Muslim Community Center:
Why there? Why not?
To the Teacher:
to build a Muslim community center that would include a prayer
room two blocks from where the World Trade Center towers once
stood has generated an angry controversy. The first student reading
below describes plans for the center and the impassioned disagreement
over those plans. The second reading offers multiple perspectives
about the community center. The third reading includes an overview
of mosque protests in New York City and elsewhere in the United
the readings as homework. Then, in class, conduct a fish bowl
discussion,to involve all students in a close examination of the
Muslim center and associated issues. The fish bowl activity and
suggestions for further inquiry follow the three readings.
To pursue U.S.-Muslim relations with students in more detail,
see a review of Juan Cole's Engaging
the Muslim World and "Opening
a Dialogue: How people in Muslim countries view the U.S. &
how people in the US view Muslims" and "Islam
and the West: An Overview and Suggestions for Study"
in the high school section of TeachableMoment.Org.
Student Reading 1:
Sacred ground or bridging a cultural divide?
will have a real community feel, to celebrate the pluralism in
the United States, as well as in the Islamic religion. It will
also serve as a major platform for amplifying the silent voice
of the majority of Muslims who have nothing to do with extremist
ideologies. It will counter the extremist momentum."
was Daisy Khan, executive director of the American Society for
Muslim Advancement. She was speaking to members of the community
board in lower Manhattan on May 6, 2010, about plans to build
a Muslim community center on Park Place, two blocks north of where
the World Trade Center had stood until 9/11. The proposed center
would not be visible from "ground zero."
is a neighborhood ajumble with restaurants, shops (electronics,
porn, you name it), churches, office cubes, and the rest of the
New York mish-mash," Hendrik Herzberg wrote in The New
Yorker "Zero Grounds," (8/16/10 & 8/23/10).
That "mishmash" also includes the New York Dolls Gentlemen's
Club and the Pussycat Lounge. Four blocks from ground zero is
a Muslim mosque, Masjid Manhattan, which was opened in 1970. Another
is ten blocks away.
time for a center like this has come because Islam is an American
religion," Khan said. "We need to take the 9/11 tragedy
and turn it into something very positive."
Cordoba project, as it is called, would create a 15-story community
center to be named Park51 The center would include a Muslim prayer
room, a performance art center, gym, swimming pool and other public
spaces. The project received the unanimous support of the community
board, whose members are appointed by the Manhattan borough president
and also serve as advisors to the mayor's office.
Sheffe, a board member, said, ""They own the land, and
their plans don't have any zoning changes," Sheffe said.
"They came to us for our opinions and to let us know their
plans. It was purely voluntary on their part."
Above, an ad from the American Freedom Defense
Initiative has appeared on NYC buses.
But the project was already controversial. Opponents said they
objected to "building a mosque" so close to where the
Twin Towers had stood. Barry Zelman said, "[The 9/11 terrorists]
did this in the name of Islam. It's a sacred ground where these
people died, where my brother was murdered, and to be in the shadows
of that religion, it's just hypocritical and sacrilegious. "
(Nicole Bliman, "Mosque to go up near New York's ground zero,"
disagreed. Herbert Ouida, whose son was killed in the attack,
supports the project as a way to bridge cultural divide. "I
understand the anger, the bitterness and hatred, but it only generates
more hatred," Ouida said. "Such a large part of the
world has this faith, and to say anyone who has this faith is
a terrorist, it's terrible."
Muslim Society is working to raise funds for the center and plans
to complete it in three to five years. (CNN, 5/7/10)
el-Gamal, the developer of the center, lived in Brooklyn with
his divorced mother, who was Catholic, until he was nine, then
with his father, a Muslim, in Liberia and Egypt, before returning
to the US for college. He "has told supporters that he will
take no money linked to 'un-American' values and that donations
will be vetted by federal and state authorities and separate boards
for the center and the mosque." (New York Times, 8/27/10)
Student Reading 2:
Multiple views of the proposed Muslim center
Families Reject Towering Mosque Planned for Ground Zero Site"
York, May 24, 2010 - 9/11 Families for a Safe & Strong America
(9/11 FSSA) adamantly rejects the plan for a mosque to be built
atop a planned 15-story structure that would tower over the site
where nearly 3,000 people were killed by Islamic terrorists.
to the project's leader, Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, the mosque and
"Muslim-led community center" is to be called the Cordoba
House, named after the historic period when the Islamic Caliphate
in Cordoba ruled much of Europe and non-Muslims lived as second-class
citizens under Islamic rule.
families view the imam's expressed plan to "leverage"
the mosque's proximity to Ground Zero to engage in proselytizing
and to 'grow the Muslim community,' as shockingly insensitive
to the history of the site where their loved ones were slaughtered
in the worst terrorist attack by extremist Muslims in America's
Rauf is a Muslim cleric who, immediately after 9/11, blamed the
attacks on US treatment of Muslims, asserting that Osama Bin Ladin
was 'made in the U.S.A,'" said Debra Burlingame, co-founder
of 9/11 FSSA, whose brother was the pilot of the American Airlines
flight which was hijacked and crashed into the Pentagon. "'We
do not accept the Cordoba organization's view that we need Imam
Rauf to lecture us about religious tolerance in a city still dealing
with the consequences of the attack that he claims we brought
on ourselves.'" (www.911familiesforamerica.org/?p=3993, 5/24)
9/11 Families for a Safe and Strong America, www.911familiesforamerica.org/?p=3993,
truth about the 'mosque': The leader of proposed Muslim center
near Ground Zero defends his plan"
colleagues and I are the anti-terrorists. We are the people who
want to embolden the vast majority of Muslims who hate terrorism
to stand up to the radical rhetoric. Our purpose is to interweave
America's Muslim population into the mainstream society.
who are stakeholders in society, who believe they are welcomed
as equal partners, do not want to destroy it. They want to build
it. And there's no better demonstration of our desire to build
than the construction of this center. It will help revive lower
. The center will be open to all regardless of
religion. Like a YMCA, the 92nd St. Y or the Jewish Community
Center uptown, it will admit everyone. It will be a center for
all New Yorkers
have been the imam at a mosque in Tribeca for 27 years. I am as
much a part of this community as anyone else. Our mosque is as
much a part of the neighborhood as any church, synagogue or surrounding
business. My work is to make sure mosques are not recruiting grounds
for radicals. To do that, Muslims must feel they are welcome in
New York. Alienated people are open to cynicism and radicalism.
Any group that believes it is under attack will breed rebellion.
The proposed center is an attempt to prevent the next 9/11.
could be a better use for the citizens in lower Manhattan? What
could be a better monument to the victims of that tragic day?"
--Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf in the Daily News, www.nydailynews.com,
MOSQUE, a 30-second TV commercial for NY gubernatorial candidate
script: "New Yorkers have been through enough. Now a
terrorist-sympathizing imam wants to build a $100 million mosque
near ground zero. Where is this money coming from? Who is really
behind it? Incredibly, Andrew Cuomo defends it, even though this
imam said America was an accessory to 9/11. Andrew Cuomo is very,
very wrong. Call Andrew Cuomo, and tell him a ground zero mosque
the screen: "A black backdrop and ominous music dominate
the ad, which alternately shows images of ground zero, a mosque
and the faces of two men: Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf
York Times, 8/23/10. Lazio is a former Republican congressman
from New York who is running for governor against Democrat Andrew
What Imam Rauf said in a 2001 "60 Minutes" interview
wouldn't say that the United States deserved what happened, but
the United States' policies were an accessory to the crime that
happened." Asked to explain what he meant by "accessory,"
the imam replied, "Because we've been accessory to a lot
of innocent lives dying in the world. In fact, in the most direct
sense, Osama bin Laden is made in the USA"
imam also said, "Fanaticism and terrorism have no place in
Islam." He is now on a US State Department-sponsored trip
to the Mideast to foster religious understanding, and made similar
trips for the US at the request of the Bush administration.
"Statement On Islamic Community Center Near Ground Zero"
by the Anti-Defamation League
regard freedom of religion as a cornerstone of the American democracy,
and that freedom must include the right of all Americans - Christian,
Jewish, Muslim, and other faiths - to build community centers
and houses of worship
there are understandably strong passions and keen sensitivities
surrounding the World Trade Center site
which has emerged regarding the building of an Islamic Center
at this location is counterproductive to the healing process.
Therefore, under these unique circumstances, we believe the City
of New York would be better served if an alternative location
could be found.
are mindful that some legitimate questions have been raised about
who is providing the funding to build it, and what connections,
if any, its leaders might have with groups whose ideologies stand
in contradiction to our shared values. These questions deserve
a response, and we hope those backing the project will be transparent
and forthcoming. But regardless of how they respond, the issue
at stake is a broader one.
of the Islamic Center may have every right to build at this site,
and may even have chosen the site to send a positive message about
Islam. The bigotry some have expressed in attacking them is unfair,
and wrong. But ultimately this is not a question of rights, but
a question of what is right. In our judgment, building an Islamic
Center in the shadow of the World Trade Center will cause some
victims more pain - unnecessarily - and that is not right."
League, www.adl.org., 7/28/10
City Mayor Michael Bloomberg
may not always agree with every one of our neighbors. That's life
and it's part of living in such a diverse and dense city. But
we also recognize that part of being a New Yorker is living with
your neighbors in mutual respect and tolerance. It was exactly
that spirit of openness and acceptance that was attacked on 9/11
is nothing in the law that would prevent the owners from opening
a mosque within the existing building. The simple fact is this
building is private property, and the owners have a right to use
the building as a house of worship.
government has no right whatsoever to deny that right - and if
it were tried, the courts would almost certainly strike it down
as a violation of the US Constitution. Whatever you may think
of the proposed mosque and community center, lost in the heat
of the debate has been a basic question - should government attempt
to deny private citizens the right to build a house of worship
on private property based on their particular religion? That may
happen in other countries, but we should never allow it to happen
here. This nation was founded on the principle that the government
must never choose between religions, or favor one over another.
World Trade Center Site will forever hold a special place in our
City, in our hearts. But we would be untrue to the best part of
ourselves - and who we are as New Yorkers and Americans - if we
said 'no' to a mosque in Lower Manhattan."
from a speech by NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg, reported by the
Wall Street Journal, 8/3/10
Barack Obama, 8/13/10
a citizen, and as president, I believe that Muslims have the same
right to practice their religion as anyone else in this country.
That includes the right to build a place of worship and a community
center on private property in lower Manhattan, in accordance with
local laws and ordinances." (8/13/10)
response to Obama statement
House speaker Newt Gingrich said Obama was "pandering to
radical Islam." (New York Times, 8/14/10)
minority leader John Boehner said the decision to build the
center and mosque was "deeply troubling," as was the
president's decision to endorse it. (Times, 8/14/10)
Peter King of New York said the president "is wrong."
further remarks, 8/14/10
was not commenting and I will not comment on the wisdom of making
a decision to put a mosque there. I was commenting very specifically
on the right people have that dates back to our founding. That's
what our country is about." (8/14/10)
Student Reading 3:
Protests, a bonfire, and a physical attack
New York Daily News reported on late August counter-demonstrations
in lower Manhattan:
Zero mosque' protesters descend on downtown Park51 site
hysteria reached fevered pitch Sunday as angry protesters opposed
to building an Islamic center near Ground Zero squared off with
supporters of the project. In mostly peaceful counter-demonstrations,
hundreds braved the rain in Lower Manhattan to voice their position
on the contentious project that has spiraled into a national political
two groups were kept apart in penned-in protest sites two blocks
way from each other - about 200 gathered in support of the project
and 1,000 against. A heavy police presence stood in between. The
Park Place block where the proposed center would be built in a
former Burlington Coat Factory store was closed off with police
chanted 'No mosque, no way!' and carried signs reading, '9-11-01:
Never Forget,' as Bruce Springsteen's 'Born in the USA' blared
carried signs reading, 'America! When did it become OK to be a
bigot!' and screamed 'Hallowed ground, that's a lie!'" (www.nydailynews.com,
controversy was not confined to New York City.
from ground zero, opponents fight new mosques" was the headline
of an Associated Press report. In Murfreesboro, Tennessee, "Muslims
trying to build houses of worship in the nation's heartland, far
from the heated fight in New York
are running into opponents
even more hostile and aggressive. Foes of proposed mosques have
deployed dogs to Muslims holding prayer services and spray painted
'Not Welcome' on a construction sign, then later ripped it apart
are not a religion. They are a political, militaristic group,'
said Bob Shelton, a 76-year-old retiree who lives in the area
Temecula, CA, (60 miles north of San Diego) opponents brought
dogs to protest a proposed 25,000-square-foot mosque that would
sit on four acres next to a Baptist church. Opponents worry it
will turn the town into a haven for Islamic extremists, but mosque
leaders say they are peaceful and just need more room to serve
members." (Travis Lolley, www.news.yahoo.com,
Sheboygan, WI., "a few Christian ministers led a noisy fight
against a Muslim group that sought permission to open a mosque
in a former health food store bought by a Muslim doctor."
(Laurie Goodstein, "Across Nation, Mosque Projects Meet Opposition,"
Times also reported that Terry Jones, an evangelical pastor
in Gainesville, Florida, "plans to memorialize the Sept.
11 attacks with a bonfire of Korans."
in New York City, cab driver Ahmed Sharif said that a customer,
Michael Enright, engaged him in what seemed to be friendly conversation.
In response to a question, Sharif replied that he was a Muslim.
Soon afterward, he said, Enright "made some jokes about Ramadan.
He screamed 'this is the checkpoint' and he had to put me down."
Enright slashed Sharif's throat and stabbed him on his face and
arms. Sharif received two dozen stitches at a nearby hospital.
bowl discussions are a useful method for involving the whole class
and focusing discussion when students have differing views on
a controversial issue. (For additional suggestions on how to approach
difficult issues in the classroom, see Teaching
on Controversial Issues: Guidelines for Teachers)
by asking five to seven students to make a circle with their chairs
in the middle of the room. Try to ensure that the group reflects
diverse views. Ask everyone else to make a circle of chairs around
the fish bowl to create a larger circle around the smaller circle
and to listen carefully. Only people in the fish bowl may speak.
by asking a question and inviting students to speak to it in a
"go-around" with each student responding without being
interrupted. Next, designate a specific amount of time for clarifying
questions and further comments from the fish bowl group.
15 minutes or so, invite students from the larger circle to participate
in the fish bowl conversation by tapping a fish bowl participant
on the shoulder and moving into that student's seat. Continue
with additional questions.
9/11 Families for a Safe & Strong America views the imam's
desire to "grow the Muslim community" from its proposed
center as "shockingly insensitive to the history of the site
where their loved ones were slaughtered
." Where would
the Muslim center be in relation to that site? Would the center
tower over it? What does the group find objectionable about Imam
2. What, if anything, do you find objectionable
about Imam Rauf? In his statement, he says that he is "as
much a part of this community as anyone else." Do you think
he is? Why or why not? The imam declares: "What could be
a better monument to the victims of that tragic day?" How
does he support such a view? How, according to the imam, is creating
the center "an effort to prevent the next 9/11"? Do
you agree? Why or why not?
3. What evidence does Rick Lazio offer to support his statement
that Imam Rauf is a "terrorist-sympathizing imam"? How
do you think Imam Rauf would respond to this accusation? What
do you think the imam meant by saying in a "60 Minutes"
interview that US policies were an "accessory to the crime"
of 9/11? If you think you need more information before answering
these questions, where might you find it? Why do you suppose Lazio
raised a question about the source of funding for the center?
4. Why, according to the Anti-Defamation League, would
the "building of an Islamic Center at this location"
be "counterproductive to the healing process"? Why is
that more important than the ADL's regard for "freedom of
religion as a cornerstone of the American democracy"? Do
you think the controversy is "ultimately
not a question
of rights, but a question of what is right"?
5. Why, according to Mayor Bloomberg, does the government
have "no right whatsoever" to deny the Muslim group
from opening a mosque? Do you agree? Why or why not?
6. Did Obama's first statement "endorse" the
Muslim center, as Rep. Boehner charged? Why or why not? How do
you interpret President Obama's addition to his first comment
about the center?
7. "The terrorists did this in the name of Islam,"
one opponent of the Muslim center said. Is he correct? If so,
is this good reason for the center to be cancelled? Why or why
8. What, if anything, about the Muslim center or the comments
about it do you think might call for further inquiry?
9. What is your opinion of the Muslim center? Has it changed
since you completed the readings? Has our fish bowl discussion
changed it? If so, how? If not, why not?
10. How do you explain the mosque protests in a number
of places across the US? The anti-Muslim acts and statements?
What is your reaction to them?
What do students think they know about Islam?
2. What do their responses reveal about their understanding?
3. What are they uncertain about?
4. What questions do they have?
5. How might they pursue answers to them?
"Thinking Is Questioning"
in the high school section of TeachableMoment.Org for suggestions
on teaching students how to analyze questions and, through that
process, learn how to ask good ones.
lesson was written for TeachableMoment.Org, a project of Morningside
Center for Teaching Social Responsibility. We welcome
your comments. Please email them to: firstname.lastname@example.org.