and misinformation "educating" their masses. Yuk.

    June 1, 2010 at 11:23 am |
  18. mrk

    True muslims are against terror in all forms! The so called muslims who perpetrate these horrific acts of terror against innocent folks are a tiny minority and deviants from the true Islam that more than a billion people follow. They are bringing a bad name to Islam and there is no justification for it. This tiny band of so called muslim use their barbaric acts against innocent people agains other muslims who just happen to disagree with them – so these people are not just against "infidels" they are basically against all human beings who happen to adhere to their twisted ideology.

    June 1, 2010 at 11:05 am |
  19. Carl

    Christianity support slavery (Ephesians 6:5).
    The God of Christianity ordered his followers to murder non-believers (Deuteronomy 13).
    Many Christian priests in the Catholic church have been found guilty of child sxeual abuse.

    If you believe Islam supports terrorism, you have to admit that Christianity supports slavery, murder, and pedopheila.

    If you're willing to open your mind, and accept that Christians have an explanation why they don't have to obey these verses endorsing slavery or murder, and accept that the vast majority of Christians don't support this abuse by priests, then you should also open your mind and accept that the vast majority of Muslims don't support terrorism.

    June 1, 2010 at 10:44 am |
  20. pete moss

    the only muslim presence near ground a zero should be islamist heads on pikes at the perimeter!

    June 1, 2010 at 10:28 am |
    • Abd al-Latif

      Thanks for making it clear what Christianity and America are really all about. The others commenting here have tried to pretend that you are not aggressors and murderers, but I admire you for being so open and honest about it.

      June 1, 2010 at 10:35 am |
    • Jack

      @ Abd AL-latif... He's mad at what your religion has done. At least he's not acting like his religion is so wonderful and kind after it has killed many just because they don't agree. You're blind to what your own religion has done.

      June 1, 2010 at 11:59 am |
    • bob

      At least the family members of the hijackes heads on pikes, that would be a good warning.

      June 4, 2010 at 8:37 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.