The Catholic Thing
From Rauf to Left Print E-mail
By Emina Melonic   
Tuesday, 07 September 2010

I hardly remember my paternal grandmother – she died when I was five – but I have a few, treasured memories of her including one vivid recollection of nana at prayer.

She was a devout Muslim, so she prayed five times a day. I watched her carefully perform the ritual and emulated the movements of her body. She repeatedly whispered prayers, and I, knowing only one prayer, whispered with her, hoping that I wasn’t making a spiritual blunder. This was mostly a mystery to me – the bowing and the praying – but I knew that with my nana I was somehow becoming closer to God.

This memory came back to me in the current debate over the so-called “Ground Zero Mosque” (or Park51 or Cordoba House or Cordoba Initiative or whatever it’s being called now) and I contemplate what it means to be Bosnian Muslim and American.

I cannot support the building of this Islamic center and mosque as proposed by Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf and his wife, Daisy Khan. 

The usual, and oft repeated, reason is obvious: location. Everyone can see how strangely clumsy and tactless the proposed location truly is. 

Park51 proposes to be “dedicated to pluralism, service, arts and culture, appreciation for our city and a deep respect for our planet.” Is Park51 trying to save the world or run a community center? The mission statement also hints at interfaith dialogue as one of the center’s purposes, but it does not explain how such a dialogue would be established and brought to fruition.

Imam Rauf’s twisted rhetoric and reasoning for building the Islamic center and mosque changes daily and is peppered with euphemistic expressions such as “building bridges” and hijacked terms like “tolerance” and “dialogue.” In a press conference, Rauf claimed that “this is not a mosque” and yet Park51 website states that the one of the facilities will be a “designated space for prayer (mosque).” The logical question: is this a mosque or not? But Rauf avoids the answer.

So why isn’t Imam Rauf simply clear in his intention? This is what’s most troubling. If clarity and candor are missing in the beginning, how can we expect Christian-Muslim dialogue later?

On the non-Muslim side, support for the project comes mainly from the Left.

Karen Armstrong, who wrote a forward to Rauf’s book What’s Right With Islam, offered her thoughts on the matter during a lecture at the Chautauqua Institute. She said that the rejection of “Ground Zero mosque” has to do with “fear of the other” and we have to ask ourselves “can we make place for the other?” She also said that Rauf is a Sufi, and “we could all use a good dose of Sufism.”

Evoking the case of the “Auschwitz nuns,” Sr. Joan Chittister wants us to be sensitive to both sides but informs us that the Islamic center/mosque should be built because Muslims have “long borne the burden of the Crusades and the fear of Western/American annihilation.” This is not self evident, to say the least.

Brad Gooch wants to allay fears by confirming that Rauf “represents a liberal version of Islam,” therefore we should not be afraid. I am not afraid. I just don’t trust his rhetoric or intentions.

The support, which has at points entered the realm of lunacy, has nothing to do with religious freedom. Rather, the heart of the matter is the Left’s feeble rootlessness and its blind passion for multiculturalism.

Multiculturalism, which is a very close cousin of relativism, provides support for the Ground Zero mosque. The Left is not only bored with Western origins, traditions, and values, but also can’t resist a global self-loathing. Leftists cherry-pick other traditions (in this case, Islam), find no fault with them, and revel in their liberal understanding, which is actually puerile cluelessness.

On the Right, there is some irrational fear of all that is Muslim – an unwillingness to grasp the distinction between the good in Islam and the evil done by some Muslims. And in a curious echo of Screwtape, this is just what Muslims such as Imam Rauf are only too happy to encourage and exploit, especially among the media: uncritical fellow travelers on the one hand; irrational anti-Muslims on the other.

But most of the opposition to Park51 isn’t anti-Muslim. Generalized guilt about America’s hard-earned power and prosperity may lead leftists to believing that their own self-loathing is actually compassion for others. Thus their supine passion for a string of placating slogans. But the families of 9/11 victims and others who ask simply that the mosque relocate to a less provocative site are simply standing up straight – in the best American tradition. 

What’s really significant in this case is the identity of Imam Rauf. Is he a Muslim leader who will embrace religious liberty and tolerance? Or is he the kind of Muslim – and there are some – who fully and blatantly denies the sacredness in Christianity?

Good questions. And here’s another: How can the Left affirm the essential “otherness” in Islamic tradition if they deny anything essential in their own Judeo-Christian tradition?

In the Islamic tradition in which I was raised, my parents stressed the importance of our faith but also respecting other faiths. It is only when one is grounded firmly in one’s own tradition that he may truly appreciate and be of service to others. Without the ability to distinguish falsehood from truth, there is only the tyranny of timidity.

Imam Rauf speaks of interfaith dialogue, but you don’t need a building for that, just an open heart and mind. As we observe the anniversary of 9/11 in a few days and as we end the month of fasting (Ramadan) and begin the feast of Eid-el-Fitr (in Bosnia, we refer to this holiday as Bayram), I pray we may begin a genuine conversation. That’s possible only with true tolerance and mutual respect and that requires more honesty than we’ve heard from Feisal Abdul Rauf.

Emina Melonic immigrated to the U.S. in 1996 and became an American citizen in 2003. She received an MA in Humanities from the University of Chicago, an MA in Theology from Christ the King Seminary, and is currently completing a thesis on Bernard Lonergan and the Trinity. This fall she will begin pursuing PhD in medieval philosophy at SUNY  Buffalo.
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Comments (11)Add Comment
written by Quaecumque Vera, September 08, 2010
Emina: The dialogue required is not between Muslims and people who are not Muslims. The slaughter of innocents the world over is being done by Muslims as Islamic religious acts. If Islam is to have any place as a world religion deserving of respect then it will have to confront this evil itself. So far there is no indication that it is willing to do so. There is no condemnation of the evil Islamic believers are doing in the name of Islam by so called moderate Muslims and so the slaughter continues.
written by RJ, September 08, 2010
The left's view of the Crusades seems somewhat selective also. Despite the unjustifiable atrocities and deviations that crept in, some would see them overall as a justified response to overwhelming aggression, not an unprovoked attack on a weak adversary.
written by Ars Artium, September 08, 2010
Thank you, Emina Melonic, for your words. The "still, small voice" of the truth is often difficult to hear. A tactic par excellence of Satan is to drown out the voices of holy persons, using noisy slogans and violence. We need to know and understand peaceful Muslims; how they have been able to separate the wheat of true faith from the errors that are of human origin. Only God is good.
written by Mike Melendez, September 08, 2010
Emina, Important but not explicit, though suggested by your introduction and maybe by your education at the end, is your current profession. I appreciate your perspective in any case. I find myself more in line with R. R. Reno, wondering why it matters so much to some. I understand the symbolism argument but I think the symbolism is ambiguous, not clear in anyone's favor. I find great sadness with the liberal argument that those who do not agree with them are bigots and equal sadness with the argument from some on the right that Islam is not worthy. In the end, I side with Jody Bottum, this is to be worked out by the mess we call democracy.
written by Howard Kainz, September 08, 2010
This is one of the best analyses of the situation I've seen. And I was happy to hear of the childhood experiences you had, which contrast starkly with some biographies of ex-Muslims I have read. I have a feeling that many critics left and right have no knowledge of the Koran or the Hadiths, and just put it in the generic category of "religion."
written by Marguerite, September 08, 2010
Thank you Emina, so well put and and eye opener for those of us who find the structure a confusing political enigma.
written by Achilles, September 08, 2010
Dear Ms. Melonic,
Thank you for a wonderful and thoughtful essay. With such openness from you, I will expose my ignorance. I have heard much talk of moderate Muslims and how this vast and overwhelming majority oppose the terror, violence and the obvious intolerance and incongruence from terrorist Muslims, but I have only heard vague platitudes of condemnation reminiscent of Rauf’s double speak, particularly in saying “we condemn the killing of innocents!” while in other contexts implying that no Christians are innocent. I find this disturbing and would love to learn that I am mistaken and that a vast majority do find terror and killing and suicide bombing abhorrent and unacceptable. With such deafening silence coming from so called moderate Muslims, one would not have to be a registered card carrying member of the KKK to be mistaken about the heart of Islam.
I hope my ignorance is not too offensive to you, but maybe you could point me to some explanatory resources. Sincerely Achilles
written by Louise, September 08, 2010
Dear Miss Melonic,
I see you are from Bosnia, rather than from what we used to call the "Near East"--Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Syria, Palestine, etc.. I would be interested in knowing whether the Muslims of Bosnia have been more influenced by European statecraft and culture than have the people of those Near Eastern countries, and whether that might have made you more amenable to western ideas of the nature of the modern nation-state.
I think that you can appreciate the dilemma of Americans who want to trust and to believe that Muslims are capable of living in a culture where "mosque and state" are not one and the same. Americans are, for the most part, trusting people and always ready to extend a welcoming hand but who daily see the fruits of Islam in beheadings, stonings, public floggings, poverty, lack of education, religious intolerance, abuse of women (my son worked for a U.S. Senator in his Michigan office, and he continually heard of Muslim men complaining vociferously that they were arrested unjustly for beating their wives), and finally the unspeakable viciousness of 9/11/01. How can we be expected to respect Islam or to take it at its word? Islam and the cultures it spawns have not shown us anything to respect in the last 500 years.
Americans have paid dearly in blood and treasure to rescue untold numbers from the dictatorships of Europe and Asia. We have occupied no country longer than it took to put the defeated country back on its feet, we have emptied no museums, stolen no treasure, imposed no language, impoverished no peoples. However, we have been invaded-- overtly on 9/11, and covertly through lax immigration policies, and I believe that we simply do not know how to protect ourselves. We certainly don't like to use the obvious means necessary to protect ourselves. They go against our principles as a nation.
I think that we have, first of all, to be realistic about Islam and Muslim culture, when we find ourselves with an enormous Muslim population that we didn't even know was there. And, second of all, I think that it is up to Islam to prove itself. The onus of proof is on Muslims, and I think that will be a long and difficult road for Muslims to travel.
written by Melonic, too, September 09, 2010
Emina, I enjoyed your perspective and you have shed a new light on a complicated situation. If everyone were to look @ this matter with your insight we would all be much better off.
written by Emina Melonic, September 09, 2010
Thank you all for the comments.

@Achilles: I completely understand your frustrations, as I share them as well. As for resources, try "The Other Muslims: Moderate and Secular," edited by Zeyno Baran. I must admit, it's not the best. For example, some essays criticize the Catholic Church and not with proper evidence at all. This is MY BIGGEST disagreement with these "moderate" Muslims (by the way, I have always called myself simply a Muslim, without any prefixes, moderate or otherwise). But the book has some good points and differentiates between political Islam and religious/spiritual Islam.

Also, check out the American Islamic Forum for Democracy, led by Zuhdi Jasser ( They seem to be about real dialogue.

Stephen Schwartz of The Weekly Standard writes on Islam, and is pretty objective on the issue (he is a Muslim convert).

I am sorry I cannot offer more resources at this point that I consider to be good. Hopefully more will come up.
written by Achilles, September 09, 2010
Thank you Ms Melonic- I acually saw Zuhdi Jasser once and he was very reasonable, If he represents large numbers that would be good. Thanks for the other ideas, I will look into them. Pax et bonum, Achilles

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