Learning About Religious Tolerance Through the Recent Mosque Controversy

In recent weeks, there has been a controversy in New York City involving a Muslim center that is a few blocks from where the Twin Towers once were. This controversy highlights the misperceptions that many people in this country have about Muslims. Bob Hooper, a regular blogger in Everyday Citizen, wrote an informative blog about the prejudice and anger among certain groups of Christians towards mosques in various parts of the country. In a Jasper the Cat cartoon that I did last December, I wrote about the various things that I learned about Muslims in America. From what I learned, I believe that most Muslim Americans are patriotic and just as concerned about extremists as their fellow Americans. In this blog, I write of more things that I learned in these past few weeks.

Though a lot of the anger towards Muslims has emanated from Christians, many other Christians support the building of the Muslim center and have taken stands against the Islamophobia that seems to be prevalent in this culture. Interfaith United , for instance, is an ecumenical group that has tried to promote understanding between Christians, Jews and Muslims and has fought for justice issues. They recently protested a pastor who burned the Koran in Florida.

In the United Methodist Church home page is a report on the mosque controversy. In their webpage, it is written:

The United Methodist Book of Resolutions calls for “better relationships between Christians and Muslims on the basis of informed understanding, critical appreciation and balanced perspective of one another’s basic beliefs.”

Another resolution calls for United Methodists to denounce discrimination against Muslims and “counter stereotypical and bigoted statements made against Muslims and Islam, Arabs and Arabic culture.”

When it comes to the issue of allowing Muslims to build mosques, supporting their right to worship is not just in line with the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, said the Rev. Stephen J. Sidorak Jr., the top executive at the United Methodist Commission on Christian Unity and Interreligious Concerns. It’s also part of Jesus’ command to love our neighbor, which as the parable of the Good Samaritan shows, can include those of different religions.

“If we want to repair the breach that opened up between some Christians and some Muslims on Sept. 11, 2001, if we want to redeem the tragic events of that day, we must — as Isaiah said — come now and reason together,” Sidorak said. “That’s clearly the foundation of any interreligious work.”

The Methodist webpage cites a two year Duke University study of American Muslims and found that a strong Muslim community that is part of the mainstream of American society is a strong deterrent to radical Islam. David Schanzer, an associate professor at Duke and one of the study’s authors, wrote:

Our findings are that healthy, robust Muslim communities can be a bulwark against radicalization. We don’t know exactly why individuals radicalize. But most terrorism studies show that individuals who go down that path feel alienated. They don’t feel that they fit into (the) wider society in which they live.

The Rev. Dr. Michael Kinnamon, the General Secretary of the National Council of Churches of Christ in the USA, wrote a statement on the National Council of Churches USA website this statement:

On the eve of Ramadan on August 11, the National Council of Churches, its Interfaith Relations Commission and Christian participants in the National Muslim-Christian Initiative, issued a strong call for respect for our Muslim neighbors.

“Christ calls us to ‘love your neighbor as yourself’ (Matthew 22:39,” the statement said. “It is this commandment, more than the simple bonds of our common humanity, which is the basis for our relationship with Muslims around the world.”

The statement supported building Cordoba House “as a living monument to mark the tragedy of 9/11 through a community center dedicated to learning, compassion, and respect for all people.”

Now the National Council of Churches reaffirms that support and calls upon Christians and people of faith to join us in that affirmation.

The alternative to that support is to engage in a bigotry that will scar our generation in the same way as bigotry scarred our forebears.

Three-hundred years ago, European settlers came to these shores with a determination to conquer and settle at the expense of millions of indigenous peoples who were regarded as sub-human savages. Today, we can’t look back on that history without painful contrition.

One-hundred and fifty years ago, white Americans subjugated black Africans in a cruel slavery that was justified with Bible proof-texts and a belief that blacks were inferior to whites. Today, we look back on that history with agonized disbelief.

Sixty years ago, in a time of war and great fear, tens of thousands of Japanese-Americans were deprived of their property and forced into detention camps because our grandparents feared everyone of Japanese ancestry. Today that decision is universally regarded as an unconscionable mistake and a blot on American history.

Today, millions of Muslims are subjected to thoughtless generalizations, open discrimination and outright hostility because of the actions of a tiny minority whose violent acts defy the teachings of Mohammed.

On August 9, 2010, the Unitarian Universalist Service Committee and the Unitarian Universalist Association sent a joint statement to New York City mayor Michael R. Bloomberg expressing strong support for the Cordoba Center. In their letter, they write:

The shortsightedness of the center’s critics is especially evident when one considers that, over the long run, the voices of moderate Islam hold the key to defeating extremism. These are the voices that represent the overwhelming majority of those within Islam, including the millions of Muslim American citizens, who disavow and repudiate violence. Accordingly, the mosque and community center near Ground Zero should be welcomed as an important effort by moderate Muslims to reach out to interfaith communities in New York and beyond. To demonize them is at odds with the geopolitical interest of the United States and our cherished — and constitutionally protected — tradition of religious freedom.

Many Christians have a mistaken belief that Islam and Christianity cannot live in peace. This belies the fact that for the past several decades, various Christians have built bridges with Muslim communities to communicate and better understand each other. In the 1960s, for instance, the Catholic Church produced the document Nostra Aetate. It gave the Catholic Church a new relationship with nonchrisitan religions, and it was the first step in a reconciliation between Christianity and Judaism and Islam. The document wrote in regards to the Church and Muslims:

The Church regards with esteem also the Muslims. They adore the one God, living and subsisting in Himself; merciful and all- powerful, the Creator of heaven and earth, who has spoken to men; they take pains to submit wholeheartedly to even His inscrutable decrees, just as Abraham, with whom the faith of Islam takes pleasure in linking itself, submitted to God. Though they do not acknowledge Jesus as God, they revere Him as a prophet. They also honor Mary, His virgin Mother; at times they even call on her with devotion. In addition, they await the day of judgment when God will render their deserts to all those who have been raised up from the dead. Finally, they value the moral life and worship God especially through prayer, alms-giving and fasting.

Since in the course of centuries not a few quarrels and hostilities have arisen between Christians and Muslims, this sacred synod urges all to forget the past and to work sincerely for mutual understanding and to preserve as well as to promote together for the benefit of all mankind social justice and moral welfare, as well as peace and freedom.

Jewish leaders have come out in support of the Cordoba House. Rabbi Richard Jacobs of the Westchester Reform Temple in Scarsdale, N.Y said:

We need this Islamic center to preach love and respect in contrast to those who preach hate and destruction.

Rabbi Ellen Lippmann, co-chair of Rabbis for Human Rights, told AOL News:

Many people still think of Muslims as terrorists. My hope is that a center like this will help people understand that not all Muslims are violent.

Over a billion people in the world are Muslims and most are not terrorists. There are around six million Americans who are Muslim and most are not terrorists. According to an article in the November 9, 2009 edition of the New York Times, about 3,557 Muslims are in the American military, many of them being deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan. As of 2006, some 212 Muslim American soldiers had been awarded Combat Action Ribbons for their service in Iraq and Afghanistan, and several have been killed. In 2006, for instance, Petty Officer Michael A. Monsoor, a Navy Seal, won a Congressional medal of honor for pulling a member to safety during a firefight in Ramadi, Iraq. Petty Officer Monsoor died to save another American soldier. Captian Eric Rahman is an Army reservist who won the Bronze Star for his service in Iraq in the beginning of the war.

Muslims are like any other religion, with moderates and extremists both. Christianity has suffered through bouts of extremism as well, with the pogroms, inquisitions, witch trials and the current prejudices fanned by the Religious Right today. Muslims have shown a more tolerant, more generous side.

Last year Norman Gershman showed a photo exhibit of Albanian Muslims who saved thousands of Jews during the Holocaust

The book A VANISHED WORLD by Chris Lowney tells of a time in medieval Spain when Muslims, Jews and Christians lived in peace.

Badshah Khan was a friend of Gandhi and a pacifist Muslim who fought for the independence of India and was nominated for the Nobel Peace prize in 1985.

Hopefully Christian and Jewish leaders who have spoken up can counter the antagonism found in certain Christian circles against Muslims.

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About angelolopez

I’ve wanted to be an artist all my life. Since I was a child I’ve drawn on any scrap of paper I could get a hold of. When I went to San Jose State University, I became more exposed to the works of the great fine artists and illustrators. My college paintings were heavily influenced by the humorous illustrations of Peter De Seve, an illustrator for the New Yorker magazine. I also fell under the spell of the great muralists of the 1930s, especially Thomas Hart Benton and Diego Rivera. I graduated with a degree in Illustration. Since my time in college, my goal has been to be a successful children’s book illustrator. I’ve illustrated 3 books: Two Moms the Zark and Me by Johnny Valentine in 1993; Night Travelers by Sue Hill in 1994; and Cherubic Children’s New Classic Story Book Volume 2 for Cherubic Press in 1998. I’ve painted murals for Lester Shields Elementary School in San Jose, the Berryessa branch of the San Jose Public Library, and Grace Community Church in Los Altos. I’ve had a few illustrations published in South Bay Accent Magazine and I will have an illustration published in the January/February issue of Tikkun magazine.
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