From Rauf to Left

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. She is pursuing a Ph.D. in medieval philosophy at SUNY Buffalo.