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on earth (at least three out of every four Americans call themselves Christians) but until the First Amendment is repealed it is also a country that guarantees religious liberty to Christians and non-Christians alike.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

    For those who feel that Muslims need to stand and be counted – trying reading the book Three Cups of Tea. In his book, Greg Mortenson, a non-Muslim, talks about the reaction he saw in Pakistan when 9-11 happened. Women started walking up to him and each one handed him an egg – which represented life – and asked him to return to New York with their gift and their sorrow for the loss of life. When a Christian man assassinates an abortion doctor in a church, we do not demand all Christians to stand up and be counted. Why do we demand the same of Muslims? By the way, I am not Muslim.

    June 2, 2010 at 4:49 pm |
    • Eric

      Not blaming all Muslims, just as I would not blame all christians. I think we need to get rid of religion. If we did, we would not have Muslim nutjobs flying planes into buildings, or Christian nutjobs shooting up abortion doctors. If we get rid of religion, we can call them what they really are. Just nutjobs. Society can deal with nutjobs. We all will take a united stand against dangerous nutjobs! Religion is what clouds the judgment of society. Religion is dangerous and needs to go.

      June 2, 2010 at 4:59 pm |
  2. cardog

    There was a time when I thought Islam was a noble & proud religion. I am not a muslim so there is no self interest in that comment. What I think today is a far cry from my ealier thoughts. I see Islam as a a fanatical way to express one's self up to and including self destruction. ( Have you notice a Baptist, Catholic or Prodestant, blowing themselves up recently in the name of Christ?)
    Someone earlier in a post said that Islam does not condone the mis-treatment of women. If that is the case where did the "honor killings" come from? Where was it taught that throwing acid in a woman's face because she failed to marry some 60,70 year old man arranged by her father is an honorable thing to do? I don't know what to call myself other then an anti-culturalist (not a racist) when I hear about people in the Arab culture doing things like this. You cannot explain away that this is done by only a few, this system prevails throughout Islam (Middle East & Indoneisa).
    The United States is in denial. Islam has declared war on us, our culture and way of life. As a young man, when someone told me that they were going to kick my behind, I took them at their word and did everything within my power to strick first.
    Wake-up America, there ARE enemies at the gates.

    June 2, 2010 at 4:32 pm |
    • mike

      At the gates??? I'm afraid he's in the white house.

      June 2, 2010 at 4:35 pm |
    • Zaheer Hussain

      Cardog, No one blows up for religion. They blow up for political reasons. These people have lost something material in their lives and this is how they are responding.

      Honor killings are not prescribed by Islam. These are practices by ignorant people determined to keep their family honor more than religious honor.

      June 2, 2010 at 4:57 pm |
    • stephen douglas

      Zaheer Hussain....Explain WHY there are so many who are able to use the Quaran's teachings to justify their actions. Maybe it is because there is in fact an element of violence throughout the so called "holy" Quaran? There is no other explaination. I've read it. It is a manipulative, brainwashing book for developing terrorists, which is exactly what Muhammad was, according to real history – not the sanitized history taught by Muslims.

      June 2, 2010 at 5:02 pm |
    • AR

      cardog and others,

      I think we all agree that murder is wrong, whether it be over love, honor, land, water, money, drugs, oil, race, or religion, and regardless of the weapon used.

      Honor killings are a horrific practice, but unfortunately they are not confined to Islam. Many Muslims are working hard to stop them in their countries. If you think about it, in most of these cases the only reason you hear about them is when the local press and local civil rights groups are outraged by them and cover the story in a way that is sensational enough and loud enough to catch the eye of the international press, and later perhaps, of the prize-winning columnists sitting in the comfort of their air-conditioned offices thousands of miles away.

      Most acid attacks we read about are in the cotton-growing rural regions of India and Pakistan. Again, if you start augmenting your news fix with the BBC or other international sources, you would realize that they are a regional rather than a religion-defined phenomenon. Acid, used by the cotton industry, is readily available and cheap, while guns are expensive and controlled. As a generalization, in the US or Mexico, the general population has easier access to guns.

      Neither are suicide attacks a tactic limited to Muslim lands. Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi of India was killed by a female suicide bomber who was a (Hindu) Tamil separatist. (His mother, Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, was killed by her Sikh bodyguards. The Mahatama Gandhi, no relation, was also assassinated, and not by a Muslim. And while we're on the subject of high profile political assassinations, Prime Minister Rabin's killer was not a Muslim extremist, either.)

      I hope you don't think that being disfigured by napalm or a phosphorus shell is somehow less unpleasant than being disfigured by industrial acid. Is a civilian dismembered by a knife (or a machete like the victims of the violence in the Congo, Rwanda, etc.) somehow worse off after the event than if he were dismembered by a cluster bomb or a machine gun? What makes us more outraged by one over the other? Is wholesale killing more acceptable than individual acts of violence? Or is killing by remote control, or from a greater distance, somehow more acceptable and less barbaric, in this age of extremely violent video games, than the barbarity of someone who lacks the more sophisticated weapon and commits his violence up close?

      June 2, 2010 at 6:04 pm |
  3. Umme Omar

    Building this mosque means that the moderate muslims not only sympathize with the victims of 9/11 and their families but also see those attacks on their own faith.

    June 2, 2010 at 4:31 pm |
  4. STLBroker

    The only good thing about 9/11 is that it woke us up as a nation and now we are kicking some serious terrorist tail. They messed with the wrong nation and underestimated our resolve. Now they are hiding in caves hoping one of our unmanned drones doesn't fly by and notice them. So where is Allah in this struggle? Doesn't appear to be helping the terrorist much. You would think there would be more folks lining up volunteering to have a bomb strapped to them if their cause was actually just and not just blind, irrational hatred. Maybe Allah thinks these folks are nuts and doesn't want to be associated with them.

    June 2, 2010 at 4:16 pm |
    • Umme Omar

      Exactly my point STLBroker. these terrorists are not friends of Islam. they are the enemies of islam and that is why Allah is not on their side. These terrorists are enemies of both America and islam. They are in fact losing ground in many Muslim coutries too. InshaAllah we will get rid of them with Allah's help. But these Mosque people are not terrorists. they want to build the mosque in good spirit. they see the 9/11 attacks as attacks on Islam.

      June 2, 2010 at 4:26 pm |
  5. STLBroker

    Umme Omar- If America doesn't conform to what followers of Islam see as being moderate then what? More death and destruction? Can you at least be honest? No matter how "moderate" America is, we will always be a target because it isn't really about America being more moderate. It's about certain followers of Islam wanting us all dead, especially if we are Christians but they would be happy to kill ANY American if given the chance even if those Americans are visiting their local Mosque regularly. If you think otherwise then you are fooling yourself. Religion, politics, idealogy is all a smoke screen. They want us dead, period, end of story. It is about irrational hatred, nothing more.

    June 2, 2010 at 4:06 pm |
    • Umme Omar

      Some of you were talking about USA being at war with Islam right? Now you are talking about followers of islam. From my experience, followers of islam are not following Islam and in fact the american values of freedom and social justice are more in line with islam. So if USA continues its values of freedom and justice like it always has, it will never come to war with Islam or those Muslims who follow Islam 's correct version. For example me...I like American values because they go so well with my understanding of islam.

      June 2, 2010 at 4:22 pm |
  6. Umme Omar

    For Muslims Musques are the most important, respected, Noble, sacred and Holy places of all the places in the world. Building a mosque at ground zero means that we are paying our respect to the victims of 9/11 and their families. If you like, you can build Church and temples over there, we won't mind.

    June 2, 2010 at 4:03 pm |
    • mike

      BS!!! there would no tolerance for a temple or church of any kind who are you kidding.

      June 2, 2010 at 4:32 pm |
    • stephen douglas

      Umme Omar...If mosques are so sacred, why are they used for ammunition dumps, or for fortresses? Why are attacks carried out on people going to or coming from mosques? Why are imams and mullahs not alerting authorities about radicals within their congregations? Mosques are used for whatever purpose your leaders wish them to be used, and it is not always innocent. And the people who want to build a mosque near ground zero, who are so adament in spite of the unpopularity of it, who are not concerned with spitting in the faces of the families whose loved ones were murdered, have an agenda: To make it a shrine to the terrorists. You are one of the blind, naive followers of this bogus religion, an expendable pawn. You could be blown to bits by one of your own people and your imams and mullahs would simply consider you an unfortunate casualty and announce you were a martyr for the cause. You sound like a nice person, but just like the fool who wrote this article in support of the mosque, you are bliind and naive. Which is just what Muslims leaders look for to exploit.

      June 2, 2010 at 4:44 pm |
  7. mike

    Before they build the mosque they should denounce radical islam.
    And Muslims need to say a prayer for all the innocents that were murdered in the name of Islam.
    Until till they do it publicly and loud, it will be a cold day in hell.
    God bless my cousins who were murder for no reason.

    June 2, 2010 at 3:59 pm |
    • Umme Omar

      Muslims have always denounced radical islam. Why don't you sometimes denounce radical christianity in public and also pray for the Muslims who got killed by Jews and christians in palestine, Gaza and Bosnia?

      June 2, 2010 at 4:06 pm |
  8. Gary

    You and every bleeding heart libral that think a mosque is apropriate at ground zero are idiots and insensitive to boot. We get it that the majority of muslims are not terrorists and are law abidding people but that does not diminish the fact that 911 was an attack lauched by radical muslims that killed 3000 people whos only crime was they were at work trying to put food on their families tables. You and every other idiot that says a mosque is OK should be forced to apoligize to each and ever family that lost a loved one on that day. There is plenty of other places that mosque could be built but on that site it is criminal.

    June 2, 2010 at 3:52 pm |
  9. Jack

    Prothero has a wonderful imagination. Do you really think the muslims will think of the US that way as a symbol of freedom. You don't fight wars being a nice guy. No we aren't at war with Islam but we are at war with some of its elements. Our freedom doesn't coincide with Islam so eventually we would be at war with them anyway. The best indication of future actions is the past. look at the UK, France and other European countries, Islam is like a infestation they can't get rid of. They have groups calling for sharia law in all the countries and are willing to fight for it. Islam is very arrogant, if you don'e believe as they do then you are wrong and you must be punished for it.

    June 2, 2010 at 3:24 pm |
    • Umme Omar

      if America is a symbol of freedom and its fighting extremists, then there is no point worrying. islam is all about freedom and peace and moderate values. USA and islam will always be able to go togther. But if Americans themselves become extremists in their views about other religions and countries, then I am sorry to say, you are right, America and islam will not be able to get along wswell. By not allowing Moderate Muslims to build a Mosque shows that you are not symbol of freedom and you are fast becoming an extremist.

      June 2, 2010 at 3:53 pm |
  10. Jack

    Prothero has a wonderful imagination. Do you really think the muslims will think of the US that way as a symbol of freedom. You don't fight wars being a nice guy. No we aren't at war with Islam but we are at war with some of its elements. Our freddom doesn't coinside with Islam so eventually we would be at war with them anyway. The best indication of futureactiopns is the past. lok at the UK, France and other European countries, Islam is like a infestation they can't get rid of. they have groups calling for sharia law in all the countries and are willing to fight for it. Islam is very arrogant, if you don'e belive as they do then you are wrong and you must be punished for it.

    June 2, 2010 at 3:21 pm |
  11. Castlekeeper

    This mosque will be nothing more than a shrine to what they did. It'll be their new mecca. A place to come and laugh at their cleverness and our loss. I can't even fathom how N.Y. could even think of such a thing. For you people who are interested......the bible tells us that in the end days reason will leave man. Right will be wrong and wrong will be right. To see this insane decision through any other eyes just doesn't make sense.

    June 2, 2010 at 2:50 pm |
  12. stephen douglas

    With all the posts so far, the overwhelming majority believe it is wrong and an insult to build a mosque at ground zero or even near it. Too bad a vote of the people, who would not be receiving $$$$$$ for their votes, cannot put a stop to this travesty. That board of idiots who approved this are on the take. Guaranteed. As for those board members who abstained, they were cowards. I would say there are many well meaning Muslims, and that the Quaran has a lot of good things in it. However, the good things are the lure to get naive individuals to carry the message to nonbelievers, creating a path for the extremists to sneak in with them to conduct warfare. It is exactly like a cancer: invade a host, stay dormant for a few years, grow more cells – which is amazing we refer to groups of terrorists as forming cells – and then attack the host from within. That is what Islam will do and is doing, in fact. Prothero is one of those incredibly naive, liberal fools who would hand over the keys of the henhouse to the wolf so it could have a place to sleep.

    June 2, 2010 at 2:40 pm |
    • Jack

      You're right, a lot of good people are muslim but the religion is much bigger than they are. No ones going to change the Koran, tthe extremist seem to control. The moderates are too scared or brainwashed to speak up.

      June 2, 2010 at 2:46 pm |
    • Umme Omar

      You just sound like a conspiracy theorist and thats all. Quran is all about good things from cover to cover. You only need to read it in original Arabic text and if you don't know Arabic, you should read its translation which is written by Muslims, not anti Muslims.

      June 2, 2010 at 3:59 pm |
    • stephen douglas

      Umme Omar...As I tried to explain, my copies of Quaran and Haddith were given to me by a MOSQUE, and the translations were done very carefully. Perhaps you should just read my other posts and get back to me. I can point out the specifics in either my Quaran or Haddith and back up what I am writing. There is no conspiracy, just a bunch of foolish, greedy business people allowing something so incredibly stupid it is incomprehensible. Over 3000 lives gone in a flash and you and your brethern don't seem to see how insulting and offensive it is to the families that a mosque is going to be built there. And don't bring up the drawing of Muhammad as insulting to Muslims in order to justify this mosque. Drawing pictures that supposedly insult your people does not begin to compare to flying airplanes into buildings full of people going to work and killing them by burning and maiming them to death.

      June 2, 2010 at 4:21 pm |
    • rar

      stephen, the mohammedins have always spread their religion by the sword. However , now they have become a little smarter. they don't fire a weapon to kill(not always anyways) they fire the gun below the belt and populate their target country. they have an unwritten command by their leaders to populate until they can take over. they are doing this here in the usa and they will scream about profiling and everything else in order to achieve their ends. they do not assimilate into the population they form their own enclaves and try to bring sharia law.

      June 2, 2010 at 9:42 pm |
  13. STLBroker

    Traditional sources dictate that Aisha was six or seven years old when betrothed to Muhammad but the marriage was not consummated until she was nine or ten years old.

    So Muslims worship a pedophile? Why? That was quite decent of him to wait until she was 9 or 10 years old to consummate the marriage. Yikes!!!

    June 2, 2010 at 2:39 pm |
  14. Stephen

    I read the Koran a while back. I kept hearing people tell me that fanatical Islam does not correctly represent the religion. I found completely the opposite. Islam is an evil, militant religion that has given nothing to this world. Where it has been allowed to flurish, it has completely destroyed social growth and basic human compassion.

    June 2, 2010 at 2:28 pm |
  15. nuser

    One more time .Timothy Mcveigh did not bomb in the name of Allah. Religion did not enter into it .
    He was angry at the government and also mentally ill.

    June 2, 2010 at 2:27 pm |
    • Jack

      Agreed, why do people keep trying to pull the Timothy Mcveigh card?

      June 2, 2010 at 2:42 pm |
  16. STLBroker

    My Muslim friends, please correct my misconceptions if that is what they are but......

    Didn't Mohammed create Islam after being rejected as a Christian prophet in many nations including his own? So Islam is a very young religion as religions go and Mohammed basically just came up with the whole 72 virgins thing among other things to make it a more popular message with who he was trying to convince?

    Wasn't Mohammed's claim to fame being a very brutal mass murderer?

    Didn't he marry a small child?

    This is what I have heard about Mohammed. If I am wrong, let me know the truth. Specifically, an example of Mohammed showing love towards his fellow man would be nice as well as how it was determined that he was sent by Allah would be good too.

    Thanks for educating me!

    June 2, 2010 at 2:22 pm |
  17. nuser

    umme omar.
    So are you saying muslims do not have fatwas and jihad?
    Has anyone ever seen the muhammad?
    If not ,how do you know it was he in the danish cartoons?
    the cartoonist denies depicting muhammad.
    And, yes ,there are all kinds of lewd and vicious pictures of jews
    and christians on placards carried all over Islam countries.
    Never once did I hear or see a response to to the sorrow the muslims
    inflicted on non-muslims in the name of muhammad and Allah
    I truly do not understand, why muslims wish to stay in North America
    we are so different. Is it because you wish to foist your religion on us?
    One muslim blogger here wrote Islam is the fastest growing religion...Hmm

    June 2, 2010 at 2:18 pm |
    • Umme Omar

      No we have not seen Muhammad (PBUH) and we don't draw his pictures either. You can depict our pictures as in many lewd forms as u like, we wont mind it. Its his pictures we don't like to be drawn. Secondly, Non Muslims also inflict misery upon muslims and other non muslims. Christians Serb masacared Muslim Serbians in the most brutal form only a couple of decades back. Which Christian apologized for that? Crusaders were Christians who inflicted pain on muslims and Christians. You know what israel just did to a Turkish Aid fleet to Ghaza? They killed many Turkish civilians in Turkish territory and Turkey is a Nato member country. America , instead of rebuking Israel is still taking its side. Extremists come from all religions and there are non Muslims who do not do anything about it. USA being the super power does not do anything about it. We live in USA because we are IT professionals and USA needs our service. we pay taxes to this country most of which goes to Israil. USA buys oil from Arab countries. If we expel them out, the Arabs can cut the oil chain and then we will have to ride bikes. Our gulf coast is not good for oil mining. we depend on each other for existance. You can not eat your cake and still have it

      June 2, 2010 at 3:40 pm |
  18. Umme Omar

    Ok so thats it? No more hate messages? Good because now I have to leave. It was just me on the other side. I let you have it from now. Be responsible and do not provoke violence. may Allah bless America. Ameen.

    June 2, 2010 at 2:03 pm |
    • nuser

      ..... and above all do not carry bombs in your underwear!

      June 2, 2010 at 6:06 pm |
  19. Jack

    Cardog...first of all i don't think I don't think most of the posters support the decision to build a mosque near ground-zero...in fact the opposite. I don't trust Arabic countries either but don't all religions have their hypocrites? I have friends that are religious when At church but do everything you mentioned the rest of the week.

    June 2, 2010 at 1:37 pm |
    • Umme Omar

      there are some people here who first bash Islam and other religions but when someone argues with them, they change their position and say 'Oh we don't have any problem with any religion'. What are these people saying anyway?

      June 2, 2010 at 1:53 pm |
  20. cardog

    Reading all the responses regarding this story, it's apparent that the respondents are either of the muslim faith or people who support muslims. Sharia law will never be the law of the United States. Let's get that clear. During the middle ages, saying that christainity was a faith of peace, you would not get agreement on that from people who lived in the middle east.
    To say that the muslim faith today is a faith of peace, to any rational thinking person, that would be a joke. The muslim faith has been taken over by radical fanatics and the majority of muslims who do not feel that christains are infidels should speak up??? Can I get a witness????
    When your muslim culture allows you to do honor killings of your own women,wives, daughters etc, that alone should tell you what this religion is all about. Once long ago when the airline I worked for was assiting the Saudis with their national airline I observed first hand what hypocrits these so-called devout muslim really are. When we would bring a group of muslims to New York, no sooner had the flight left Saudi air space, these rightous muslims would change into western clothing, order alcolholic drinks and immediately start trying to fondle the flight attendants.
    Lastly, to trust any Arab country is to put a knife to your throat and hope your hand does not slip.

    June 2, 2010 at 1:28 pm |
    • Umme Omar

      Yes i am a muslim and I practice as devoutly as possible but I do not wish to bring shariah law in USA. USA laws are already the most perfect laws. Its people are the best people on human level. But sometimes they tend to be judgemental and opinionative about islam and Quran without even doing any research . Everything that Muslims are doing may not represent true islamic values. Mistreating wives in not allowed in islam. Our Prophet says 'the best among you is the one who treats his wife the best'. it is wrong to say that our faith is taken over by extremists. the words of Quran cannot be changed. Quran teaches kindness. if someone is a terrorist, he is making wrong choices. islam does not condone their actions. Their actions are abhorable and that will not change.

      June 2, 2010 at 1:45 pm |
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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.