I would like to cut through the spin of opportunistic politicians and profit-driven pundits in order to offer some reflections that I hope will help to show the beauty of the Cordoba House project, sometimes mischaracterized as “the Ground Zero Mosque.”
Cordoba House is protected by First Amendment of the Constitution of the USA. This Amendment protects the freedom of religion for all Americans – no matter our religious perspective – Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Agnostic, Atheist, etc. If the builders of Cordoba House, a Muslim community center, aren’t guaranteed this Constitutional right, then the freedom of religion for all people is threatened. This is something to take very seriously.
Cordoba House is being organized by Feisal Abdul Rauf, who works to improve relations between Muslim Americans and other Americans. In fact, in 1997, he founded the American Society for Muslim Advancement. Many people, including University of Iowa alum and progressive Muslim author, Reza Aslan, consider Rauf to be an important leader of Islam in the USA because of his commitment to pluralism and peace. Imam Rauf is a model for us all.
Cordoba House is being built by The American Society for Muslim Advancement and the Cordoba Initiative, two organizations that seek to improve the relationship between Islam and the West. In the weeks after 9-11, we asked moderate Muslims to step forward and speak out. Now that they are coming forward in such important ways, we should welcome their efforts with open arms.
Cordoba House is named after Cordoba, Spain, a city where Muslims, Jews, and Christians thrived together successfully for many years. This name is significant because it reminds people that, in the words of Feisal Abdul Rauf, "Muslims created what was, in its era, the most enlightened, pluralistic, and tolerant society on earth." We should hold Cordoba up as an example for the USA. Our nation should be a place where all people, no matter their religion, can live together in peace and prosperity.
Cordoba House is a community center that will feature a fitness center, culinary school, childcare services, etc. It will also feature a prayer room. Such a building would be similar to a JCC or YMCA. These kinds of organizations provide services that are good for the entire community.
Cordoba House would share the neighborhood with a Mosque, Masjid Manhattan, that has been in the area for over 30 years. Clearly, Islam has been a part of the heritage of New York for a long time. Muslims are not exotic outsiders to be feared. They are friendly neighbors to be treated like we would like to be treated. The Torah and Gospels remind us to “love our neighbors as we love ourselves.” And that includes our Muslim neighbors.
Cordoba House is a product of moderate Islam. It has nothing to do with fringe, fundamentalist groups like Al-Qaeda. Al-Qaeda is political fundamentalism that has declared war on everything and everyone that stands in the way of their political agenda. Conversely, the form of Islam that is promoted by the sponsoring organizations of Cordoba House would be committed to a spiritual and peaceful form of Islam. It's important to remember that Islam, like every other religion, has a lot of diversity. We must not hold all Muslims accountable for the actions of extremists that claim their religion any more than we would want to be held accountable for the actions of extremists that claim our own religion.
I support not only the Constitutional right of the building of Cordoba House, but I also support the moral imperative of standing beside people who work to build a more peaceful and pluralistic world. Supporting the construction of Cordoba House would honor the freedom of religion in First Amendment and the voice of moderate Muslims. In a world of ongoing misunderstanding and extremism, we could all benefit from the pluralistic work that could be done in places like Cordoba House.
Rev. Brian Brandsmeier