Ground Zero Mosque: It's a Simple Question

Controversy continues to rage over whether moderate Muslims should build, and should be allowed to build, a mosque or a community centre near Ground Zero in New York City. (Yes, they’re moderate: I have met the imam in question, Feisal Abdul Rauf, and his wife, Daisy Khan, who also leads the project. They are just what intelligent, sensible people would want in Muslim leaders: affable, well-informed, well-spoken, serious, convinced, and committed to good relationships with their neighbours of every stripe.) President Obama has recently opined publically on the matter, and the political storm has been whipping up higher and higher.

But it seems to me that this is not a difficult matter to understand or decide. In fact, it comes down to an utterly simple question. Either we think all Muslims are somehow implicated in the 9/11 terrorist attacks, or we don’t.

If all Muslims are thus implicated, then of course they shouldn’t be allowed to build near Ground Zero. Nor should they be allowed to build near anything else that matters to the rest of us. In fact, they should all be rounded up and exiled as the clear and present dangers that they are.

If we don’t think all Muslims are implicated in the attack, then of course they should be allowed to build a mosque or community centre or whatever the heck they want to build wherever the zoning and funding will allow—just like any other citizens.

I’m a Christian. In fact, I’m an evangelical Christian. Am I implicated in the shooting of abortion doctors? Am I implicated in the policies of the Harper government here or the Bush administration recently gone? Am I implicated in whatever James Dobson or Pat Robertson or Franklin Graham or Benny Hinn says? If so, then I’m a pretty dangerous guy. If not, then you’ll have to treat me like anyone else you hardly know: as a neighbour, a fellow citizen, who must be allowed the full exercise of his rights and liberties until I have manifestly proven myself unworthy of them.

Feisal and Daisy do not deserve this firestorm of enmity when they are trying, as they have for years, to make friends among non-Muslims. And they are quite right to press for a Muslim presence anywhere and everywhere in America, for they see nothing contradictory between being a loyal Muslim and being a loyal American and they must not act as if they do. Why not? Because if they lose their nerve and back away from this project, they will concede the whole game and imply that somehow all Muslims should be ashamed of what happened during 9/11.

If others of us do think all Muslims should be ashamed, then let’s say it out loud and press for the logical consequences of that opinion: All Muslims are categorically un-American, even anti-American, and should be treated as such.

Otherwise, let’s let our Muslim neighbours build their mosques, community centres, or whatever, and let’s all get back to work. The last time I looked, there were more important things—much, much more important things—for Christians, Muslims, and others to discuss, such as Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran, Sudan, Nigeria . . . .

UPDATE: I have furthered this conversation in a post dated August 28.

0 Responses to “Ground Zero Mosque: It's a Simple Question”

  1. Josh Cramer

    Well put. Unfortunately, a few too many folks have been making just the argument you suggest: that all Muslims are implicated in extremist violence like 9/11. Oh man. Does Canada care about this? In Idaho, this is becoming a bigger and bigger deal, but I thought it was a New York and Red America thing. To see a post from you suggests it might be bigger than that. True?

  2. Barry Woodward

    I don’t think it’s quite this simple. 9/11 was attack on the US in the name of Islam. It’s insensitive to put a mosque there, in the same way it would be insensitive of Americans to put an American cultural center in Hiroshima or Nagasaki. And I say that as someone who thinks those bombings were justified. It’s a sacred spot. Nobody is questioning the right to build the mosque. We’re questioning the appropriateness. Here’s an article written by Muslims who agree with me:

    To answer Dale’s question, I’m not sure how many blocks away would be OK, but I think it’s not unreasonable to ask that it be further away than body parts from the people inside the WTC during the attack were flung.

  3. chuck

    The people who are opposed to the mosque being built are not saying these Muslims are implicated in the attack. That’s a big misconception. It’s being sympathetic about what happened. It’s just common decency. If a terrorist attack is carried out in the name of Islam, Christianity, Judaism, at XYZ site, you don’t build a mosque, church, temple at XYZ block once the dust settles. Especially against the wishes of those attacked. It’s just a slap in the face.

    To use your example, I would never want to build a church next to an abortion clinic where a shooting happened carried out in the name of Jesus years earlier. Especially if the abortion clinic was against it. To really hit home, the wife, children, and family of the abortion doctor are against it. Would you say, “I have a right to build it, so I’m building it.”?

    It’s not about rights, implications that all Muslims are terrorists, or hatred, it’s simply a call to be respectful to what happened and common sympathy & decency.

  4. TJ Downes

    America, we have a constitution. Our country was based upon this constitution. If you truly are a patriot, then your morals and beliefs should be supplanted by the constitution.

    You cannot selectively decide who our constitution applies to and who it does not apply to. I do not believe gay marriage is right. However, because I fully believe in our constitution, and have faith that it can work if applied correctly, I believe that gay marriage is a right, based upon the articles in our constitution.

    In this case, these Muslims are citizens of our country and should not be denied the same rights as any other citizen based upon their religions belief. This is a principle this country was founded on, and to deny these people their right to build a mosque ANYWHERE another religion would be allowed to build is simply wrong, and denying them this right denies you of your right to call yourself a patriot. Rather, it makes you a hypocrite.

  5. Barry Woodward

    TJ, not sure who that was aimed at, but notice that but Chuck’s comment and my comment concur that they have the right, but this is not a question of rights. It’s a question of appropriateness.

    • TJ Downes

      Hey Barry, my apologies if you felt it was aimed toward you. Rather, it was aimed at Americans in general. Some days I am angered by the ignorance in this country, and today is one of them.

  6. Gordon Tisher

    I wonder how persuasive your argument would be to the mayor of Mecca should you apply to build a church next to the Kabaa.

  7. Dan

    You are all getting things mixed up.

    The fact is that all the hijackers involved in the events around September 11, 2001 were male. Further, there are a number of solid studies that conclusively demonstrate that acts of violence are intimately linked to being male. Therefore, the obvious conclusion to draw is that no men should be allowed at, or near, “Ground Zero.” While men may have the right to go there (public space and all that) it is inappropriate for them to go there. For men to assert that right is fundamentally disrespectful of the body parts of the hundreds of people who died there as a result of male acts of violence.

    (Did you know that there are bars near to “Ground Zero” were men get together with other men to talk about manly things and watch MMA? Did you know that there is a strip club even closer to “Ground Zero” than the proposed Mosque location? These places should be torn down! How dare such dens of male violence be allowed so close to the place where people died at the hands of men.)

    • chuck

      The attacks were not carried out in the name of “men.” I think it was clear why they carried them out.

      • Dan

        Yes, it is very clear why the attacks were carried out.

        The attacks were carried out because Americans and their allies have been oppressing the hell out of others and crushing the poor around the world. When that happens people eventually strike back. (Canadians have been, too, but that’s not the topic at hand.)

        This reaction of oppressed people tends to occur regardless of whether or not they are Muslim, Buddhist, atheist, Christian, Sikh, or anything else.

        Of course, stating this does not justify the attacks but it does provide a more appropriate understanding of what motivates people to fly planes into buildings (and apparently we’re all about being appropriate here).

        • chuck

          Where are you getting your information? Osama is upset because the Saudis wanted American help instead of his during the Gulf War. He uses the guise of jihad to justify his mania. Put down the anti-American kool-aid.

          • Dan

            What’s up Chuck?

            Osama isn’t the only person in Al Qaeda. Nor did he personally hijack any planes on Sept 11, 2001. If you take some time to look at what attracts people to an organization like Al Qaeda, you will discover what I’ve written in my comment above. It’s the simply logic of oppression, exploitation and the spiral of sacred violence (i.e. American violence is sacred because is done to bring “freedom”, and the violent response of Al Qaeda is sacred because it is in accordance with the will of God… and on and on it goes).

            Nothing really anti-American here. So let’s skip that straw man (one can critize Israeli state policy without being an anti-Semite, and one can criticize American foreign policies without being anti-American).

          • dan

            Also if you believe what you write — that Osama bin Laden “uses the guise of jihad to justify his mania” — then you are bound to admit Islam really isn’t the issue, in which case you should have no problem with a Mosque that is some blocks away from “Ground Zero”.

  8. John Stackhouse

    So far I haven’t read an actual argument. I’ve read adjectives like “appropriate” and “sensitive,” the application of which entirely depends on how one understands the situation. That’s why I’m cutting through all that to focus on the fundamental issue, from our understanding of which we can THEN talk about what’s appropriate, etc.

    As for the analogies, I’m unmoved by them. Why not build a church where Brother Chuck or Brother Gordon suggest? Those Christians didn’t bomb the clinic. Those Christians obviously don’t think the Ka’aba is what Muslims think it is: so what? So long as the proximity of the church doesn’t interfere with what the others are doing (and, in the case of the Ka’aba, ringed as it is by a giant mosque, that’s hard to imagine!)–and interfere in some way vital to that pre-existing community structure (which wouldn’t be the case in either of these examples), then I don’t see any force in the objections.

    Muslims like Feisal and Daisy should regret 9/11 and all it implies (including the American involvement in oppressive regimes in Muslim-majority countries), and they clearly do. Americans like Feisal and Daisy should do the same, and they do. So why should they allow themselves to be treated as if they, or the religion they practice, were somehow responsible for 9/11?

    Again, look at the examples I used. I don’t allow myself to be cowed by others’ stereotyping Christians, or evangelical Christians in particular. And in conversation with Muslims I have made that point quite clear: Don’t blame me and Christians like me for the Crusades. Don’t blame me or my religion for Christian-majority American or Canadian policies toward Muslims or Muslim-majority countries. And don’t blame me for the utterances of members of my religious tribe for the extreme and reprehensible things they might say–reprehensible precisely according to the values of the religion we claim to hold in common.

    It still seems simple to me….

    • chuck

      Again, this is not stereotyping. Although I’m sure some groups exist, I’m pretty sure most of the people against this building are not against the rights given to those under the U.S. constitution.

      “As for the analogies, I’m unmoved by them. Why not build a church where Brother Chuck or Brother Gordon suggest? Those Christians didn’t bomb the clinic.” I think it boils down to this. I don’t think this is a black and white issue where you can say “I didn’t bomb it. That guy clearly didn’t represent the Christianity that I do. Therefore, you need to just get over it.”

      I am moved by it. We need to live in an understanding way and personally, I would take their opposition into account and build elsewhere. Really, I wouldn’t even propose to build there in the first place. I mean, these Muslims are really giving a testimony that they don’t really care about the feelings of the victims in insisting upon their rights.

      • John Stackhouse

        What are the people who don’t want it built sensitive to, Brother Chuck? How is building a place of worship and community life somehow offensive to them UNLESS they are equating Islam with the terrorism that felled the Twin Towers? And if they ARE doing that, then they’re wrong and their feelings cannot prevent others, particularly those who have lived and worshipped in that area previously, from going ahead with legitimate projects.

        • chuck

          I would assume they are sensitive to the name of Islam. It was people representing Islam who carried out the attacks because of their belief in Islam. We all know that they were a minority group and the majority of Muslims are peaceful, but nonetheless it was in the name of Islam. I see your point that “they’re wrong and their feelings cannot prevent others…”, but the fact is that their friends died, husbands, wives, sons died. I don’t see this as a case study into the First Amendment, but an appeal to be sensitive to the families and communities that lost people forever. I can’t look them in the eye and tell them to suck it up and get over it. I really don’t see how Feisal and Daisy can either when “they are trying, as they have for years, to make friends among non-Muslims.”

          • John Stackhouse

            No one, certainly not I, is saying, “Suck it up and get over it.” I wish, brother, you’d use more careful language in what is necessarily an emotionally charged discussion.

            What I am saying is, We must not confuse those 9/11 extremists with all Muslims, nor what those extremists did with what Feisal and Daisy are doing. Asking the Cordoba Project people to be sensitive to the feelings of family members who do not make this distinction would be asking them to respect a very, very serious mistake: equating violent extremism with mainstream American Islam. How could they possibly be expected to collaborate with that?

            In fact, it is important for all concerned, including the families of the victims, to get this distinction as clear as possible. People who identify Islam in all its forms with what happened on 9/11 are wrong, and importantly wrong, and their wrongly based feelings cannot be deferred to–whether they are families of the victims makes no difference–if it means preventing other people, who are not to blame for what happened, from doing what they are entitled to do.

            Many, many people will never “get over” what happened on 9/11. Nor should anyone, if “getting over it” means somehow forgetting it and dishonouring those who suffered or died that day.

            But let’s do all we can to understand what did, and didn’t, happen that day so that our feelings will line up with the facts and so that we can live accordingly–including living with our neighbours, such as Feisal and Daisy, who share our dismay over the terrible loss of life.

  9. Dan

    Dr. Stackhouse,

    I’m not sure that comparisons between Ground Zero and the location of the Ka’aba should even be entertained. The only thing worth noting about that comparison is the way in which the imperial ideology of America is deeply religious and is, therefore, idolatrous (i.e. Ground Zero, according to the comparison, is made into the most sacred or holy location for Americans).

    • John Stackhouse

      I agree, Brother Dan. To call Ground Zero “sacred” makes sense only in terms of a civil religion I don’t share–as I wouldn’t if I were an American and wouldn’t if a similar incident happened in Canada.

  10. Susan

    I suspect many non-New Yorkers do not realize that the old Burlington Coat Factory is NOT @ Ground Zero, it isn’t even within sight of GZ. The proposed cultural center would be a move for a congregation that has been in the neighborhood for years. I hope to visit it next time I’m in NYC

    • Mel


      The proposed site is 600 feet from Ground Zero. That’s very close. Furthermore, one of the landing gears from one of the planes on 9-11 landed on the building. That makes it inseparable from “Ground Zero”.

      But more importantly, it was being touted as the “Ground Zero” Cordoba Initiative by the imam Faisel Abdul Raouf himself. Thus it will be perceived by radical muslims the world over as being at “Ground Zero”.

  11. Brandon Chavis

    Why in the world would they not be allowed to build where they are legally allowed to? I am a christian and a conservative that also believes in the constitution. If you believe in the constitution, then you should uphold and FIGHT for the rights of every legal citizen and resident under it. What Muslims do or do not allow to be done in another country has no bearing in this argument because they fall outside of the reach of our constitution! You cannot pick and choose who the constitution applies to in this country because it applies to everyone legally in this country. Another way to look at the situation is were there no Muslims killed in the attacks outside the bombers themselves? Do we not need to remember and honor these Americans, whether they be Muslim, Jew, Christian, or Agnostic and their families as well? If we do not allow this Mosque to be built, then we cave to the terrorists and what they fought for, the downfall of American principles. Its like the black minister who fought for the right to assemble of the Ku Klux Klan. Certainly, he did not agree with their message and they hurled insults at him while he fought for their rights. However, he knew if their rights were trampled upon, so were his. The problem in this country is not the people, its the government and its over-reaching hand. Its not about respect, appropriateness, how we feel, or insensitivity. It is most certainly about rights and if these folks rights are trampled upon, so are all of ours.

    • chuck

      If the gov’t ever created a bill against building the mosque, I would certainly vote against it. Just like I was against the restriction of wearing the Muslim hijab in Europe. This is an appeal to the sensitivity of the issue. It is absolutely about “respect, appropriateness, how we feel, or insensitivity.” We are not robots who filter every decision through the constitution. Emotions are ok and encouraged.

  12. Brandon Chavis

    Emotions are ok and encouraged, however, emotions need to be tempered and we need to realize the ones who we are so emotionally against have emotions as well. We do not have the right to trample their emotions because our emotions told us it was acceptable. Just like our rights only extend so far as to not trample on any other man’s rights.

  13. James Samanta

    Respectfully I have to disagree with it being a matter of whether you believe that Islam is the root at 9/11 or not. I think that, intellectually, it is commendable that the leaders of the mosque want to reach out, BUT the issue as I see it is appropriateness.

    To use a Canadian analogy, it would be something like (or perhaps worse) to an evangelical group wanting to set up an outreach to first nations…next door to the site of an abandoned residential school. What the good intentions are, and what the message it conveys are often two separate things altogether, and it then becomes a question (short of some divine leading) as to whether the true purpose gets “lost in translation” or even at the very least could be seen as relatively benign.

    On CBC Newsworld this evening 08/18 (Connect with Mark Kelly) they had a Canadian relative of a 9/11 victim on the air, and she went down to New York City to see what the controversy was all about. She even brought a Muslim friend along to help her explain the intricacies of the Muslim faith, but in the end she left opposed to the mosque being so close, attributing it to not being against Islam, but the proximity was making it was difficult to bear. And…I would imagine this person made much more of an effort to keep an open mind than those who were touched by the tradegy of 9/11.

    • John Stackhouse

      I agree with this analogy, James, and I think setting up a Christian centre near a residential school might be a very good thing indeed. Besides whatever good it would do as its primary purpose, it would also say, “What happened in those schools was not in accord with the Christian faith. We stand with you in condemning it. And we are now here to serve you genuinely in the name of Christ. Let us not leave the scar of the residential school fiasco as our shared image of the (white) church among native peoples.”

      Only “corrective experiences” (as some therapists say) can help us heal from bad ones. Otherwise we perpetuate ruptured relationships on the basis of a fundamental mistake, rather than improving our understanding on the basis of which we can improve our relationships. We cannot, in everyone’s interest, allow mistaken identifications (all Muslims are implicated in 9/11; all white Christians are implicated in the residential schools) to remain.

  14. Eleanor Bennett

    I feel for all those who lost friends or family that day – 2,605 in the Twin Towers. Many Muslims not involved in this attack also lost their lives as many people chose not to remember. The sight of those buildings falling and the skeleton of the buildings remaining will be etched in my brain to the end of my life. September 11, 2001…
    Yes the perpetrators were extremist Muslims, but they could just have easily been radical Christians. Timothy McVeigh and the Oklahoma bombing anyone? Ground Zero itself is a “shrine” to that day and noone is suggesting that a mosque or church be built on that spot. I understand the mosque will be built some distance away from where the twin towers were. Christianity (and I AM a Christian) is about love and forgiveness, and perseverence in the time of trial. We must remain on guard against all who pervert their religions as an excuse to harm others…but let’s give these people a break – perhaps Muslims need a place to mourn their people who died in the Twin Towers.

    • Mel


      Timothy McVeigh was not a Christian. He was a self professed “agnostic”. There is no connection anywhere to him belonging to any church, or being motivated in any way by Christianity.

      On the contrary, there is substantial evidence (evidence which was suppressed directly by the Clinton administration, according to eye witnesses and other observers) that McVeigh had been in the Philippines immediately prior to the terrorist act, and had been assisted by Abu Sayif, an Islamic terrorist group there operating in Mindinao. There were other people (described by eye witnesses) as being of “middle eastern origin” at the site of the blast with McVeigh immediately prior to it. If you are interested, I can get the sources of that information for you.

  15. Mel

    Stackhouse’s point is based on three faulty premises. And upon these his whole argument collapses. Even many Muslims around the world are horrified and adamantly oppose what Faisal Abdul Raouf is doing in contructing the Cordoba Initiative edifice. They know exactly what is at stake.

    First, Stackhouse states, in the title, that it is a “simple question”. But it clearly is not!!

    He has not addressed numerous relevant and critical issues, such as the message that this will send to jihadists everywhere from Boston to Zamboanga. They will almost certainly interpret the construction of this edifice as evidence that Allah has blessed the actions of Osama Bin Laden and the stealth jihad of the Muslim Brotherhood. Expect an exponential increase in terrorism in places like Africa, Europe and Asia….and possibly N. America.

    Second. He defines “moderate” by his own subjective perception: “affable, serious, well-informed, well-spoken, serious, convinced…”.

    If that were the all it takes to be “moderate” then Hassan Turabi, (who has three earned doctorates from western universities and talks as smooth as Obama) would qualify. Turabi is seen by many as the spiritual head of the Muslim Brotherhood, which backs Hamas and numerous other groups listed as terrorist organizations.

    I have to wonder if Stackhouse has read Faisel Abdul Rauf’s book: ““What is Right with Islam is What is Right with America.” The main thrust of this book is that there is little for Americans to fear with Islam; that the US system of governance was already “Shariya Compliant”. Just a few changes here and there, and all would be well. Of course it is the US laws which must conform to Shariya, not the other way around, indicating, as all radical Muslims do, regardless of how affable, polite and intelligent they are, that Shariya is superior.

    But when he published it in the Arab world in 2007, he changed the name of the book to “A Call to Prayer from the WTC rubbles: Islamic Da’wa from the Heart of America Post 9/11.”

    “Da’wa” refers to an invitation to submit to Islam. When nations are about to be conquered, the population is first given the invitation to convert. If this invitation is refused, fighting comes next (qital) until there is complete subjugation — involving dhimmitude for Jews and Christians (people of the book) and death to everyone else.

    Clearly Rauf is trying to convey to the American people that there is nothing peculiarly different between Shariya Law and what Americans are used to already. Nothing to fear from Islam! But to the Islamic world, he is announcing that a da’wa is being issued to the American people from the rubble of 9-11. Remember, Muhammed himself declared that “war is deceit”. Can anyone spell “taqiyya”?

    Third!!!! and this is where his logic is most demonstrably faulty. He states that Faisal Abdul Raouf is “committed to good relationships with their neighbours of every stripe”. Wow! Its difficult to imagine an issue that has engendered such an outcry of revolt and sown such division among the American people. If Raouf truly was interested in “good relationships” he would place his 100,000,000 dollar mosque in a place which would not callously and cruelly stab the hearts and sensitivities of the American people.

    Methinks Stackhouse needs to remove his head either from the sand or the gobbledygook of spurious academics long enough to see the real world.

    • John Stackhouse

      The issue remains simple. Should Americans be forbidden–legally or through the pressure of public opinion–from doing something because some other people are unhappy about it?

      It doesn’t matter what some Islamists might make of this event in some other parts of the world. Americans can’t tell other Americans not to build a house of worship and a community centre because of what someone somewhere else might possibly make of it. Good grief: What happened to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness”?

      It doesn’t matter whether Feisal Abdul Rauf thinks America would be better off if it were a Muslim-majority country, or governed by shari’ah, or whatever he does think–just like many more Americans think America would be better off if it were governed by Christian principles (or secular humanist ones, or whatever). What happened to freedom of religion, freedom of speech, freedom of assembly, and the like?

      And it doesn’t matter if some confused people–whether Brother Mel or Charles Krauthammer or whoever–think that for American Muslims to build a mosque and community centre in the neighbourhood of a major city where they have previously been worshipping anyhow is the same as Americans putting a cultural centre in Hiroshima or Germans putting a cultural centre near Treblinka. They’re not the same. And, for that matter, the Pope was wrong, in my view, to tell the nuns to move their convent as if Nazism and Christianity were linked in any important way, which they simply weren’t.

      It’s not just the families of victims of 9/11 who are involved here. It’s also the families who will participate in this community centre and mosque who need to hear America say clearly what America likes to say beyond its borders to others as it tries to spread its version of democracy: “You will be treated fairly, regardless of what other people think or say or feel.” This is a time for Americans to step up and be true to their express values. That’s why it’s simple.

      • John

        I don’t buy this “freedom of religion trumps all” argument.

        I think Prof Stackhouse may be confused as to why others don’t want it built. He seems to think that others’ opinions or wishes have nothing to do with the argument.
        “I think it conveys insensitivity.”
        “Freedom of religion!!”
        “The message will embolden terrorists around the world.”
        “Freedom of religion!!”
        “Why don’t they simply build on a site that is not controversial? It’s not that we don’t welcome Muslims, it’s the site itself.”
        “That’s not freedom of religion!!”

        Since you are good friends with Feisal Abdul Rauf, please ask him to comment on the “good relationships with their neighbours” quote. Does he believe this or was that just a punch line at some cocktail party?

        • John Stackhouse

          I’m not saying “freedom of religion trumps all.” I’m saying that the mistaken feelings of some people should not trump the (much more important) rights and privileges of their neighbours.

          I am not “good friends” with Feisal and Daisy. I met them once and enjoyed interacting with them, formally and informally, over several days. I disagreed strongly with some of what Feisal said, as I likely would today. But unless he is preaching sedition and violence against the United States, and therefore puts his liberty and citizenship in jeopardy, we must not allow the mistaken feelings of some Americans to trump the rights and privileges of others.

          I don’t see why it’s difficult to grasp that this is the AMERICAN thing to do in this case: to take American values seriously and practice them, even if some people’s feelings get hurt, as they have been whenever stereotypes about groups have been practically challenged.

  16. John

    Prof Stackhouse, I know you are about religious unity, but it’s ok sometimes to oppose things like this. You won’t be looked down upon with respect to your Muslim friends.

  17. Grant

    A couple of years ago our church mission outreach team was in San Francisco helping to pack and deliver groceries at a food bank working mainly with the gay community and people with HIV/AIDS. We were politely asked to remove our team T-shirts which unavoidably identified us as Christians. This was due to the past unfortunate history of Christian condemnation of gays, and specifically because of the work of the Hilsboro Baptist Church and their “God Hates Fags” campaigns.

    Was this a similar situation but from the other side? Should we have refused to remove our T-shirts because the clientele should be expected to differentiate us from Fred Phelps and his ilk?

    • John Stackhouse

      Such situations require prudence, of course. It might have been better in that situation to concede.

      But without knowing the full dynamics of the situation, I would have argued pretty hard for you to keep your T-shirts on precisely to undercut the stereotyping of Christians as Westboro types and provide a much better–more accurate and more benign–example of Christianity.

      Activists on both extremes prefer you to drop your Christian identity in such situations. It’s easier for them to bifurcate the world into “Christian” homophobes and homosexuals.

      And the situation is indeed similar in NYC: All Muslims are (somehow–it’s never explicitly argued) being implicated in 9/11, so nothing Muslim should be allowed near Ground Zero. When someone courageously suggests instead that we want a clear, strong Muslim presence there to indicate (among other good reasons) that we mainstream Muslims did NOT have anything to do with 9/11 but instead are working and worshipping members of the NYC community, other Americans should say, “Yes, quite so. We affirm you as our fellow Americans and refuse to allow you to be tarred by the brush of violent extremists.”

  18. Grant

    Oops – of course I meant to type: Westboro Baptist Church. My apologies to any “Hilsboro” churches out there…

  19. Mel

    Brother John,

    You are confusing freedom of religion with morality. You state: “Should Americans be forbidden–legally or through the pressure of public opinion–from doing something because some other people are unhappy about it?” While we may not be able to do the former, we certainly should do the latter if it is morally wrong.

    The issue is not what is legal, but what is right. Not everything that is legal is right. In Canada its legal to kill one’s unborn child right up to the time of birth. That doesn’t make it right. And while it will take a miracle to change the law, in the meantime we should do everything in our power to convince people not to kill their offspring. In most western countries, corporations can make lucrative business partnerships with genocidal dictatorships, keeping them in power artificially. That may be completely legal. But its morally wrong. It may be legal for Fred Phelps et al to protest funerals of American soldiers. That doesn’t make it right. And people of good will should do their utmost to persuade these kinds of people to do the right thing, regardless of its legality.

    Building a mosque which will undoubtedly be interpreted as the triumph of Islam over fallen America around the world — 600 feet (that’s close) to Ground Zero — with all the hurtful emotions that engenders, at this point in time, is not just wrong, its an outrage. Its the nuclear equivalent of insensitivity.

    And that you could say “It doesn’t matter what some Islamists might make of this event in some other parts of the world” is baffling. If the perception that America has bowed the knee to Islam encourages jihadists to go on killing sprees and acts of terrorism, should that not be important to us? The congregations of Christians in Egypt, Pakistan, Nigeria, Indonesia and numerous other places where churches are burned and parishioners abused are just as much our brothers and sisters as our muslim “friends” in America. The widows and children being raped in Darfur in the name of radical Islam are just as much a “neighbour” to us as the person next door.

    And the implications of inviting Shariya law (which true moderate Muslims reject) do matter. Shariya law codifies the inferiority and inequality of women and non Muslims. It invokes the death penalty for apostasy, and other rights and freedoms which we enjoy in the west now. Faisal Abdul Raouf supports Shariya law.

    The National Socialist Party in Germany gained political power through democratic means. It made use of the freedoms enshrined in democracy to destroy it. The Third Reich gained power legally through the democratic process. The mainstream German churches at the time were asleep at the switch. Had they been awake and concerned, embarked on an educational program exposing the dangers of Nazism and standing firm against it, Hitler’s rise to power, with all the subsequent suffering and death, might have been avoided.

    Shariya law, if allowed to flourish in our lands, will do the same thing. If Amos’s injunction “let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like a never ending stream” means anything today, we as citizens must make every peacful, non violent effort to stop this “Third Jihad”.

    And if it was only a “community center” or a mosque, why would it cost over 100,000,000 dollars. This is something far greater, far more significant than you, apparently, are willing to admit.

    If you are such good friends with imam Raouf, please convince him to build a real mosque elsewhere, and use the 100,000,000 dollars to help victims of Pakistan’s flooding and the genocide in Darfur.

    • John Stackhouse

      I’ve replied to your more serious points already, Brother Mel. I agree with your distinction between what is legal and what is moral, and in this case I don’t think it makes a difference.

      As for what else you say: If you really think that the erection of this mosque and community centre will provoke Islamist extremism around the world, then sure, you have to oppose it. I don’t think it will, so I don’t. If you really think that the building of this building will bring American law closer to domination by shari’ah, then sure, you have to oppose it. I don’t think it will, so I don’t.

      And since you haven’t argued your points, but only declared your fears, then there’s not much to say back since I don’t share those fears. I do share your concerns (for the record, I am opposed to Islamist extremism and violence and I am opposed to shari’ah substituting for American, or Canadian, law). But I don’t see the causal linkage you do between this building going up and some sort of Islamist Armageddon resulting.

      • Mel

        Brother John,

        Yes, you have articulated well the differences between us. You clearly do not see the threat or the dangers of radical Islam. Having witnessed the genocides in the Nuba Mts, South Sudan, and Darfur first hand, (over 3 million deaths) and having just lost friends in the terrorist (Al Shabaab) attacks in Kampala last month, it will not be possible for you to convince me that radical Islam is not an existential threat.

        But let me quote from William Muir, author of “The Life of Muhammed”:

        “The sword of Mahomet and the Quran are the most stubborn enemies of civilization, liberty, and truth that the world has yet known”

        I would note that many Muslims who are highly intelligent, and oppose radical (shariya) Islam, share my fears. (99.9% of Darfur citizens are Muslims, yet they are victims of genocide by radical Islamic forces.

        But even some who agree with radical Islam oppose the edifice.

        I would also highly recommend the following books:

        “Secrets of the Koran” by missionary statesman Don Richardson

        “Muslim Mafia”, by P. David Gaubatz and Paul Sperry

        “The Two Faces of Islam” by Stephen Schwartz

        “The Nazi Connection to Islamic Terrorism: Adolf Hitler and Haj Amin Al Husseini”, by Chuck Morse

        “Nomad” and “Infidel”, two books by Ayaan Hirsi Ali

        “Stealth Jihad: How Radical Islam is Subverting America without Guns and Bombs”, by Robert Spencer

        “Religion of Peace? Islam’s War Against the World”, by Gregory M. Davis

        “America Alone, by Mark Steyn

        “Why We Left Islam”, compiled by Susan Crimp and Joel Richardson

        “What Every American Needs to Know About the Quran”, by William Federer

        “The Trouble with Islam: A Wake up Call for Honesty and Change”, by Irahad Manji

        “The Dunces of Doomsday”, by Paul Williams

        “Islam Rising”, by Jim Murk

        The mainstream media, our academic elite, and many politicians have gone out of their way to misrepresent the reality of radical Islam — much as the false prophets did about the impending doom to the nations of Israel and Judah prior to the Babylonian captivity.

        Here’s one quote from the book “Muslim Mafia” which was a recent undercover expose of Islamic organizations in the US, carried out by a former Air Force Ofice of Special Investigations trained researcher who actually infiltrated their ranks and recovered thousands of incriminating documents. The book quotes veteran FBI agent John Guandolo who said that “every major Muslim group in the United States is controlled by the Muslim Brotherhood”.

        And that’s the tip of the iceburg!

        I have heard similar things from Muslim friends of mine who do not share the radical views of the Muslim Brotherhood and imam Faisal Abdul Raouf.

        Please do your utmost to educate yourself before it is too late.

  20. Charles T.

    Some of the unfortunately ill-informed comments here, as they concern Islam (e.g., shari’a, taqiya, dhimma, etc. – all horribly misunderstood in comments above), seem to me to be the very reason such a community center as the Cordoba Initiative proposes is a good idea.

    • Mel

      Charles T, On what basis do you refer to these comments as “ill-informed”? Where do you get your information? I’ve lived in a Muslim country for over 10 years. I read both sides of the issue, and take special note of the views of former Muslims who have have lived most of their lives under the tyranny of radical Islam, as well as from Christian colleauges who live in Muslim countries. To insult what is said by simply saying it is “horribly misunderstood”, with no explanation, is mere sophistry and psypchological manipulation. It is not constructive dialogue.

      But don’t take it from me, take it from a former Palestinian terrorist who has since converted to Christianity. And there are numerous others who do know what they are talking about from first hand experience who will corroborate what is being said.

      • Charles T.

        I appreciate your experience and knowledge, Mel; they are quite valid, regardless of my opinion. I, too, have my own background and scholarly expertise, though I was not aware we were showing off pedigrees here.

        I do not think this is the proper forum to offer a more thorough and nuanced understanding of, e.g., shar’ia, taqiya, dhimma etc. To attempt to do so would be a bit disrespectful to the depth and complexity of the subject matter. (Do we really think we can understand sha’ria in a paragraph or by posting a wikipedia link? It is a historically weighty and complex and diverse body of thought that is adapting and changing even as we are reading this).

        I am simply stating that the relatively thin understanding of such terms as evidenced in a number of the comments above reinforces the need many of us have to be exposed to the depth and diversity of Muslim peoples and to the fullest range in understanding of their history and theology. Few have exposure to both, much less just one. The Cordoba Initiative, though not in and of itself, offers just such a thing and proposes to do so at a place where, symbolically, it is quite needed.

        • Mel

          Charles T.

          Well I would agree with you on the “depth and complexity of the subject matter”. But then that would put you at odds also with Dr. John, who repeatedly affirms the whole thing is quite “simple”.

          Shariya may be altering its outward appearance, but the core values and laws it contains has remained quite static. Same inequality, same approval of violent jihad to expand Islam, same authority given to the literal interpretation of the Quran, and the same adulation of the “prophet” as the best example for human behavior, despite his atrocious actions. There may be minor differences, especially between Sunni and Shi’a. But both, in their current forms, where actually practiced, are incompatible with western liberal democracy.

          If shariya is changing, it is not for the better. The only “shariya law” that is compatible with what is normally termed democracy is in the imagination of arm chair western academics.

          I’m aware that there is great optimism in some circles that a kind of Islamic reformation or renaissance is going to take place, and that America will be the right place to do that. (Which is probably how Rauf sold the whole concept to the New York City council, given the way it railroaded the whole thing through, bypassing normal procedures). But I don’t see any evidence of shariya law softening or becoming more moderate.

          I would appreciate any information that you have on how “shariya” law is being changed anywhere for the better.

          Also, are you aware of any “moderate” schools of Islamic jurisprudence. I know there have been calls for this, but since Itjtihad was closed centuries ago, new interpretations of the Quran are bound to meet with firm opposition from mainstream Muslim clerics. Any new school will inevitably face the same kind of opposition that the Mormons faced when they wanted to add to the cannon of the New Testament.

  21. Charles T.

    I hasten to add, Mel, that the short bibliography you suggest in your response to John is rather thin as well. In an act of sheer “sophistry and psypchological manipulation,” as you say, I will not offer my own. I’m sure if John sees fit he can post his own bibliography of resources on Islam and Muslims.

    • Mel

      Charles T. I’m not sure what you mean by “thin”. Have you read these books? If so, what do you find that is “thin”? If not, why would you comment on them?

      As for “short” I was being kind to John. I could list many more, as well as articles and people to contact as well. But I’ll wait to hear from John before offering the plethora of documentation available.

      • John Stackhouse

        I’m always glad for good sources to be shared. But I’m pretty sure there’s nothing to be gained by this particular exchange on the point in question. Of course I’m against radical/extremist/violent/Islamist Islam. That’s not the issue. The issue Brother Mel raises is whether a mosque and community centre being built near Ground Zero would make a significant difference to jihadist movements. He thinks it will; I don’t agree. And even if he were right, I still don’t think curtailing the rights of American citizens because of worries about what might happen elsewhere is a good thing to do except in extreme cases, which this clearly, to my mind, is not.

        I’m not an expert on Islam, so I don’t have anything particularly to add by way of bibliography. I passed graduate examinations in the scriptures and history Islam at the University of Chicago years ago; I have taught Islam as part of a World Religions survey over the last twenty years; I have participated in a couple of extended conversations with Muslim theologians (e.g., at the Yale Conference following the “A Common Word” statement, and then this past spring at Stanford); and have had the privilege of conversing with Muslims as disparate as an Iranian ayatollah and Irshad Manji.

        And may I just say that I cannot accept the idea that my comments in any way imply my indifference to the suffering in Darfur, or to the persecution of Christians (and others) by certain Muslim movements or regimes, or to the serious questions about how Muslims of various stripes will or won’t properly accommodate themselves to life in Canada or the United States. Indeed, it is a terrible thing to suggest. Let’s stick to the points at hand, please.

        • Mel

          Brother John,

          I apologize if my words offended you. But you were the one who said: “It doesn’t matter what some Islamists might make of this event in some other parts of the world”.

          I strongly disagree. It does matter! I was just wanting you to be chrystal clear about the implications of what you were saying.

          As the saying goes, “if America sneezes, Canada catches a cold”. Americans in particular, because of the US’s super power status, need to take into consideration how its activities, policies and actions affect the global scene. Look at how much trouble America has gotten itself into by ignoring the impact of its decisions on its global neighbours.

          And yes you may disagree, but I can assure you that the image of a triumphal Islam towering over the decimated symbols of American economic might will have a negative global impact.

          • Adam shields

            My question is how denying the building of a building here would lower tension somewhere else? Would not your assumption be the opposite? I would think denying Muslims the right to worship would be used as a rallying cry for radicals about how Muslims are being oppressed in the west and how the US in particular does one think while preaching a politics of freedom.

            • Mel


              Thank you. That’s a good question.

              Of course if the NYC Council had ruled the area a landmark site, that would have avoided that possibiity altogether. But now that they have not, yes, some radical Muslims are bound to throw a hissy fit if it is perceived that the building site is being changed due to American government pressure.

              But Muslim leaders (as the article by Muslim authors in the Ottawa Citizen article I posted clearly shows) know perfectly well what is going on. Muslims themselves are not exactly reluctant to cry foul whenever their sensitivities are offended. Most will understand that this issue is just too sensitive (as so many have publicly expressed already). And if Rouf is the perfect gentleman that he’s being made out to be, he could easily diffuse most of the problem by taking the high moral ground and proclaiming that he is changing the location because Islam is, in reality, a loving and tolerant religion…blah blah blah…and not eager to offend the sensitivities of Americans.

              But here’s the reason the symbolism is so dangerous. For decades the radical Muslim world has seen American power as the ONLY major barrier to world domination by Islam. Europe and many other places, through simple demographics, are on the way down that road (See Mark Steyn’s “America Alone”.

              The “invincibility” of American might is a deterent to many undecided Muslims who may understand that the Qur’an demands participation in jihad but are reluctant to put their necks on the line (despite the 72 dark eyed houris they might win in paradise)due to common sense thinking…America is simply too strong militarily, religiously, and culturally. But if they see Americans rolling over and playing dead, and a mosque towering over the ruins of America’s economic and cultural symbols of power, it is bound to be perceived as confirmation from Allah that jihad — with all the terrorism and violence that entails — really works!

              This is what Osama Bin Laden’s “strong horse” comments were all about. Islam is the strong horse, America the weak one. Undecided “moderates” (many of whom are simply Muslims because they were born into Muslim homes and have no understanding of the Qur’an and all it entails) will flock to the strong horse side and want to ride it for all its worth.

  22. Dan

    I’m fantasizing that “Charles T.” is actually Charles Taylor. If that’s the case, Mel would be best off cutting his (considerable) losses and running.

    • Mel

      I hop you are not referring to “THE” Charles Taylor of Liberia? I seriously doubt he has access to the internet from his cell at the ICC. 🙂

      • Matt

        I think that Dan is referencing the Canadian philospher, Charles Taylor.

  23. Rob Haskell

    If I understand this correctly it is essentially a conciliatory step by a Muslim or Muslim community, right? It is a statement that even though some Muslims may be terrorists and America haters, they are not. I applaud the attempt if that be the case. But anyone who has an ounce of insight into US politics would not even dream of actually doing it. These issues are never about anything but the hysteria they will generate. Rationality is irrelevant. The raw symbolism is too powerful to be interpreted. I’ll be very surprised if it goes through.

  24. Jim

    The Muslims have the “right” to build a mosque, but they shouldn’t because it is “inappropriate” (insensitive) in the context of 9/11.

    The non-Muslims have the right to publish a cartoon depicting (ridiculing) the Prophet Mohammed, but should not have, because it was “inappropriate” (insensitive) toward Muslims.

    If we value these rights to freedom of worship, expression, the press … doesn’t they have to work both ways?

    • John Stackhouse

      Of course things should work both ways. But if you think that a patently offensive cartoon linking Muhammad himself with terrorism is the same thing as building a place of worship and community centre, then there’s not much more I can say, except that Muslims were right to be offended by the Danish cartoon while 9/11 victims’ families and others are wrong to be offended by the proposed mosque and community centre–as many other victims’ families have said in support of that centre.

      • Mel

        Brother John.

        Perhaps you are unable to see any connection between Islam and 9/11, but most people do. And that’s why people are offended. And you may not see how this mosque at Ground Zero, like the Al Aqsa Mosque and Dome of the Rock (which, Muslims the world over see as a symbol of Islam’s supremacy over Israel), is going to be viewed the world over as a symbol of Islam’s supremacy over America, the “so-called” superpower. But others do.

        And that’s why they are offended. And that’s why this mosque is a terrible idea in a long history of bad ideas.

        Muslim imams are quick to put fatwas on people who offend them or “insult” Islam. Salmon Rushdie wrote a book which was deemed offensive, and is now living in hiding for the rest of his life. Others, like Ayaan Hirsi Ali, (who renounced Islam publicly) are facing the same threat of death.

        Now here’s my question to you.

        “Given the swift issuing of death fatwas (as described above)by self righteous imams for such minor infractions, and given that (in your opinion) what Osama Bin Laden did on 9-11 was so antithetical to “true Islam” — a “hijacking” of that religion, (to use George W. Bush’s explanation)and is opposed by “decent Muslims” like Abdul Faisal Raouf”, why are there no fatwas from leading Muslim clerics against Osama Bin Laden, or the leaders of Hamas, Hezbollah, Al Shabaag, Abu Sayif, Laskar Jihad, and so many other terrorist organizations around the world?

        • John Stackhouse

          I’m not saying I don’t see any connection. Goodness! I’m saying that the connection is not such as to warrant keeping non-Islamist Muslims from building a mosque near Ground Zero. As for a parallel between this edifice and Al-Aqsa, well, I shake my head. Of course some polemicists will try to say they’re the same, but they’re not. In fact, the willingness of all Americans to accept a mosque at Ground Zero is a direct repudiation of the myth of America as the Great Anti-Islamic Satan.

          As for fatwas against Osama, it may be that the people who don’t agree with the methods of Osama and his ilk aren’t going to then use them against them.

  25. jnjcasper

    Thank you for your conviction on the subject, expressed with reason and tact. If you don’t mind, I would like to link to a post I wrote on the subject, encouraging the Christian to look beyond Ground Zero, and consider what is taking place as Islam begins to be more and more visible in America. What attitude or response would best reflect our religion? Here is the link if you would like to explore:


    • Mel


      Thank you for posting that article.

      The problem with the messages of the two men you speak of, is that their message goes directly against the literal teachings of the Quran and the life of their “prophet” himself, as recounted in Islam’s own authoritative sources, the Quran and Hadiths. Love and tolerance (as normally understood by the western mind) are conspicuous by their absence.

      For the messages of both these men to significantly alter mainstream Islam (assuming they are sincere), there would have to be a radical new way of reinterpretting the Quran itself. But, as I’ve stated earlier, idjtihad (the ability to adopt authoritative interpretations of the Quran), like the cannon of Scriptures, is closed and has been for centuries.

      You write: “Still, he speaks to the Western Christian fear that violence, though certainly not the only message of Islam, exists truly within the heart of this faith. By stating it does not, he puts his foreign audience at ease. We have no idea if he is or is not correct in his assessment, but we are glad to hear it nonetheless”.

      Yes exactly! We are glad to hear it; too glad! We as humans have an incredible capacity to believe what we want to hear. And we so desperately want to believe that Islam is genuinely a religion of peace, that there is a message of love and tolerance there. So when Muslim leaders tell us its there, we are quick to believe them.

      But all Muslims believe that the Quran is the directly dictated word of Allah (through the angel Gabriel) and there is scant little love or tolerance in the Quran. Quite the opposite. And if the prophet really did preach love and tolerance, then he clearly violated his own teachings by his example.

      His acts include presiding over the beheadings of over 600 Jews who had surrendered unconditionally to him; the encouraging of his men to have sexual relations with captives that he had taken; the holding, selling and raping of slaves, the murdering and mocking of a woman whose only crime was to insult him; the consummation of his marriage to a young girl (Aisha) who was 9 years old at the time, teaching that Jews descended from apes and pigs, and that in the end times, the stones would cry out that a Jew is hiding behind them so that Muhammed’s followers could kill them. Faisal Abdul Raouf is on record as saying that Muhammed was the “ideal” human who all Muslims should try to emulate. Feel the love?

      If Faisal Abdul Raouf and Ahmed Al Sayih truly are trying to extract a message of love and tolerance from Islamic sources, it will be an uphill battle for sure.

      My take is that it is all a very carefully choreographed charade. Of course that doesn’t mean we are not to show love to these men. But Christ commands us to “be on guard” against wolves in sheeps clothing, and to be “wise as serpents, and harmless as doves”.

      Rather than being cheerleaders for some new, as of yet unsubstantiated and unknown, yet to be found version of a “loving and tolerant” Islam (my bet is we’ll find Bigfoot first), we should be helping them find the true Jesus who is all loving; the One who is the “Resurrection”, the “Truth”, and the “Life”.

      • jnjcasper

        You present the early history of Islam very well, and these issues should not be swept under the rug in the name of a now ‘loving and tolerant’ Islam, as some preachers proclaim. All the same, religions are free to develop — Biblical history is very violent in certain periods, but standard Christianity has moved away from it, emphasizing certain texts and marginalizing others (with difficulties, of course, and many divergent viewpoints).

        It may be harder for Islam to move away from this history of violence, but my point is that the Christian should ‘hope’ for this as an expression of Christian love. Of course this cannot be naive, neglecting the command to be as wise as serpents. But the Bigfoot comment reveals the attitude in this engagement which is the problem. Is love emphasized in Islam as it is in Christianity? Not so much. But tolerance is a major feature, and has been proven so in history. Our love, though, compels us to risk on their behalf, even to the point of death. And even if death comes, it is from this that the single seed dies but bears much fruit.

        I am not advocating any position on Ground Zero or any other measures to accomodate Islam in the West. Each point should be considered on its merits, and accepted/rejected. But our love to them must be the foremost feature of our engagement. Christians bear responsibility that this has not been the case in this recent controversy.

        • Mel


          Thank you for your response and willingness to address some of my points.

          I think we need to define what we mean by “tolerance”. Compared to medeival Catholicism during the time of the Inquisition, yes, Islam was generally more “tolerant” than the Jesuit Inquisitors. At times though it was equally as brutal as the worst of the Papists.

          And yes, there are places where Islam and other cultures have lived together in relative harmony. The Nuba Mts in Sudan is a case in point. (Prior to the National Islamic Front (NIF)take over in Khartoum. There the Muslim, Christian and traditional religious groups (split almost equally) had worked out an amicable arrangement to address interfaith issues, setting up a council to deal with things like marriage, land use, worship, etc. It had a great thing going.

          Unfortunately, when the Muslim Brotherhood backed NIF took over, it destroyed many of the mosques of these truly “moderate” muslims and ended the peace in favor of a jihad against the non muslims. Its justification for doing so was based on the teaching of the Qur’an, which the moderate Muslims had simply ignored.

          Tolerance according the the Qur’an means being allowed to survive “UNDER” the protection and domination of Islam. Or, as the world renowned expert on Islam (Bat Yeor) would say…dhimmitude.

          Under dhimmitude women are legally and culturally inferior; and are the literal possession of the men in their lives (who often have the power of life and death over them). Non Muslims are also legally inferior, have very few rights. Apostates from Islam can be sentenced to death. Non Muslims are not permitted to promote their religion, and can not criticize Islam. This is what passes for “tolerance” in a society governed by the Qur’an, a literal interpretation of which is clearly on the side of the radicals.

          Which is my main point. In order for “moderate” Islam to be established,(especially today when radical Islam has received such a huge boost from the billions of petro dollars the west has myopically handed to its proponents), the message inherent in the Qur’an and Hadiths must somehow be overcome.

          For those like Feisal Abdul Raouf who have stated that they view the Qur’an to be as authoritative as orthodox Muslims declare it to be, addressing the “Islamic sources problem” can be done only in two ways;

          1. Misrepresenting it(or ignoring it)to an uninformed western population when proclaiming Da’wa in the west (which is the normal route); or

          2. Trying to find new interpretations around it similar to the efforts of textual critics of the Scriptures. (I think this was what the other imam, you mentioned in your article (Ahmed Al Sayih)was attempting to do.

          But the 2nd method is virtually impossible, due to the problem of idjtihad (mentioned above), and also highly improbable, given the dominance of the Muslim Brotherhood in US Islamic institutions. And, apart from the temporary expedience of optics, the Muslim Brotherhood has no intentions of “softening” or moderating the problemmatic passages in the Qur’an and Hadiths, as clearly demonstrated in its unequivocal backing of Hamas (and the destruction of the state of Israel.

          Yes, by all means we are to love Muslims; including (maybe even especially) the radicals. But encouraging them to develop a “moderate” Islam which is virtually unachievable (hence the Bigfoot comment)is a dead end street. Nor should that be our “hope”. Our hope, which we should be prepared to die for is to bring Muslims out of the bondage of Islam to the only true God; our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

          As French philolgist Ernest Renan state:

          “Muslims are the first victims of Islam…to liberate a Muslim from his religion is the best service that one can render him”.

  26. Mel

    Dr. John,

    How do you define “Islamist”?

    For me, anyone who advocates for Sharia Law to supplant all other laws, is an Islamist. That would definitely include Imam Raouf. Not all Islamists live in caves, brandish scimitars or try to procure WMDs. Many of them wear suits and ties, are highly educated, talk smoothly and very deceptively.

    As for the fatwas, if these imams are not willing to use the same methods as “Osama and his ilk”, why do they use them against poor women like Ayaan Hirsi Ali?

  27. Matthew Westerberg

    I think a lot of good points have been made on both sides. The issue at hand does not appear simple to me.

    But no one has addressed John’s closing point, which I thinks helps to provide greater perspective on this issue:

    “Otherwise, let’s let our Muslim neighbours build their mosques, community centres, or whatever, and let’s all get back to work. The last time I looked, there were more important things—much, much more important things—for Christians, Muslims, and others to discuss, such as Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran, Sudan, Nigeria …”

    A couple of further thoughts on why we all should perhaps just get back to work:

    1) Islam – especially in its extremist forms but even in moderate expressions – is not, as one post put it, a “strong horse”. That is ONE reason why countries in which the majority of the population is muslim – such as Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran, and much of Sudan and Nigeria, as well as Saudi Arabia, Eqypt, Somalia, Indonesia, and so on – have such deep and systemic STRUCTURAL problems. These problems include economic stagnation, widespread corruption, comparatively low levels of education and literacy, the overt and severe subjugation of women and other minorities, and poor international relations – often with one another. I think it would be absurd to suggest that none of these problems have some causal relationships with the dominant religion. The various muslim cultures present in these countries are not poised to dominate the United States or Canada. And just because some muslims may interpret the construction of a mosque at ground zero as a step to the domination of America does not make it so. It just shows that many muslims continue to live in a fantasy world. I don’t see why we in Canada and America should join them in this.

    2) America is a very strong horse. So much so that even the bigots, among others, who profess to “hate” it must make use of American technologies and American terminology to voice their extreme denunciations. The result is that even the most radical and ill-conceived opposition to America tends to be infiltrated and diluted by the very culture that its proponents claim to abominate. They use YouTube to publish their propaganda videos; they have recourse to the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence to justify and protect the expansion of their radical religion or philosophy or lifestyle; in many cases they send their child to an American university in order to obtain a quality education; and often the child will stay in America to get a decent job. And so on. But American technology and political philosophy and culture is very attractive and compelling. Extreme muslims in America will win some converts, undoubtedly, but even moderate muslim groups will find it very difficult to expand significantly outside of their own narrow subculture without discarding much of their most objectionable characteristics. For example, how many women in New York City are going to rush to don the hijab? Answer: very, very few – no matter how much money is spent on local mosques and no matter where they are located. Because most men and women in America think that headscarves are rather unattractive and uncomfortable and wierd – expecially in July when worn next to a husband in shorts and a t-shirt.

    So suppose that a mosque is constructed at ground zero against the earnest opposition and often understandably wounded feelings of those who oppose it. That mosque will prove to be either moderate or not moderate. If moderate, well, then it’s ultimately no big deal. The members of the mosque will show their moderation by consistently denouncing the violent acts of their extreme coreligionists, including those who took part in the WTC bombings. But if the mosque proves to be radical, it will find that America is not very susceptible to its teachings, and that it will be consistently embarrassing itself and its religion in a very prominent location. It’s going to be a whole lot harder to get away with murder 600 yards from ground zero than it would be in a little noticed suburb on the outskirts of town.

    In short, there are much larger forces at work than those advocating or opposing this particular mosque. As Americans actively live out the American way before the eyes of their muslim neighbours – which may very well mean letting them build this mosque unhindered – and as American Christians actively live out their Christian testimony, I think that they’ll be offering more compelling reasons than they at first suspect for radical muslims to moderate their religious views, and, I hope, come through quiet and winsome and loving ways to a vital relationship with Jesus Christ.

    • Mel

      Matthew. Thank you for your input and thoughts.

      Regarding your point on Dr. John’s suggestion:

      ““Otherwise, let’s let our Muslim neighbours build their mosques, community centres, or whatever, and let’s all get back to work. The last time I looked, there were more important things—much, much more important things—for Christians, Muslims, and others to discuss, such as Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran, Sudan, Nigeria “.

      What seems to not be understood by this statement is that what is done here in North America can have a huge impact on what goes on in the kinds of countries listed above. Most of the problems in the cited countries above are “man made”. But the men who make the decisions that create those problems are often on this side of the ocean (North America) or in Europe, who give very little thought to the impact of their ideas or projects on the people affected in those countries.

      One example: Literally hundreds of millions of dollars have gone into aid and development projects in Sudan. Yet so many of these have been undermined by the decision of one major Canadian oil company which formed a lucrative business partnership with the radical Muslim Brotherhood backed regime in Khartoum. This partnership (which also brought in the Communist Chinese and Malaysian state oil companies) gave the regime in Khartoum critical moral cover and hundreds of millions of dollars worth of hard currency and strategic resources which have enabled that regime to not only undermine the humanitarian aid (the Samaritan’s Purse Hospital in Lui was bombed many times)and creating hundreds of thousands more refugees and displaced people needing assistance, but has artificially kept a criminal Islamic regime in power, enabling it to expand its genocide from South Sudan, and the Nuba Mts into Darfur.

      It gets very tedious having to keep “going up the down escalator”. To me “getting back to work” to help the destitute in those countries involves, in part, informing and pressuring people on this side of the ocean as to how their actions and policies are impacting those who are suffering, contributing to the problems. Or, In short, stopping the down escalator so the suffering people can be truly helped to climb the stairs to better health and well being.

      As for your comments on America being a “strong horse”, I wish I could agree with you. On this issue, I’m afraid I have to agree with Feisal Abdul Raouf (who Dr John rightly described as “intelligent”). He has clearly implied that America was “ripe for Shariya”. The average North American knows almost nothing about Islam.

      Your belief that…

      “As Americans actively live out the American way before the eyes of their muslim neighbours” that this will be compelling incentive for radicals “to moderate their religious views, and, … come through quiet and winsome and loving ways to a vital relationship with Jesus Christ…”,

      …shows that you have good intentions. But I hope you will dig just a bit deeper. Apart from not being impressed with “American culture” (they almost universally consider it decadent) your words (absent the reference to Christ) sound very much like those of Jim Buckee, CEO of Talisman Energy at the time of its entrance into Sudan. His view was that his oil company would be a “moderating influence” on the National Islamic Front regime. Instead, he ended up helpless to prevent his airstrips and oil company infrastructure being used by Sudan’s gov’t forces from launching helicopter gunship attacks on innocent non Muslim villagers in South Sudan (See Canadian government “Harker Commission” report, Feb 2000). But worse, putting so many strategic resources in the hands of this criminal regime allowed them to expand their genocidal ambitions into Darfur, where there are now well over half a million deaths and 3-4 million displaced.

      I’m tired of facing Christians in these countries and being asked “why do Canadian and American Christians support the people who are persecuting us”? I shudder to imagine the demoralization this will be to the brave spirits of these brothers and sisters in Christ who will almost certainly see evangelical support for a Victory Mosque in New York (for that is exactly how their oppressors will portray it) as another manifestation of Christian support for those who are causing their suffering and pain.

      • Adam Shields

        Mel, I respect your opinion on this. But I have heard almost the exact opposite from others that work in the Muslim world (that the rejection of this mosque will show those moderate Muslims that exist in Muslim countries that the West really is undertaking a war against Islam and that those moderate muslims might as well join the more radical elements because the west has no intention of following its own rules of freedom of religion or equal protection).

        About the Victory Mosque issue: people build houses of worship when the live in an area. Do you really think that the victory mosque concept is real? Would the same be said of Christians in Jerusalem or in Cordoba Spain once the Moors were expelled? So if that is the case, if everyone just builds houses of worship when they live in an area, does not that just eliminate the whole idea?

        • Mel


          Yes, I’m sure there will be some Muslims who will riot no matter what happens. It takes very little to incite some Muslims to pillage and plunder….a cartoon, teddy bear, making ice cream that looks offensive, beauty pageant..etc. But if Imam Raouf made the decision, (not any US government officials, it would make a huge difference. All Imam Raouf would have to say is that “we respect the sensitivities of the American people and will build our mosque/community center elsewhere. That would greatly diffuse the tension.

          But as it stands, it is difficult to escape the conclusions of so many muslims who are calling this a “deliberate provocation”. Why would Raouf insist on this location when he knows perfectly well that if he built the mosque in another location of town, it could just as easily achieve his stated goals? Why this specific location when it is obviously creating such enormous and volatile emotions? The only logical answer is that his stated goals are not his priority objectives.

          And yes, the “Victory Mosque concept is quite real. There is no question of that.

          Incidentally, Hamas as well as the Council for Arab Islamic Relations (CAIR), which has been documented to be a front (among many others) for the Muslim Brotherhood, (See the book, Muslim Mafia) have come out strongly in favour of this mosque. This is not about building a benign mosque in your neighbourhood.

  28. Ground zero mosque: 2 more responses | connexions

    […] Prof. John Stackhouse – Ground Zero Mosque: It’s a Simple Question But it seems to me that this is not a difficult matter to understand or decide. In fact, it comes down to an utterly simple question. Either we think all Muslims are somehow implicated in the 9/11 terrorist attacks, or we don’t. […]

    • Mel

      It comes down to whether one believes the group in question “the Cordoba Initiative” and its chief spokesperson is on the side of the radicals or a true “moderate”. There are many moderate Muslims who oppose the building of this mosque, including leaders of the Islamic community in Canada, as well as Abdul Rahman Al-Rashed, the general manager of Al Arabiya TV. The Canadian Muslim leaders called the mosque an “intentional provocation”.

      The actual evidence to date, suggests that Feisal Abdul Raouf is not, in fact a “moderate”, but a very articulate, affable, intelligent, and smooth radical. This evidence includes statements he has made (or not made) on terrorist organizatons; his book, published with one title in America and another in the Muslim world, using the loaded word “Da’wa” (why would he use two titles unless he is trying to give one message to Americans and another to his own people?) as well as his connections and support from groups inextricably linked to the Muslim Brotherhood, as well as his ultimate support for “Shariya Law in America. These should suggest to those eager to follow the Biblical injunction to beware of “wolves in sheeps clothing”, that the issue needs very careful research before jumping on any bandwagon.

      And one thing is certain. If the Cordoba Initiative’s goal was to “build bridges” that clearly is not working. It appears more likely (at least from what he has written and said) that he is paving a road, smoothing the way for the expansion of Islam and the imposition of “Shariya Law in America. And I, for one, fail to see how that is something for which Evangelicals should be voicing support.

      • John Stackhouse

        I’ll venture just once more into the breach, since Mel and I have altered each other’s stance not a whit.

        The Canadian Muslim “leaders” he keeps referring to are not, in fact, leaders of much. Check them out and you’ll find that they represent one very liberal fringe group and have been widely denounced by more mainstream Muslim groups. Mel, if your whole point is that you can tell a moderate from a radical, and yet you think very liberal Muslims are moderates, then no wonder you think Feisal is a radical: your frame of reference is shifted ‘way too far to the left.

        But the other points you make here you’ve made before in earlier comments, and I’ve already replied as best I can to them. I don’t think you understand who and what is involved here, and so you’re much more afraid than I think you need to be.

        • Mel

          Dr. John. Yes of course these “liberal” muslims would be denounced by the more mainstream Muslim groups because most “mainstream” Muslim organizations in Canada are funded and controlled by the same groups that fund and control the mainstream Muslim groups in the USA. (I refer you again to “Muslim Mafia” the recent expose on CAIR and the Muslim Brotherhood organizations in North America). But that doesn’t mean that most Muslims themselves subscribe to the views of those official “mainstream Muslim” groups. On the contrary! Many of them disdain their approach, arguing that this is exactly why they came to Canada…to escape such radical Islamic views.

          I’m amused that you would refer to my views as being “way too far to the left”. Usually I’m accused of being way too “right wing”. (Or were you being facetious?) Personally I try to refrain from commitment to either camp, and stick to the truth, with, inasmuch as it is possible, “ruthless” theological and factual dedication.

          I gave you my clear definition of “moderate”, (and “radical”) which is based on objective criteria — namely not advocating Islamic Shariya Law to replace all other forms of human government. This is the definition that many of my moderate Muslim friends use, as well as Christian pastors and other clergy in Muslim lands. It makes litle difference if someone merely renounces “terrorism” or violence, since there are other ways of waging jihad and imposing Shariya Law on the khaffir. And with this definition, Raouf and his Cordoba Initiative do not fit the “moderate” camp. I asked you for your definition but have not received it. So if you have a different definition, its only natural that we will talk past each other. I will repeat, how do you define a moderate Muslim?

          Perhaps you have heard of another tragic case of a Muslim leader who was also lauded as a “moderate”, who came to do a similar “bridge building” excercise in the USA. This man, Muzzammil Hassan, was the founder of “Bridges TV” in Buffalo, New York. As the name suggests, he wanted to build bridges too, to show Islam in a positive way and remove popular stereotypes associated with Islam in the American psyche. But when his wife presented him with divorce papers, he beheaded her. If he was building bridges, it was between Islam and the Mafia, not the American people.

          I may not have met Raouf as you have, but I have read his own words; seen enough of his actions and those of his close associates to smell a huge rat. And I maintain that when it comes to sensing a ruse, my nose, I think, is sufficiently proficient.

          From “prophet” Muhammed’s treachery at Hudaybayya, to Hassan Turabi’s “oil development will bring peace to Sudan”, deception, dissimulation and deceit have been a hallmark of radical Islam.

  29. Mel

    Joseph Farah, of Worldnetdaily, one of the largest online news sources available, has an interesting take on the choice of the location for the Cordoba Initiative Mosque that is worth reading.

    Farah is a Christian who was born in Lebanon and understands the Muslim mind well.

  30. Paul

    I do not believe the GZ issue is as simple as Mr. Stackhouse states that either we think all Muslims are somehow implicated in the 9/11 terrorist attacks, or we don’t. There are motives to be considered and the waters are murky. The GZ debate is now international in scope. Here is a quote from Ahmad Moussalli, a professor of Islamic Studies at the American University of Beirut. “The United States has historically been distinguished by its tolerance, whereas Europe, France, Belgium and Holland have been among those who have rejected the symbolism of Islam. Embracing it will be positively viewed in the Islamic world.” History appears to prove the opposite. Embracing Islam has led Europe, France, Belgium and Holland down a path of strife and violence and has resulted in the growth of intolerance on both sides of the equation. American tolerance has resulted in mosques, synagogues and churches all over the USA worshiping in peace . All have the potential for open dialogue. Yet the focus remains at GZ. Why?
    Not all is transparent. There are words to consider by Kamal Saleem, Walid Shoebat and Zach Anani, all former terrorists but now converted followers of Christ. To a man they all warn of the dangers we in the West are facing from the different methods of jihad. Their insights are shocking. There are also the words of Mosab Hassan Yousef (Son of Hamas) to consider, also a Christian convert. There are many other Christian converts with understanding of Islamic motives and they are not voicing the sentiments of Ahmad Mousallie.
    The tolerance shown in the West towards Islam can stand on its own. Yes there have been sad cases of intolerance but obviously Ahmad Mousallie sees tolerance rather than intolerance in America. But given the concerns and fears people have over Islam and in particular the GZ mosque, wouldn’t a religion of peace see the wisdom in defusing the debate by backing down on their plans? Building the mosque may be viewed positively by some in the Islamic world, others will view it as something much more than that. But for many Americans it will sow a root of bitterness that for many will have no healing.

    • John Stackhouse

      There’s lots of innuendo here, but not much in the way of argument, so far as I can see.

      The comment starts with an apparent contradiction, so I have to ask: Is America’s policy of welcoming a good thing or not versus the attitude and experience of the European countries you name? If it is, and I think it is, then welcoming a neighbourhood mosque near Ground Zero seems, as I’ve been maintaining, a properly American thing to do.

      As for warnings from ex-Muslims now claiming to be experts on Islamic terrorism, the recent exposure of Liberty University’s Dean Caner makes some of want to be pretty sure that anyone else who claims such expertise really is who and what he says he is.

      Furthermore, what actually is the argument they are supposed to be making? That this community centre and mosque will somehow foment Islamist violence in America? Okay, maybe it will: Any group of Muslims could be meeting to plot the overthrow of America, just like any group of Montanans could be meeting for the same reason in their survivalist camp. Or they could just be meeting to go hunting. The question is, what evidence do you have that that’s what’s going to happen?

      So far I haven’t seen any, just dark hints of what might happen. And that seems to me–sorry, folks, but I gotta say it–simply bigoted. It’s exactly what I’ve been asserting from the start: such a position stems from a naked prejudice against Muslims per se.

  31. Isaac Whiting

    John, your original post makes me think about more than just the ground zero mosque. Are all Muslims implicated in the 9-11 attacks? I answer no to that question and think the reasons why are spelled out clearly above. However, there is a further question. Is the religion of Islam itself implicated in the terrorist attacks? I realize this question attempts to separate the religion from its adherents, but it seems to me this is the question that many Americans are reacting to, whether they realize it or not. There is evidence that suggests to many people that a great deal of the Quran, Muslim history and tradition would approve of the 9-11 attacks. If this is true it is distinct from say Christianity. Christianity has its share of atrocities, but it would be difficult to argue that the main trust of its teachings, scripture, tradition, etc. would support things like the crusades or killing doctors who perform abortions.
    This is the idea that has power in the minds of Americans I know. If the religion itself is often generative of war and terror then while any particular Muslim might be a fine citizen and not a threat it is difficult to keep Muslims in general out of the category of “suspect until proven innocent”. Is the ‘moderate’ Muslim majority really the same as the nominal or semi-adherent majority of any religion? If a moderate Muslim suddenly becomes more religious, studies the Quran more, prays more, etc., does such a Muslim often move closer to Islamic-extremism? What many Americans know of Islam’s teachings and what we see in the news often suggest the answer is yes. In fact, the very term Islamic-extremism carries the idea that those who are more zealously Muslim will become more like Osama Bin Laden. If this whole argument is wrong, then it is wrong, but the limited sum total of the evidence I have seen and read suggests it is true.
    As for the ground zero mosque I agree that it should not be prevented by law. Whether Islam engenders terrorism or not I disagree with Islam. I am a Christian. So, for me there is an idealogical ‘battle’ with Islam. But, as a Christian I must never make that battle identical with any war or use it to inspire persecution. It is a battle for people, people who are currently Muslims, not against them. As a Christian-American I must also not allow this battle to be identified with any particular law or political party.

  32. Paul

    Examining what has happened within other nations in regards to tolerating Islam practices is a good place to start. Listening to warnings from people who understand Islam and all of its nuances is one way to be better informed. The history that concerns me is ‘out there’ for all to Google and expressed very well by Isaac Whiting in his post. Peoples concerns do not make them bigots but labelling as such is just plain cheap, Mr. Stackhouse.

    • John Stackhouse

      It’s not “cheap” if it is true. I’m not slandering anyone. My point is that if we are simply attributing guilt, or even significant suspicion to the point that we discourage people from doing things they normally would be allowed to do, on the basis of their religion alone, then we are acting in a prejudiced, which is to say, bigoted, fashion.

      Who are the people who “understand Islam and all of its nuances”? Good grief: Who would claim to be that expert on a religion of a billion people existing for hundreds of years?

      As for “Googling” history, well, come on. Everything is on the Net, from nonsense and libel to hard information and, indeed, lots in between.

      So let’s make serious arguments or let’s keep quiet.

  33. Paul

    You know very well what I mean about all of its nuances. Someone what knows the language, has been taught it from childhood, lived it and breathed it, is in a better position to understand things that would escape you or I. You are belittling their witness for the sake of argument. Plus you again are implying that I am unable to discern what is utter nonsense form what has some validity. Yes, ineed, let’s make serious arguments or just keep quiet, as you say.

    • John Stackhouse

      Brother Paul, I’m not trying to exasperate you. A religious “insider,” as you say, may well understand things that an outsider would not. But the opposite is true also: I know many non-Christians who understand Christianity better than someone you might pull off the street in the U.S. who has grown up in the Christian church and calls himself a Christian, as you can well appreciate. And if such a person were to convert to Islam and then tour Islamic countries denouncing Christianity, you might well want to say, “Hey, just because the guy grew up going to First Baptist Church in Tulsa and calls himself a Christian doesn’t make him a spokesman, let alone an expert.” That’s what I’m saying might well be the case with the people you mention. Are they, in fact, religious experts?

      And I’m still waiting for an argument, rather than “Well, you can find out what you need to find out via Google” or the like. That’s not an argument, is it?

      So either you actually pose an argument or we’ll have to call it quits for fear of just ticking each other off!

  34. Paul

    You’re still waiting for an argument? What does that mean? Research has no validity because it happens to be on the net? They I suppose your comments and mine have no validity either since they too are on the net? Either that or I’m too dumb to be able to validate them. You will get no argument from me… my last visit. Good day Mr. Stackhouse.

  35. Tim

    Intellectual reasoning is one thing but reality on the ground quite another. On the ground the reality is that this proposed building is problematic from a variety of viewpoints. Yes, it is legal, but is it prudent? Is it sensitive? Is it constructive? Human beings are creatures of intellect but also of emotion. Rightly or wrongly (you decide) this edifice would be hurtful to the many survivors and to the relatives of those who perished as a result of the terrorist attacks on 9/11. Common decency informs us that for their sakes alone this project should be terminated.

    • Adam shields

      essentially you are making a utilitarian argument. More people may be hurt if it is built than if it is not built. That may be true, but is that how Christian are supposed to do moral reasoning? And while I hear that some think that it is true world wide, not just locally in New York or the US, there are others that disupute that. You can add up your experts and the other side can add up thiers and I am sure you can match one for one.

      So it stil comes down to conjecture, no one really knows the longterm ramifications. I trust, as I am sure most that are reading this post no matter what position they have, that God is in control.

      So my position is that, when you look at scripture and how Jesus, Paul and others handled conflict, most of the time, if the conflict was between the insider and the outsider in power, God is with the outsider. Jesus was quite harsh with the Pharisees who he thought should know better, but was a quite gentle with the Samaritan woman. Paul was harsh with
      Peter who he thought should know better but gentle with the leaders in Athens. There are many similar examples. I would posit that in this situation, the Muslims are the outsider and they should be treated with gentleness and respect.

  36. John Stackhouse

    …And now we’re circling back and having people repeat points made earlier on. So I’ll close the comments here and new points can be raised on the “Part Two” I’ve posted.

  37. Debating Islam: Try fighting fairly - The Search

    […] craziness being whipped up south of the border. From Vancouver, Regent College theology professor John Stackhouse, who has met the "intelligent" Muslim behind the New York mosque, writes o…"It seems to me that this is not a difficult matter to understand or decide. In fact, it comes […]

  38. links for 2010-09-03 –

    […] Ground Zero Mosque: It’s a Simple Question « Prof. John Stackhouse’s Weblog "If we don’t think all Muslims are implicated in the attack, then of course they should be allowed to build a mosque or community centre or whatever the heck they want to build wherever the zoning and funding will allow—just like any other citizens." (tags: Islam religion NYC) […]


Comments are closed.