Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Is the NYC Mosque the Right Thing To Do?

From "Utah faith leaders weigh in on N.Y. mosque dispute"
By Kristen Moulton
The Salt Lake Tribune
Published Aug 23, 2010 11:50AM

Muslims who want to build a mosque a couple of blocks from ground zero in Manhattan have the legal right to do so, but is it the right thing to do?

That’s what Utahns of faith are asking as the controversy grows.

Daniel Peterson, a politically conservative Mormon who has studied Islam for 30 years at Brigham Young University and in the Middle East, says he is so fed up with “demagoguery” from the mosque’s opponents that he is tempted to endorse the mosque.

And yet he, and several Utah faith leaders, separate the issue of religious freedom from another value held highly in a pluralistic society: respect.

“Of course they have a right to do it,” says Peterson, professor of Islamic studies and Arabic at BYU.

But if the mosque’s proponents refuse to heed the torrent of criticism that it’s insensitive to build a mosque near where Muslim extremists killed thousands, Peterson adds, it could hurt the cause of moderate Muslims.

“I would come forward if I were the imam, and say, ‘We’ve listened, we do not want to make enemies. We want to be good neighbors. We respect the feelings and the pain, so we’re going to seek another site.’”

The Rev. Mike Pless, pastor of First Southern Baptist Church in Bountiful, likens the case to one familiar to Utahns: Street preachers who shout and shove signs at Mormons attending LDS general conferences in downtown Salt Lake City.

“Even though I have religious freedom as an American, does that give me the right to go down during conference and assault and insult people?” Pless asks. “It does not.”

In the same way, a mosque would be a “desecration,” says Pless, who opposes its proximity to ground zero.

Imam Muhammed S. Mehtar of the Islamic Society of Greater Salt Lake calls the mosque proposal “very insensitive.”

“The wise thing would have been to consult Muslims and non-Muslims alike,” he says. “It’s a question of doing the right thing.”

Monsignor Terence Moore, pastor of St. John the Baptist Catholic Church in Draper, says comments by political figures comparing Muslims to Nazis and blaming all Muslims for the acts of extremists responsible for the Sept. 11, 2001, attack on the World Trade Center do not help the debate.

Yet, he says, the mosque’s proponents need to realize the sensitivity of those who lost loved ones at ground zero.

“We all have to understand that we live in a very diverse society,” Moore says. “If we all stood on our legal rights on everything, we could be in great conflict all the time.”

One of Utah’s newest faith leaders sees the issue as a case of simple religious liberty.

Rabbi Ilana Schwartzman, who took over at Salt Lake City’s Congregation Kol Ami in July, was working on 77th Street in Manhattan when the terrorists slammed jetliners into the twin towers. She remembers well the pain and horror. Still, she argues it would be wrong to prevent construction of a mosque near ground zero.

That Islamic terrorists killed thousands “does not give us the right to take away another group’s rights and lives,” she says. “I understand where the critics are coming from ... but if we can respond with our American sense of hope and love, that would be better for all of us.”
Imam Shuaib-ud Din, of the Utah Islamic Center in Sandy, agrees — to a point — with those calling for respect.

But it is the mosque’s neighbors whose opinions should count, he says, not the wider population of critics who discount the fact that Muslim America also suffered in the attacks.

“Our religion suffered and our image suffered. We were put back a decade and to top all that off, Muslims also died on that day,” Din says. “A mosque is not out there to make a political statement. It is out to serve the needs of the Muslims and non-Muslims in the neighborhood. If they [mosque promoters] are isolated in this decision, they should find a place they are more welcome.”

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints takes no position on the mosque proposal, but that hasn’t stopped bloggers and other LDS scholars from calling on Mormon politicians such as Mitt Romney and Harry Reid to reverse their opposition to the mosque and remember their own church’s history as a target of religious bigotry.

Stephen Prothero, a Boston University religion scholar, made the point on a CNN Belief blog Friday.

“Religious freedom and religious tolerance are useless when you’re dealing with a popular religion,” BYU’s Peterson says. “It’s precisely when you are dealing with an unpopular one that they come into play. Mormons ought to be very, very sensitive to the question of tolerance of a religious minority.”

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