The building of a mosque near Ground Zero grounds is a sensitive and controversial issue for many Americans. Understandably so, many perceive the building of an Islamic center of worship two blocks away from where the Twin Towers stood before 9/11 as an insensitive and arrogant project by the Muslim community. Yet, highly polemical issues such as the construction of a mosque near Ground Zero require an in-depth understanding of the religious and political background that generates generalizations of a particular tradition as inherently and homogeneously dysfunctional.
In his article, “The Ground Zero Mosque Controversy: Implications for American Islam,” Liyakat Takim points to some of the generalizations based on uneducated assumptions of Islam that depict it as “un-American and militant” (132). Liyakat reminds us that Americans historically have practiced discrimination against minorities groups[i] as he suggests that as long as Islam continues to be interpreted as violent and extremist, the Muslim community will continue to struggle for peace and prosperity in the United States. Although numerous institutions have been created with the purpose of educating America about the true nature of Islam (FIA, AAUG, OAS, MSA, ICNA, IANA, MPAC, AMC, CAIR), their attempts have failed by the continuous manipulation and misrepresentation of political disagreements between the United States and the Middle East. Furthermore, Takim explains that “the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 revived prejudices of Islam as a religion that promotes violence and of Muslims as inherently militant people” (134).
As Islamophobia becomes embraces as the correct understanding of Islam, the majority of Muslims who clearly oppose violent acts against Americans remain ignored. As a result, many Americans view Islam as a dangerous religion that is against Western principles. These stereotypical assumptions are easily found in the current political scene as political figures enthusiastically express their anti-Islam sentiments. Perhaps Mr. Gingrich comments on the proposition to build a mosque near Ground Zero represent the true sentiment of a large population of Americans[ii] when he argues, “The proposed mosque would be a symbol of Muslim ‘triumphalism’ and building the mosque near the site of the Sept. 11 attacks ‘would be like putting a Nazi sign next to the Holocaust Museum. It’s profoundly and terribly wrong[iii]’”
Yet, although many can sympathize with the pain experienced by many Americans as they watched their love one burn to death during the 9/11 attacks, the larger question remains, is America against the building of mosque near Ground Zero, or against the Muslim community entirely? After all, the proposition to build other mosques outside the Manhattan area or even New York itself, still experience a similar anti-Islamic response. For instance, propositions to build mosques in Murfreesboro Tennessee, Temecula California, and Sheboygan Wisconsin, have also endured heavy opposition.[iv]
Perhaps the main issue lies in the grandiose over-generalizations of the Muslim community and Islam as a whole. As Takim suggests, “Distinctions between Shi’is and Sunnis, moderate or conservative, Christian or Muslim Arabs have been effaced. Instead, all Muslims and Arabs have been grouped together as the ‘enemy other’” (138). These sort of ostentatious oversimplifications of Islam result in the homogenization of a designated community as uniformly dysfunctional. Takim advocates for the need of a healthy inter-faith dialogue that recognizes the problem of preconceived notions of the other that often misrepresent (intentionally or unintentionally) those residing outside our accepted worldview. Takim argues that “peaceful coexistence is only possible when one no longer sees a group as an abstract ‘other’ but rather as a particular human community with its specific traditions, values and norms” (141). Perhaps, this proposition of peace suggested by the author leads him to address the role that the Muslim’s community plays in eliminating ignorance and establishing an environment of coexistence in the United States by indigenizing[v] Islam in America.
Although eradicating ignorance still remains a difficult task, I appreciate Takim’s sensitive approach to the devastating events of 9/11 as well as his efforts to challenge the Muslim community to assume an active mission to spread the truth about Islam while recognizing the religious and cultural landscape that shapes Islam and America as a whole.
[i] “Native Americans, Catholics, Jews, African Americans, The Japanese and others have, at one time or another, endured periods of discrimination” (133).
[ii] In his article Takim reminds us that “according to an August 10-11 Fox News poll, 64% of Americans [a majority of each of Democrats (56-38%), Republicans (76-17%), and Independents (53-41%)] thought it would be wrong to build a mosque and Islamic cultural center so close to Ground Zero” (136).
[iii] The New York Times, August 14th-2010—“3 Republicans Criticize Obama’s Endorsement of Mosque.”
[iv] In The New York Times article “Across Nation, Mosque Projects Meet Opposition,” Laurie Goodstein exposes other mosque building propositions that experience heavy opposition throughout the country (August 7th, 2010) .
[v] The author defines the process of indigenization of American Islam as a process that need to be “formulated, articulated, and expressed by those Muslims who are familiar with the American milieu and culture.” The author also adds that “Indigenization means that Americans Muslim have to increasingly express themselves through a properly articulated intellectual discourse, so that they can be both physically and intellectually visible” (139).