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on earth (at least three out of every four Americans call themselves Christians) but until the First Amendment is repealed it is also a country that guarantees religious liberty to Christians and non-Christians alike.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

    Most Muslims on these posts preach about Islam being a religion of peace. As an Atheist, I find that no religion wants peace, they want control. As an American, I will take the Muslim "Religion of Peace" message a little more seriously when I see Muslims turning over some Islamic terrorists. Actions speak louder than words. When we see peaceful Muslims taking action against the extremists, we will start to think they stand for peace.

    June 2, 2010 at 1:19 pm |
    • Umme Omar

      Eric, we are not preaching Islam. We are just defending Islam because some other people are bashing it wrongly. All Muslims condemn terrorism and they take action against it. In egypt, lot of people are in jail for just speaking against USA. In pakistan, military is taking action against terrorists. But you people must also show some responsibility. All these anti islam hate messages here are not going to help us. There are some people in every religion who get angry and resort to violence if you attack their faith. There are some messages on this board that should be removed by CNN. They can provoke violence. Alhumdulillah so far so good. I read Quran and that helps me cool down. But some messages are so ugly, they can make a normal person get angry if he does not get to read Quran.

      June 2, 2010 at 1:37 pm |
    • Eric

      Umme Omar: "There are some people in every religion who get angry and resort to violence if you attack their faith." I don't know what I find more disturbing, the fact that you justify their violence, or the fact that you think I need to "show some responsibility". I will never give in to the threat of violence. If someone threatens me with violence because I question their belief system, the time for debate is over. The responsibility is theirs to respect my opinion without threats. Then, and only then, will I begin to respect theirs.

      June 2, 2010 at 2:17 pm |
  2. Jack

    Umme Omar...Most people in the USA don't know much about Islam except for the fact that we are under attack by some Muslims in the name of their religion. If that hadn't happened you wouldn't see these negative comments by these posters. On the subject of putting a mosque near ground zero let me say this. That's like saying, this guy beat me up and destroyed my house and killed my family 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 and family to the world.
    That's how we see it.

    June 2, 2010 at 12:58 pm |
    • nuser

      It is taunting the dead and the survivors.

      June 2, 2010 at 1:11 pm |
    • Umme Omar

      I know Jack this is how American public look at Muslims. Let me tell you one thing. these terrorists are not helping muslims and islam. They are just bad name for Islam. I am an American Muslim and if they can hurt me, they will hurt me without paying attention to the fact that I belong to their religion. I live in USA and i love it just the way you do. I teach my young children to love this country. But at the same time I practice my religion too. It is my religion that commands me to love my country and not hurt it in any manner. For example I always follow trafic rules. I never drive over speed even if there is no police because I know my Allah is watching me. Speeding can hurt people and its breaking law. How can my religion teach me to hurt anybody? Please read Quran in its real arabic text or if you don't know arabic, read a good translation. Quran is full of verses that command us to show kindness to everybody, even earth, plants, trees. Do not waste water and food. How can we hurt anybody when Quran says that killing one innocent person is lilke killing the whole humanity.

      June 2, 2010 at 1:30 pm |
  3. Jack

    Umme Omar...Most peole in the USA don't know much about Islam except for the fact tha we are under attack by some Muslims in the name of their religion. If that hadn't happened you wouldn't see these negative comments by these posters. On the subject of putting a mosque near ground zero let me say this. That's like saying, this guy beat me up and destroyed my house and killed my famil 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 and family to the world.
    that's how we see it.

    June 2, 2010 at 12:55 pm |
    • Afroz

      Jack, The 19 hijackers or Al-Qaeda are not building the mosque near Ground Zero. Your argument will be valid if that was the case.
      it is like "Since Timothy McVeigh bombed the federal building in Oklahoma, therefore no Christian church should be built near that site?" Does it make sense? It does not to me.

      June 2, 2010 at 2:07 pm |
    • Jack

      Regardless of how you feel that's how I feel and many other Americans. Timothy McVeigh didn't do it in the name of Christianity. This was an all muslim attack in the name of Islam. More attempts have been tried before and after, not one was from any other religion. Why do you think there's so so much sentiment againt it...that's how people feel

      June 2, 2010 at 2:39 pm |
  4. Total non sense

    North America to remove any trace of islam, expulse anyone related in any way to Islam and all islam symboles need to ne destroyed.

    Islam is the enemy of humanity.

    June 2, 2010 at 12:42 pm |
    • Umme Omar

      yeah sure expel all muslims from North America. But better start selling your cars and buying bikes because all your oil comes from Arab countries. Last time you tried to drill oil from gulf, it spilled all over. Ypu are so dependent on Muslim world to drive to your work. Please stop talking non sense and get connected to reality. We are all human beings and we all depend on each other. Do not break things apart.

      June 2, 2010 at 1:58 pm |
  5. Ahkenatan

    If you think a mosque at ground zero is a good idea you are dillusional. Sure lets setup a worship site for people who rejoiced at the death and destruction that day within site of it. I bet they would love that!

    You say there are milllions of Muslims who condemn those acts. Why have we not heard very much from them??

    Try this, go to any Muslim country and setup a church in the center of their captial city. If you aren't killed outright for even suggesting it I would be amazed. You need to do some research on Islam before you start spouting off about it.

    And shame on new York for allowing that mosque.

    June 2, 2010 at 12:37 pm |
  6. Jack

    Nuser... So as long as they are religious they aren't terrorists? A spade is a spade. Got that?

    June 2, 2010 at 12:35 pm |
    • Umme Omar

      Yeah jack you are right. thanks.

      June 2, 2010 at 12:36 pm |
    • nuser

      The term terrorist lumps everyone together.Muslims like to point out that they are just a small number compared with all terrorist atrocities.The term jihad refers to killing in Allah's name and is done solely by muslims.
      Got that?
      We could however use the term jihad terrorist if you so please!

      June 2, 2010 at 1:26 pm |
    • Umme Omar

      Thanks for appreciating me in your earlier post. I am a quran teacher and i try to practice it as best as I can. But I can see that Muslims are really not good followers of Islam because they are not Muslims by choice. they were born muslims. But when Americans (whites and Blacks) embrace islam, they become really good Muslims. it is only because the American values are far closer to islam than some traditional Muslims'. Muslims do honor killing of women, although Islam has given so many rights to women. I just went to pick my kids from school and I was thinking on my way that you are a good person. Just the kind i see everyday in my real life. This is my request. i can't teach you Quran but you should try to read it yourself and think.

      June 2, 2010 at 4:14 pm |
  7. nuser

    umme omar
    Terrorist is the wrong term. Muslims are jihadists and should be referred to as such. All jihadists are muslims.
    Got that?
    Timothy Mcveigh was a terrorist, who did not kill for his religion.
    Got that?

    June 2, 2010 at 12:27 pm |
    • Umme Omar

      last time I checked Jihad was an Arabic word. Jihadists are Muslims. nazis are christians. Israelis are jews. Crusaders are Christians. Mc veigh was a Christian too. White people who enslaved blacks and killed them were Christians too. They are all terrorists and should be condemned. terrorists do not belong to any religion. If people followed religion properly, they would never hurt anybody. Being atheist does not solve problems either. they do not have the incentive of heaven to do good things.

      June 2, 2010 at 12:33 pm |
    • Jack

      Omar... You seem like a nice person but the religion is much bigger than you. I haven't read the Koran but I see what Islam stands for thru the actions of its followers. What about Sharia Law? why don't moderate muslims stand up against the extremists? we see what happens in the middle East to people who don't agree with others. Women have no rights, people kill others from other clans. What kind of religion is that? I personally don't agree with any religion and mankind by nature has a side that wants fairness. we don't need religion. It's for weak people who can't accept the fact that when you're dead you're just thst... dead.

      June 2, 2010 at 12:42 pm |
  8. Jack

    Omar... Why do non-belivers have to pay a tax. I don't know if it says that in the Koran but I know it is practiced in some ares. In fact I've heard that it says death to other religions and the non-belivers are taxed.

    June 2, 2010 at 12:24 pm |
    • Umme Omar

      Jack Muslims have to pay Zakah and non Muslims have to pay tax. in USA everybody pays taxes. taxes are good if they are used to serve the people. BTW I am not Omar. Omar is my son. Umme Omar means mother of Omar 🙂

      June 2, 2010 at 12:35 pm |
  9. R. A. Williamson

    It is time for mankind to outgrow religion. Too many people have been killed in the name of purely fictional characters.

    June 2, 2010 at 12:21 pm |
    • Alicia

      very very true...

      June 2, 2010 at 12:36 pm |
  10. david

    Hey everyone has a free will to make choices, every choice has a consequence, some temporal, some eternal, and thats a very long long time.

    June 2, 2010 at 12:11 pm |
  11. STLBroker

    Abba Dabba Doo

    "Your children may convert to Islam, ha ha. Keep whining, we will win."

    You sound like a very enlightened individual. Or a 7 year old on a school playground, one of the two.

    You are worshiping a false God! Come to Jesus now before it is too late. There won't be 72 virgins but you will be forgiven your sins and be able to live for eternity in paradise. Not that there would be 72 virgins waiting for you if you stick with Islam. By the way, you will be spending eternity with these virgins right? It won't be long before you are down to zero virgins, then what? Seems like the same 72 women would get boring after the first 100 years or so. Isn't it weird that the motivation for these weirdos that strap a bomb to themselves and blow up innocent people is to have their lustful desires met. Isn't it strange that there are people like you that actually believe this garbage? Good luck with that.

    June 2, 2010 at 12:07 pm |
    • Umme Omar

      Why non Muslims start bashing islam on this board, the moment they read an article or opinion on islam. I believe they are trying to provoke and parish. So we get angry and start spewing hatred here. And then they would accuse us for being violent and abusive. There are just bunch of Muslims here. Alhumdulillah not a single one used any indecent language or bashed any other religion. This is actually the teachings of Quran that guide us. Quran is the ultimate truth and real guidance. Please read it before its too late. it will help you people manager your anger and frustration over slow economy and gulf oil spill. Good luck everybody. stop living in the world of anger and self inflicted frustration and misery.

      June 2, 2010 at 12:23 pm |
    • Alicia

      You made some good point and also some questionable ones...how do you KNOW jesus will save him...how do you KNOW jesus will save you...my guess is that you dont....but you do believe.....people need to stop preaching! If you believe in something great...but dont try to make one extreme seem better than the other. And what those people CHOSE to do that day was unexcusable...but i dont believe a whole race should pay for it....say a white man shoots someone...are all white people bad? NO A black man pulls a nutty...are they all bad? NO Each person is an individual and each person makes their own decisions. I feel no sympathy for those people who hijacked those planes and deep sadness for the loss of innnocent lives but it is wrong to condemn Muslims as a whole.

      June 2, 2010 at 12:28 pm |
    • Jack

      We bash the Islamic religion because we are attcked by people in the name of Islam and we see how barbaric the religion is. It has been affecting us so we have to respond. When were you last attacked by a Christian or other religion for the sake of their religion? It won't happen in the USA.

      June 2, 2010 at 12:30 pm |
  12. joe

    "...it is also a country that guarantees religious liberty to Christians and non-Christians alike."

    This assumes Islam is considered a religion. How can something that preaches "death to the infidels" be considered a religion. You would have to consider the Nazi's a religion then.

    June 2, 2010 at 11:33 am |
    • Alicia

      same reason the God can love everyone but condemn gays to hell

      June 2, 2010 at 11:36 am |
    • Umme Omar

      Joe ...islam does not say 'death to the non-believer'. Who told you that? Did you read Quran? Which translation did you read, one written by someone who hates Muslims? Please read Quran's true translation and tell me where does it say 'death to non-believers'? Quran teaches us to love our neighbors irresptive of their beliefs. Love and respect your parents even if they are non-believers. Give charity to poor people, no matter which faith they belong. The whole Quran is full of such verses but not one says 'death to non believer'.

      June 2, 2010 at 12:12 pm |
  13. Alicia

    Well, i have nothing against any religion except the fact that they ALL seem radical and ALL try to push their beliefs onto others. Religion goes hand in hand with cults...they are cults. I think out of respect for all people, black, white purple green....w/e....ground zero should stay neutral....do not tie religion into it because , obviously by reading these posts, it is going to cause more tension than remembrance...i say to each there own but this IS AMERICA.....and WE are ALL AMERICAN...(unless your hear illegally, and if thats the case hush your mouth because you fled your country to come here!)

    June 2, 2010 at 11:32 am |
    • nuser

      Alicia
      What bible condemns gays to hell? There are quite a few of them maybe 35 to 37. The one I studied just says:"Man shall not lie with man."No mention of women.Then of course there is Sodom and Gomorrah. It is all bunk and Praise the lord , I am free to think that way. Now pass the ammunition please.

      June 2, 2010 at 12:09 pm |
    • Umme Omar

      Yes we are all americans and that is why we have freedom of speech, freedom of expression and freedom of religious beliefs and practices. Two weeks back, Non Muslims wanted to draw Prophet Muhammad's pictures. in the name of freedom of expression Muslims requested non Muslims to not draw their beloved Prophet because it can make some muslims angry and out of control. But nobody paid any attention and they just drew pictures. But there was no violence. Now Muslims want to use the freesom of practicing religion. Why are non Muslims having problem with that? Does America belongs to non Muslims and not Muslims? Please do not take both sides of coin. If you allow one group of americans to use their freedom and not allow another to use their freedom, then stop saying 'We are all americans'

      June 2, 2010 at 1:20 pm |
  14. Jack

    From what I've read here, Muslims lie. they say Christians are treated the same in the middle east, they say muslims around the world and muslim organizations condemed the 911 terroists and other terrorist and attempted terrorist attacks against the west. I haven't seen anyone accept one muslim on the post condem the terrorists. I think the muslims are scared of their own extremists. In the middle East the extremist rule and a very strict form of Islam is in force. This religion is still back in the stone ages. In the big picture Islam will not change, it just has to be contained or stopped. I personally don't dislike anyone because they're Islamic but I hate the religion because of the lying, violent and arrogant nature of the beast.

    June 2, 2010 at 11:20 am |
    • Alicia

      Well, i have nothing against any religion except the fact that they ALL seem radical and ALL try to push their beliefs onto others. I think out of respect for all people, black, white purple green....w/e....ground zero should stay neutral....do not tie religion into it because , obviously by reading these posts, it is going to cause more tension than remembrance...i say to each there own but this IS AMERICA.....and WE are ALL AMERICAN...(unless your here illegally, and if thats the case hush your mouth because you fled your country to come here!)

      June 2, 2010 at 11:35 am |
  15. nuser

    It is a sick sick taunt to the American people. Muslims in America should erect a structure apologizing for 9/11 on every
    mosque everywhere.

    June 2, 2010 at 11:01 am |
  16. joboo

    I always find it amazing how people try to use Americans ideals of freedom and tolorance – against us. They always take our ideals and tell us why we should act at certain way. However, if you ask these same people if they would support building a Church or Synagogue in 'any' Muslum country and you will either avoid the issue of come to the defense of the people there telling us why we are disrespecting them. Can Stephen Prothero and his like spell hypocrite?

    June 2, 2010 at 10:41 am |
  17. Gahan

    What a bunch of happy meal PC drivel.
    Wake up! They did it! They just tried to do it again in Times Square!
    Islam = violence. Against the West, against women against anyone who is not Islamic.
    Islam is a one way street.
    We New Yorkers will stop this offensive mosque.
    Get a clue.

    June 2, 2010 at 10:41 am |
  18. Robert Ray

    There should not be a mosque in New York or any where in the world.There should not be any type of religions building.One day in the far future people will realize that the world cannot be controlled by mythical dieties.The insanity produced is monumental and the blogs are boring.

    June 2, 2010 at 9:27 am |
    • Alicia

      Well said!

      June 2, 2010 at 12:31 pm |
  19. gem

    My cousin was a Muslim who died on September 11. He was not martyred as the only role he played in the tragedy was innocent victim. I think a mosque near Ground Zero is abundantly appropriate.

    June 2, 2010 at 7:58 am |
    • nuser

      His religion killed him.

      June 2, 2010 at 11:04 am |
    • Alicia

      Although i dont agree with a mosque being on ground zero, i also dont agree that a cross should be put there. The people who took down the towers were brain washed and deserve to rot, but, plenty of muslim/black/white/hispanic people lost their lives needlessly that day. We should not condemn everyone for the act of a few people. They apparently accompished something and that is turning Americans against themselves....UNITED WE STAND.....DIVIDED WE FALL....

      June 2, 2010 at 11:41 am |
  20. egh

    Religion is the silliest idiotic thing man ever came up with. Humans that can't deal with the ultimate "death". Lets see there is a supreme man in the sky who impregnates a virgin who gives birth to a son which is also him then goes on a suicide mission.
    He is killed which also is the father and theres a ghost in there somewhere. Yeah thats not mental illness. And the "prophet rode up to a magical kingdom on a horse. Are we all 12 years old?

    June 2, 2010 at 7:51 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.