Free Markets, Free People

al-Aqsa Mosque


A Mosque Too Far?

This post, in its original form, was previously posted at the Washington Examiner on Wednesday, August 11, 2010. The following post has been updated for today.

Plans to build an Islamic cultural center right next door to the site of the greatest attack on American soil have generated plenty of controversy. And as plans continue to move forward, more is promised still. Questions as to where the money is coming from to build it, and who exactly its leader, Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, really is are likely unresolvable, yet add fuel to the already contentious debate. In fact, today new questions were raised as to the connections of Rauf and his organization (the Cordoba Initiative) to Iran:

Two weeks ago the Cordoba Initiative website featured a photograph of the project’s chairman, Imam Faisal Abdul Rauf, and Iranian Mohammad Javad Larijani at an event that the Initiative sponsored in Malaysia in 2008. This week, the photograph … has disappeared.

Larijani was the Iranian representative who defended Iran’s abysmal human rights record before the UN Human Rights Council in February and June of this year. Among other things, Larijani told the Council: “Torture is one thing and punishment is another thing. … This is a conceptual dispute. Some forms of these punishments should not be considered torture according to our law.” By which he meant flogging, amputation, stoning, and the criminalization of homosexuality, which are all part of Iranian legal standards. Larijani added: “Iran [has a] firm commitment to the promotion and protection of human rights. … The Islamic Republic of Iran … is a democracy,” which would be news to the pro-democracy activists murdered or confined to Iranian prisons since last year’s fraudulent elections.

There may be nothing to these sorts of queries, and it may be that Mr. Rauf and his organization are earnest peace-seekers. Even so, the plan to place a $100 Million structure dedicated to Islam right next to Ground Zero has understandably caused a lot of questions to be asked, although few have elicited answers. Writing for the Ottawa Citizen, Raheel Raza and Tarek Fatah think they can settle one of the burning issues, however: why a mosque at Ground Zero?

When we try to understand the reasoning behind building a mosque at the epicentre of the worst-ever attack on the U.S., we wonder why its proponents don’t build a monument to those who died in the attack?

New York currently boasts at least 30 mosques so it’s not as if there is pressing need to find space for worshippers. The fact we Muslims know the idea behind the Ground Zero mosque is meant to be a deliberate provocation to thumb our noses at the infidel. The proposal has been made in bad faith and in Islamic parlance, such an act is referred to as “Fitna,” meaning “mischief-making” that is clearly forbidden in the Koran. [...]

Let’s not forget that a mosque is an exclusive place of worship for Muslims and not an inviting community centre. Most Americans are wary of mosques due to the hard core rhetoric that is used in pulpits. And rightly so. As Muslims we are dismayed that our co-religionists have such little consideration for their fellow citizens and wish to rub salt in their wounds and pretend they are applying a balm to sooth the pain.

The Koran implores Muslims to speak the truth, even if it hurts the one who utters the truth. Today we speak the truth, knowing very well Muslims have forgotten this crucial injunction from Allah.

The article’s writers are both authors about Islamic politics and culture as well as board members of the Muslim Canadian Congress. Now, I don’t know if Raza and Fatah are correct in their assertions, but I have a good reason to believe they may be. Several in fact, two of which I’ve seen personally.

I was once able to visit Istanbul and Jerusalem where I eagerly toured both the Hagia Sophia and the remains of what is believed to be Solomon’s Temple (typically referred to as the Western Wall). Both of these deeply religious sites have been converted to Muslim uses by the building of mosques.

The original Hagia Sophia was a church built by the Emperor Constantine some time in the fourth century, which was subsequently razed on a few different occasions. The Emperor Justinian I erected the current structure in the 530’s, and it still stands as one of the best examples of Byzantine architecture in existence. However, when Constantinople finally became Istanbul for good, the Hagia Sophia saw a dramatic change:

… Hagia Sophia remained a functioning church until May 29, 1453, when Sultan Mehmet the Conqueror entered triumphantly into the city of Constantinople. He was amazed at the beauty of the Hagia Sophia and immediately converted it into his imperial mosque.

Hagia Sophia served as the principal mosque of Istanbul for almost 500 years. It became a model for many of the Ottoman mosques of Istanbul such as the Blue Mosque [ed. - which is within sight of of the Hagia Sophia], the Suleiman Mosque, the Shehzade Mosque and the Rustem Pasha Mosque.

No major structural changes were made at first; the addition of a mihrab (prayer niche), minbar (pulpit) and a wooden minaret made a mosque out of the church. At some early point, all the faces depicted in the church’s mosaics were covered in plaster due to the Islamic prohibition of figurative imagery. Various additions were made over the centuries by successive sultans.

In short, the conquerors replaced a mighty cultural symbol of the vanquished with one of their own. Fairly standard really, but I still found it a bit odd to walk into one of the oldest Christian churches in the world only to be confronted with giant symbols of Islam everywhere.

Visiting Jerusalem was just as puzzling. I knew that the Western Wall (or Wailing Wall) was all that was left of Herod’s expansion of the Temple Mount, but I had not realized that atop it sat not one, but two Islamic holy sites: The Dome of the Rock and the al-Aqsa Mosque. These two religious sites replaced and took over what is considered the holiest of all places on Earth by the Jews, who are forbidden from entering either.

There are, of course, other examples, but it’s not as if this sort of conquering behavior is the sole province of Muslims. Indeed, the al-Aqsa Mosque was itself taken over as a church for a brief time by Crusaders.

Even so, it cannot be denied that erecting mosques and other holy sites upon or near places of great cultural significance to their enemies is something to which Muslims seem historically inclined. And while most Muslims may not consider themselves at war with the West, or Americans as an enemy of Islam, those who took down the Twin Towers on September 11, 2001 most certainly did, and still do. That is why I think that Raza and Fatah may be right.

To erect a monument in the form of the Ground Zero Mosque to the nihilistic, death-loving 9/11 terrorists is a slap in the face of everyone they murdered on that day, those who gave up their lives to rescue the survivors, and all of their families and friends. It would be allowing a symbol of enemy victory to desecrate hallowed ground.

Bruce made a great argument as to why, despite whatever intentions the mosque’s benefactors may have, it’s an affront to individual property rights and the rule of law to use the government to prevent the Ground Zero Mosque from being built.

Basically, I think he’s right. But I can’t help thinking that if, say, a group of Japanese decided to by some property right next to Pearl Harbor in order to erect a monument or shrine, we as American citizens might find some peaceful and non-coercive way of stopping that from happening.

As for the Ground Zero Mosque, we’ll just have to wait and see.

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