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August 5th, 2010
05:40 PM ET

U.S. Muslims underestimate 9/11 effect, Muslim thinker warns

Linda Rivera holds her head after a New York panel ruled the site of a planned Islamic center and mosque near ground zero can be demolished.

There's been plenty of opposition to the plan to build an  Islamic center near the site of ground zero in New York, but so far it has overwhelmingly come from outside the Muslim community.

Now a prominent Muslim thinker is warning that the idea is potentially dangerously misguided, and that American Muslims have failed to grasp how deeply the terror attacks of September 11, 2001, affected the country.

"I don't think the Muslim leadership has fully appreciated the impact of  9/11 on America. They assume Americans have forgotten 9/11 and even, in a profound way, forgiven 9/11, and that has not happened. The wounds remain largely open," said Akbar Ahmed, an Islamic studies professor at American University in Washington, D.C.

"And when wounds are raw, an episode like constructing a house of worship - even one protected by the Constitution, protected by law - becomes like  salt in the wounds," he argued, even as he said that "blaming an entire community for 9/11 is ridiculous."

But a leading spokesman for the American Muslim community is not convinced by Ahmed's analysis.

"The Council on American-Islamic Relations feels the impact of 9/11 on a  daily basis," said its communications director, Ibrahim Hooper.

"We take hundreds and hundreds of cases each year of anti-Muslim bias and  hate crimes. To a large degree it's the by-product of 9/11," Hooper said.

He rejects the controversy over the planned Islamic center as "manufactured" by "bigots."

"There has been a mosque in that neighborhood for 27 years," Hooper asserted.

And he said Muslims should not back down simply because a vocal minority was complaining.

"I am not going to base my actions and my principles and my future on the  ability of bigots to manufacture a controversy," he said.

The American Center for Law and Justice filed a lawsuit Wednesday, trying  to throw an obstacle in the way of what has come to be known as the "ground zero mosque" - although it is two blocks from the site of the World Trade  Center and backers say it will be more a community center than just a house of worship.

Ahmed and Hooper did agree, however, that the New York dispute is just an  extreme example of a problem Muslims face whenever they set out to build a  house of worship in the United States.

"Every time Muslims raise their head in America, these groups are going to come against Muslims," said Hooper, adding that the problem is worse now than in the immediate wake of the World Trade Center and Pentagon attacks.

"There was still a reservoir of good will after 9/11," Hooper said. "Now you've got people bringing dogs outside a mosque in California last week."

"The attacks on mosques are increasing in frequency and intensity," Ahmed  concurred.

"You recognize a minaret, so that becomes the focus and the lightning rod  of the fear and anger," said Ahmed, whose new book, "Journey Into America: The  Challenge of Islam" is an intensive study of Muslim communities across the  country, based on a year of travel, visits, meetings and surveys.

He found that the closer you get to New York, the higher the tension is  between Muslims and non-Muslims.

"Step back and put (the Cordoba Initiative project to build the New York Islamic center) in the context of American society today and then it will make perfect sense - the anger, and also the failure of the American Muslim leadership, an influential leadership, to explain to Americans that we, too, are Americans. We live here," he said.

The Cordoba Initiative did not answer CNN requests for comment.

Ahmed, who is also critical of "the American leadership" for not building bridges with Muslim America, warns that the New York project could become a dangerous flashpoint.

"Say non-Muslims go attack this mosque or attack the imam, and in response some young Muslims blow something up or blow themselves up," he warned. "That is the worst-case scenario."

"The best-case scenario is that the Muslim leadership really steps up its activity to explain themselves to the American community. We are at a crossroads," he said.

And whatever happens will resonate far beyond America's shores, he said.

"What happens in America will have an impact in the Muslim world,  especially Afghanistan and Pakistan, and vice versa," he argued. "Whatever happens now becomes critical."

- Newsdesk editor, The CNN Wire

Filed under: 'Ground zero mosque' • Houses of worship • Interfaith issues • Islam • Muslim • Religious liberty • Violence

soundoff (904 Responses)
  1. dte0905

    Listen up Muslims – the AMERICAN PEOPLE WILL NEVER FORGET OR FORGIVE. The Muslims sealed their faith on 9/ll for the USA. Don't give me the b.s. about radical and non-violent Muslims. Muslims will look you right in the eye and lie. Build the mosque and I will visit with my dog, my ham sandwich and my Bible. After all, it's a "community center" right? We have to be tolerant of Muslims, but Muslims can come here and cry this or that AMERICAN tradition offends them. So to be PC, WE have to change. I think if you are a Muslim and don't like Christmas, leave the USA. If you are a Muslim and things the Americans do offend you, either ADAPT or leave. I am sick of hearing how AMERICANS have to be tolerant of the Muslims. Leave the USA, you are NOT wanted here. The bomber in NYC where the bombs did not go off, he was EDUCATED for free by the USA. Stand up America, let's get the laws changed to protect our way of life.

    August 6, 2010 at 2:59 pm |
  2. SadPanda

    Hey morons! My magical deity could being up your magical deity! Na na naboo boo stick your head in doo doo. We should be killing eachother over real things like resources...killing over self contradicting, hypocritical fairymen is totally out. GROW UP!

    August 6, 2010 at 2:57 pm |
  3. SadPanda

    Hey morons! My magical deity could being up your magical deity! Na na naboo boo stick your head in doo doo. We should start to kill eachother over real things like resources...killing over self contradicting, hypocritical fairymen is totally out. GROW UP!

    August 6, 2010 at 2:55 pm |
  4. makayla

    None of you can give me a logical reason to not build a Masq which is many blocks away....Muslims are insensitive...lmao....where are you ppl from...."RED NECK HIGH SCHOOL".....grow up act your age...your all adults....How about saying Americans are insensitive to Iraqi children...whose birth defects are all because of all the bombs and chemcials our military used to find "weapons of mass destruction"....or the afghan orphans that have no arm or leg to even beg for food....NOW THATS INSENSITIVE...why dont you guys just worry about giving gays and lesbians the right to get married...that seems like a suitable topic for ppl like you....

    August 6, 2010 at 2:17 pm |
  5. PakiMuslimah

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3IofpsHOosE

    August 6, 2010 at 1:22 pm |
  6. PakiMuslimah

    For those who claim that mainstream American Muslims and/or leaders have not spoken out against terrorism, check out this Youtube video, which features 9 mainstream moderate Muslim leaders from all over America who collectively condemn violence in the name of Islam. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3IofpsHOosE

    August 6, 2010 at 1:19 pm |
    • CSnord

      Unfortunately, "speaking out" is just words. The Muslim communities around the world do nothing about it and tacitly condone the murderous activities of "the few".

      August 10, 2010 at 11:48 pm |
  7. SkyLion

    You need to understand why Muslims dont insult Jesus, Moses, Abraham and other Prophets ?
    Like, if you draw caricatures of Prophet Mohammad, we Muslims should just draw caricatures of Jesus ... instead of taking to the streets in protest ... right ?
    Well the reason is .... we Muslims love Jesus/Moses as much as you do ... if not more.

    According to ME, this is Religion 101 from a Muslim's Point of View:

    From Adam to Abraham to Moses ...... Are JEWS
    From Adam to Abraham to Moses to Jesus .... Are CHRISTIANS
    From Adam to Abraham to Moses to Jesus to Mohammad .... Are MUSLIMS

    SO we Muslims believe in every Prophet from Adam to Abraham to Moses to Jesus to Mohammad !
    So just like Christians/Jews believe in Adam and Eve ... so do Muslims.
    Just like Christians/Jews believe in Abraham (and his sons Isaac and Ismail) ... so do Muslims.
    Just like Christians/Jews believe in Moses .... so do Muslims.
    Just like Christians (and NOT Jews) believe in Jesus ... so do Muslims. Jesus is mentioned in the Quran and there is a Whole Chapter on Mary (his Mother)

    Basically, a Muslim is not a Muslim unless he believes in all the Prophets.

    And that is why when someone draws caricatures or insults Prophet Mohammad .... we do not insult Jesus or Moses, etc.

    I must say though, quite a few of the comments here have opened up my eyes about my own religion.
    We, Muslims have failed Islam .... Islam has not failed us 🙁

    August 6, 2010 at 1:09 pm |
  8. NYC#1

    Do you pray five times a day? Do you go to mosque on Fridays? Do you fast during Ramadan? Yeah, I thought so. Just another hypocrite!

    August 6, 2010 at 1:08 pm |
  9. NYC#1

    Islam is not just a religion. Get it through your head people. But anyway...They will build it. They have the right to do it. Our laws allow them to do it. They will build another one by Empire State building and Times Square. Let them build mosques all over New York. More mosques I say, all over America! There are no limitations, no laws to prohibit them from doing it. Are we so blind to see that these people are on a mission? Your children's children will be living in the ISA (Islamic States of America)!

    August 6, 2010 at 12:58 pm |
  10. Musalman Harramie

    http://www.thereligionofpeace.com/Quran/013-forced-conversion.htm

    Muslims are commanded to fight unbelievers until they are either dead, converted to Islam, or in a permanent state of subjugation under Muslim domination. Allowing people of other faiths to live and worship independently of Islamic rule is not an option.

    August 6, 2010 at 12:40 pm |
  11. Junaid

    I actually did question by religion which led me to learn more about it and i feel it has only strengthen i belief that islam is a peaceful religion. I took a course about world religions a few years back and it intrigued me so i went learned more about all the diffferent religions and their histories. What ive learned about all these religions is that their message is a peaceful one- but people are have their own agendas and some use religion in a negative way to achieve their own goals.

    I think that your perception of "islamist" is wrong, we are told at a young age that it is okay to question religion but you should also search for honest answers. There is no compulsion in religion(you will find that in the quran), so if you question islam and find that you dont believe in it, then that is your choice.

    I dont fear asking questions and i think that is precisely what you should do in all religions. But your questions sound like you ahve your mind already made up but i will answer honestly and i think i have already answered some of them.

    Well i believe that this islamic center is a step towards "reform." Opening an islamic center and having it be open to the public and trying to reach into the community for a goal of tolerance and understanding is exactly the reform we need.
    It not only helps non-muslims learn about islam but it helps muslims learn about non-muslims and will help to create a better understanding so that we can strengthen amercia.

    I am a muslim, i despise the terrorist who attacked my country on 9/11. But those people are not true muslims.

    SR- islam says to kill an innocent person is like killing all humanity- you should only fight in self-defense.
    and i have read the history of islam and i suggest you reread it with an unbiased opnion. Islam is actually a progressive religion. in the 7th century islam helped the womens moment and gave them more rights then they had before. It helped give others who were less fortunated have rights.

    SR- my question to you is, how many muslims do you know?
    Do you honestly believe that our sole goal in life is to kill you or convert you? you dont think we want get an education, buy a nice house, start a family, and live in peace just like you?

    i suggest you stop hating, not for me or anyone else but for yourself because your hatred only hurts you. I hope i have answered your questions. If you have more i dont mind answering, but i hope you answer mine as well.

    take care

    August 6, 2010 at 12:11 pm |
  12. makayla

    lets pull out our military bases from all muslim nations, were showing no respect...we killed and bombarded those nations and set up a military base....hmmmm.....wonder why......what weapons did they find? hmmmmm.....OMG OILLLL....NATURAL RESOURCES.....when we take out our military bases....I'll be the first to stand up to close this masq.... 🙂

    August 6, 2010 at 12:06 pm |
    • SheDillo

      Don't be dense. I didn't go over there so that we could get "more oil and natural resources", we were sent over there so that they could have a voice in deciding who ran their countries. I was there so that innocent children would not have to fear walking down a street and getting bombed. I was there so that women could vote and decide what happened with their lives. We were there to help them rebuild, provide education sites for their own and have the ability to live without fear for their lives that their culture could land them in a huge body pit where they would rot in the sun. Until you are there on the ground seeing how we care for the bloody, mangled and bruised children who are being killed by "their own" for having parents who didn't agree with that government you have nothing to add to this conversation.

      August 6, 2010 at 1:22 pm |
  13. Ginx

    To all the Muslims on this forum that say "Muslim-Americans" do not condone the attacks on 9/11....it has been documented that Muslims in our country knew of the attacks before they happened. A young Muslim man told his teacher while looking at the towers through his classroom window that "those buildings won't be there much longer." I don't condone violence and believe in religious freedom, even though I'm an atheist, however to put a mosque near this site is just a slap in the face. I would be as if Americans destroyed the temple mount and erected a huge McDonalds in its place.

    August 6, 2010 at 12:01 pm |
  14. Junaid

    actually that was in response to someone falsely stating that muslims dont marry outside of their religion. If you feel its a death cult then you are sadly mistaken. AS i mentioned before if you look for the bad you will find it, but its people that do the evil- if you knew about islam you would know that it promotes a message of peace and tolerance. You would also know that jews and christians are not considered "infidels," and in fact muslims have a name for them, "people of the book." We believe in jesus and moses and all the other prophets that judiasm and christianity believe in. How can we believe in the same values and be an evil religion. At least be consistent, if you believe islam is evil then believe that christianity and judiasm are also. Atleast the athiest are consistent.

    But all that aside, lets put aside our differences and try to strengthen america by unifying and not dividing us. If you truly love america and what it stands for you will try to work to bring us together.

    August 6, 2010 at 11:51 am |
    • SR

      Junaid: Nice use of Taqquiya to get some undeserved sympathy for Islam. (Those who don't know Taqquiya, Google the word).

      You are trying to claim somehow all Muslims are so OPEN minded that they view even "Christians and Jews" as "People of the Book. So they are not Infidels. So you won't hurt them. I am a Proud Hindu. What am I? An Infidel, by your own word. So you are going to leave the People of the Book alone and hurt me?

      This is the way Muslims have terrorized and spread Islam in India and so many peaceful countries such as Indonesia and Malaysia in order to convert in the millions.

      Islam is not where it is today because it is a peaceful religion. Heck, in that case, the whole world will be Hindus.

      Islam is where it is today because of violence and I am pretty sure that will be the way it will end as well.

      August 6, 2010 at 2:52 pm |
  15. Christine

    This won't end well.

    August 6, 2010 at 11:51 am |
  16. Matt

    "But a leading spokesman for the American Muslim community is not convinced by Ahmed's analysis.

    "The Council on American-Islamic Relations feels the impact of 9/11 on a daily basis," said its communications director, Ibrahim Hooper"

    is it just me or is this guy missing the point? If you felt the impact so much and gave a damn you wouldn't do it. This would be like someone opening a shop that sold american flags in downtown baghdad.

    August 6, 2010 at 11:38 am |
  17. Faraz

    @Doug - You live in country where NOT SAUDI's, NOT ISRAELIS, NOT RUSSIANS, BUT AMERICA'S own individuals, presidents, etc. fought for freedom and led towards diversity and bringing in immigrants towards a better future. The country is what it is today because AMERICANS led for democracy. Since you like to refer couple of terrorists, who use the religion as a scape goat, as hatred towards all Muslims then maybe everyone else who are not Christians should hate you and your religion for importing black people to be used as slaves back in the days. Oh by the way it was Americans who fought for their freedom too. It's people like you who true Americans are trying save the country from becoming dumb American and dragging all of the country's accomplishments to the ground. Educate yourself before you talk and read your own history of who you are and where you came from before you talk and point fingers.

    August 6, 2010 at 11:35 am |
  18. SJE

    Building a mosque is not a problem. Building it beside Ground Zero – that is a Big Problem. It insults the memories of those lost as well as those left behind. I am not saying all muslims are fanatic, but unfortunately throughout the world those that are extremist are ruining the reputation of those who are not. Go build your community center in another neighborhood and stay away from 9/11 site. It will only cause more hard feelings and possibly even violence at some point. Have some class and respect the fact this project is not welcome in this particular spot. Choose another location and move on.....

    August 6, 2010 at 11:34 am |
  19. makayla

    I am so sick of all this high school drama...and how you people complain....there building a masq.....get over it....stop complaining that they are insensitive....how about the fact that we have our military bases all set up in Iraq and Afghanistan although we bombarded and killed innocent civilians...doesnt that make us insensitive? oh no wait...were there to protect us from terrorist attacks...yet we go and bombard them.....Please stop this drama.....Lets learn to love each other....Christian, Jew, Muslim, Hindu, Buddist...white or black....man or woman.....STOP THE HATE....thats satans trap...to hate each other....and kill each other....and Peace and Blessings to all the people that have lost a loved one on 911....have a great day...

    August 6, 2010 at 11:29 am |
  20. Faraz

    It is very unfortunate that 9/11 attach had to happen at all and wish it just didn't. But remember guys we live in a big country with over 50 states and a country that is just a portion of the planet. Most people are out there going about their daily lives and it is difficult to find the few that are speaking out about these terrorism. And out of that few, it is easy for most to just filter out the positive messages and listen and look out for the negative messages from radicals and whatever because they are more profitable for media and entertaining for a general person. And I've seen many people speak out about the condemning terrorism in general and yes even MUSLIMS. What's interesting to me is that most non-muslim people who have a grudge against muslims because of what happened on 9/11 needs to come to a realization that most of you are probably working side by side with muslims at work or etc. Just because someone is Muslim doesn't mean their name is Mohamed or Akbar. Their are now people named John and Doug who are most likely converts and maybe working right beside you and one of the nicest individuals you know until you ofcourse find out they are muslim. My point is don't forget what happened on 9/11 but that please don't blame muslims. Blame the radicals, terrorists, murderers and not categorize them by religion because they are only using religion as a scape goat to justify their means.

    August 6, 2010 at 11:22 am |
    • William

      Faraz,

      I agree with you wholly. However, the beast has been woken, and the path is set. Never forget that most western Americans come from long, long lines of fiercely independent and rugged people. Our ancesters warred to control, to survive, and to protect and defend. We western Americans founded this country and developed OUR culture. Nobody pushes us. Not ever. We are the beast and the machine. We have been provoked, threatened and harmed and attacked. Not as a religion, but as a people. We built those Trade Centers. Our people built this country. Now the Muslim renegades have used their religion to tell the world that they have harmed "our" people. What they fail to understand is that we, the people, and the meanest, most god-awful race in the world to have provoked. For we have never surrendered, we fight to win, we fight our way, and we love fighting. We are, indeed devils. Pillage and ravage is in our deepest blood. We are not a peaceful people.

      So yes, non-western muslims in America had better scream their outrage of the renegades. And they had better scream their alligience to the age old founders of this country, the western Americans. Religions be damned. We are warriors first and always.

      August 6, 2010 at 11:44 am |
    • William

      Everyone denies God daily. Everyone prays to God that he/she/it might exist. Everyone know that God is a fallacy and does not exist. Everyone fights this truth and decries to fight it violently. God is dead. gods come and go. Humans continue like fools to pray to non-existing entities while their lives slip away.

      Humankind is doomed. Species come and go. Life comes and goes. Feeble arguments to the contrary only end up in people killing themselves or each other.

      The universe is indifferent. Molecules and atoms float and re-allign themselves. And time goes on. And on and on. We are the fools. Every last one of us. Live now. At least you will have been and shaken your fist at the world, Allah, God, the universe, and your existence and rebellion will have been heard, and will vibrate throughout the heavens and universe forever. To live now is to have everlasting life.

      August 6, 2010 at 1:01 pm |
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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.