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on earth (at least three out of every four Americans call themselves Christians) but until the First Amendment is repealed it is also a country that guarantees religious liberty to Christians and non-Christians alike.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

    When will there be churches built in Mecca? And when will non-muslims be allowed there? Tolerance works both ways.

    June 3, 2010 at 2:02 pm |
    • rar

      js true. this is also how i know that the mohams want to rule this country and this is how i know that their religion is false. they will not allow any christians to build churches. christianity is almost an underground religion over there. mohams are afraid and they know that their moham children will learn the truth about the moham founder. they will even kill their own children if they think they beleive in Jesus and his work on the cross.islam is all subjugation and anger and hatred and that is what a cult is.

      June 4, 2010 at 2:41 pm |
  2. Jack

    What's even more scary is any religion running the world. Prothro's article mentions eight religions that run the world. It's amazing that any sensible human being can believe the majical tales of these religions. they're cartoonish at best. We humans only have the senses we were born with or even given if religion is correct. Why would a god give us common sense then expect us to believe the stories that are in religious text's. As far as I can tell, mans arrogant religion is the root of most wars. They all think they are the chosen ones so if there is a god then seven of the eight are wrong or maybe they just all are.

    June 3, 2010 at 1:27 pm |
    • stephen douglas

      Jack...OH NO! Don't bring up cartoons!!

      June 3, 2010 at 2:57 pm |
    • ana44

      Jack, Buddhism is a major religion, one of Prothero's 8, and has many sects. In general buddhism relies on meditation and personal insight, awareness, and development of consciousness leading to enlightenment. Although there are scriptures, there is no "Book" that fundamentalists bang on heads or desks to frighten people into submission. Hinduism is a truly tolerant religion, though the culture treats women poorly. Buddhism allows women 'priests' and is truly tolerant. What passes for religious education is generally self-serving; "people of the Book" need to look at each other and realize they are all looking into a mirror. The similarities between fundamentalist approaches are amazing. Brahman Hindus would say, "you're all the same." Buddhists would say, "meditate, breathe; pray to let go of your illusions."
      I'm frankly disappointed in Prothero's comments, BTW, and think that a mosque at ground zero would indeed send the wrong message to extremists of all sorts. They aren't venues for meaningful debate or discussion between religions either.

      June 6, 2010 at 5:44 pm |
  3. stephen douglas

    TOOOO Funny! Not one Muslim response to Neal's idea of a multi-religious center being built instead of a mosque. Have no doubt, Islam is not about tolerance, it is about takeover.

    June 3, 2010 at 1:04 pm |
  4. AC

    Islamist sympathizers believe that the masses of the U.S. are fouls. YOU are worng!!! , don't count on political correctness as a cover or the progressive pacifist's to defend your "rights" . You will be found and eventually irradicated off the face of the planet. Reform your religion or simply face destruction.
    P.S
    This a free country and we will draw Muhammed's face as much as we wish.
    Enjoy!

    June 3, 2010 at 12:59 pm |
  5. Jack

    Mohammad... What makes you thinks we're all Christians? as far as war agianst islam, didn;t they attack us first and have you spoke up against what was done on 911? I don't see that in your post. I'll bet you cheered. We only don't like Islam if you attack us, we didn't just decide one day we didn't like Islam.

    June 3, 2010 at 12:43 pm |
    • Umme Omar

      Mohammad Ali is new here and i guess he did not read earlier posts where some of you were using indecent language for Christian Prophets and other religious symbols. BTW those terrorists were not Muslims just as you are not Christians. And as I can see there is no difference between you and them. You both harbot some kind of hatred against other religions and countries. There are just bunch of you, Jack, Stephen Douglas, Total non sense, Nuser, cardog. You do not want to see USA prosper just as those 9/11 terrorists did not want USA prosper. USA's economy depends on Arab oil and IT professionals from India, a big fraction of which are Muslims. You want us to leave USA? You r not sincere with USA

      June 3, 2010 at 3:23 pm |
  6. Jack

    Mohammad... What makes you thinks we're all Christians? as far as war agianst islam, didn;t they attack us first and have you spoke up against what was done on 911? I don't see that in your post. I'll bet you cheered. We only don't like Islam if you attack us, we did just decide one day we didn't like Islam.

    June 3, 2010 at 12:40 pm |
  7. Call2arms

    I will fight for the right of American Muslims to build the Mosque, but I can't imagine anything more insensitive or hurtful to our fellow Americans that could be done.

    June 3, 2010 at 12:23 pm |
    • stephen douglas

      That is absolutely the point, Call2arms. That is what America is about. I don't have to like it, but within reason I will fight for the freedoms we have. But the mosque is an insensitive, calculated, slap in the face to all Americans who have any common sense, or backbone. Obviously, Mr. Prothero is lacking both.

      June 3, 2010 at 12:50 pm |
  8. stephen douglas

    Muhammed Ali...More Muslims have been killed since 9/11 by Muslims than by Americans. If it is not obvious to you that every time a homicide bomber blows himself up, he takes out at least 25 of his "brothers", usually more, you can look it up on several human rights websites. Of course, all those sites might be a Western conspiracy, but I doubt all of them are. But they all agree, Muslims kill Muslims, in the name of Allah.

    June 3, 2010 at 12:11 pm |
  9. Neal

    Mr Ali:

    Yes, Agreed, it is 2 blocks away from Ground Zero. I am sure you would be open, then, to having a Catholic Church 2 blocks away from Mecca! What an Idea! I am so glad we can come together like this....

    June 3, 2010 at 12:06 pm |
  10. nuser

    umme omar
    Proper transliteration of islam is qur'an, then quran and koran is the common english version.
    O.k.?

    June 3, 2010 at 12:06 pm |
    • stephen douglas

      I didn't know spelling was being graded... Minus two points.

      June 3, 2010 at 12:51 pm |
  11. Muhammed Ali

    This is the thing that you right wing nuts won't understand is that islamic center is not on the world trade center grounds. secondly, how many Muslims around the world have been killed as a result of 9/11? Probably more than a million, but thats not a matter of concern to you because thats what you Christians wish to see more dead Muslims. The world would only be a great place once everyone loved for everyone else what they in fact love for themselves, but from the comments on this page, the US is in fact in a war against Islam just as the European Crusaders were at war with Islam in the dark ages. Christians will never cease to fight and hate Muslims until the end of time.

    June 3, 2010 at 11:57 am |
    • rar

      moham ali sorry even a mosque built 50 miles away is to close. go build it somewhere on a sand dune in an arab country. understand what i say no mosques at all should be here someday the God of abraham isaac and jacob will come down on us for allowing false religions into our country. freedoms are here but there is a responsibility that goes along with the freedoms. freedoms can be used and twisted to do or allow the wrong things such as building mosques. take them elsewhere. they are not of the true God

      June 4, 2010 at 2:32 pm |
  12. James L.

    In others words, you prefer to disregard our right of free speech and we should only listen to your desires. It is clearly a bad idea and there is more to this plan than meets the eye. Suggests that you move to one of those countries that you love so much and leave America alone, we have rights and feelings too.

    June 3, 2010 at 11:48 am |
  13. alan

    Islam is an affront to freedom and is responsible for the majority of the terrorist acts in the world today. It continues to try and force it's beliefs on the rest of the world. If those that say Islam is a "peaceful" religion would stand up and put a stop to the extremists of their religion others would be a lot more sypathetic to their beliefs. While all of those "peaceful" muslims remain silent the resentment against them builds. To build a mosque anywhere near "ground zero" is absolutey an if your face insult to all Americans! Those who want to build the mosque should have the decency to build it elsewhere.

    June 3, 2010 at 11:09 am |
    • Muhammed Ali

      Thats what you'd like to believe, but you and I know that the US is responsible for more deaths in the past ten years then any other country on Earth.

      The Iraq invasion and the operation of shock and awe are war crimes, so you continue lying to yourself its become common practice here in the US. Lying to ourselves that we're the greatest country when we are in fact the most crude, but with a pretty veneer

      June 3, 2010 at 12:15 pm |
  14. Total non sense

    Omar..... i wish you could explain how building a mosquee at ground zero is respecting the victims. as it is more to insult them. Islam is no/ as never been about peace. it is exclusivly about violence, destrcution hatred and bloodbath. in fact i will welcome a nuclear reactor at ground zero,s it is a lot more safer then a mosquee. Islam need to be expulsed from america.

    Islam is simply not compatible with human life....

    June 3, 2010 at 10:57 am |
  15. Neal

    How about a multi-religious center that allows anyone to worship? I wonder if thes muslim group would be open to worshipping god side-by-side with Jews, Hindus and Catholics?

    June 3, 2010 at 10:18 am |
    • stephen douglas

      Neal...Absolutely the best idea on this entire post! How about it, UMME OMAR, ZAHEER HUSSIEN, AND ALL OTHER MUSLIMS? How tolerant are you and your religion? Can you support a multi-denominational center, open to all religions, races, creed? I have been called an idiot, a drunk, a raciest by Muslims in this discussion. However, if a place of worship is to be built, make it a non-denominaltional house of prayer. Are you or your Muslim brothers up for this? Great idea, Neal, super idea! Can't wait to hear from the Muslims. I am betting they will cop out and say that all religions are invited to mosques.

      June 3, 2010 at 10:52 am |
    • stephen douglas

      NEAL...Pretty funny, not one Muslim response to this idea so far.I am going to keep checking. I hope others will read this and reply to it as well.

      June 3, 2010 at 12:25 pm |
    • Neal

      Stephen,

      I can see it now. . It might lead to jokes about a priest a rabbi's and an Imam going into a bar...

      June 3, 2010 at 2:13 pm |
  16. stephen douglas

    Umme Omar...How about a Catholic or Lutheran church on the Temple Mount??? Oh, sorry, that is where Muhammad landed on his flying horse that had the head of a lion, so it is sacred to Muslims. Silly me.

    June 3, 2010 at 9:57 am |
    • Shadia

      That is a very stupid comparison. You are comparing a religious site such as temple mount to ground zero where the two buildings that were erected there were a place of business where peoplr worked.

      June 3, 2010 at 11:02 am |
    • stephen douglas

      SHADIA...No, not a stupid comparison. Your faiths says that Muhammed flew through the air on a winged horse that had a lion's head, landed there, decided that is where a new mosque should be built, and that is why you consider it sacred. How absurd is that? Do you believe in unicorns as well? As for ground zero, real people "worked" there, past tense, innocently, and were violently murdered there leaving behind families. We know this as a fact. I may be on a limb here, but I would consider the ground zero site far more sacred than the temple mount where Muslims and Jews have been arguing for centuries. Someone should have flown a jet into the mount. Since no other Muslims have responded to Neal so far, let me ask you how you feel about a multi-denominational religious center being built instead of a mosque? People of all faiths could gather and pray there. That would be true tolerance for all. Are you in? Or are you and the rest of your ilk so set on establishing a shrine to the highjackers?

      June 3, 2010 at 12:47 pm |
  17. Neal

    No problem! lets build the mosque... After all, don't we support free speach and freedom of religion in this country?

    I wonder if the group would support placing a giant lutheran church in the middle of Mecca? How about on top of Abu Graibm, to show our sensitivity. Umme Omar, I'd like to here your opinion on this

    June 3, 2010 at 9:52 am |
  18. Bob

    The author of the piece, and all of those who support building a mosque there, miss the point. It doesn't matter at all if we believe we're at war with radical Islam. The 19 hijackers believed it, and that's why they did it: in the name of Islam. That does indeed make the prospect of building a mosque at Ground Zero "insane".

    June 3, 2010 at 9:33 am |
  19. Umme Omar

    The people who are opposing the idea of building a mosque at ground zero do not really care about the 9/11 victims and their families. They don't want this mosque because they do not want to restore peace in USA They are so biased against islam that they do not want Muslims and non muslims get over with their hatred and leve their differences behind and get closer. They are dreaming to expel Muslims out of USA. They are not even sincere with USA. if they were, they would want to get over with their arrogance. All over the world, Muslims and non muslims are integrated with each other and they live with peace and harmony. In Hyderabad India which is the hub of IT in India, Muslims are in majority and they are living and working with non Muslims to make their dream of Incredible India come true. United they stand and ununited they fall.
    The people who want to build mosque are sensitive to the victims' families. They are not building nukes factor here. They are building a mosque which is centre of their sprituality. They want to be a part of the free beautiful American dream. This dream cannot be brought into reality by harboring hatred. God has just shown us that for our existance we are dependent on each other. The land of makah, the desert of Arabia is the safest place to drill oil. Lets connect with reality and live and let live. Thank you. This is my last message for now and I hope you will get it.

    June 3, 2010 at 7:26 am |
    • stephen douglas

      Umme Omar...WRONG! I am so glad you wrote this because it gives me the opportunity to set you and all the other Muslims on this forum straight about something: I and many others do not oppose the building of mosques or the practice of your religion. Build mosques all over New York or anywhere else. BUT, not anywhere near ground zero. And as for those who support the building of the mosque, you are NOT sensitive to the families of the victims. I don't like the Islamic faith, as you can tell, but I will tolerate it and acknowledge you have the right to practice it. I would never blow up you or your families, or fly an airplane into your homes or businesses. BUT, pushing for the building of a mosque at ground zero is a deliberate, calculated, slap in the face to the families and to virtually all Americans. People all over the Middle East will see it as a shrine to the highjackers and a victory for Islam. I just wish I could slap the faces of the idiots who approved this. They have justified it in order to make money, just as our politicians are selling out the country. Traitors one and all.

      June 3, 2010 at 9:49 am |
    • rar

      umme, peace does not come here because you want to build a mosque there near where the towers were. everyone can see how you are twisting things to bend it toward islam. please stop we do not need any mosques anywhere in the usa. we do absolutely great without mohams here trying to cerate a moham state or country. we do not really need your oil we have other countries for it as well as our own too bad crops do not grow well in sand

      June 4, 2010 at 1:56 pm |
  20. Umme Omar

    DO YOU WANT TO BUY SOME OIL, THERE IS A LOT IN THE MIDDLE EAST, BUT FIRST CLEAN YOUR OIL SPILL IN GULF. It is already reaching Florida. You should have learnt you lesson by now. We all depend on each other for our existance. You cannot eat your cake and still have it.

    June 3, 2010 at 5:09 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.