By Yousef Drummond
There is the old adage that “a few rotten apples spoil the whole bunch”. I think this adage explicitly relates to the political hysteria enveloping the cable-news networks as well as local and national newspapers here in the United States that is now whipping up fears among non-Muslims that “each and every Muslim here in the United States and elsewhere are terrorists”. The epicenter of this political hysteria is a decision to build a mosque/community center, called the "Cordoba House", “near Ground Zero” – the site where the World Trade Center once stood before the horrific events of September 11, 2001. Today, many profile Republican strategists warn that its political candidates do not push the idea of building a mosque “near to Ground Zero” as a campaign issue too forcefully for fear that voters perceive the Republican Party as religiously intolerant”. A few weeks ago Newt Gingrich, the former speaker of the House of Representatives and an active political voice within the Republican Party, told the FOX News panel that “building a mosque so close to where terrorists killed thousands of Americans would be like putting a Nazi sign next to the Holocaust Museum.”
I made my declaration of faith as a Muslim maybe a year before this horrific event occurred. I remember the television set going blank on that morning – presumably because many communication frequencies for various television stations sat atop the World Trade Center. A commercial jet slammed into one building. Then, the television set became operational and, a few minutes later, I saw another commercial jet slamming into the other building.
I include all this detail here to share with our readers two significant points: the trepidation I felt when this horrific event happened, and to relate my heart-felt condolences to those who were innocently killed as well as their families and friends. News slowly began to surface that “a few Muslims” organized and executed this catastrophe – one that killed more than three thousand innocent human beings. I resolved thenceforth that those individuals who perpetrated this catastrophe are not Muslims at all, but that they are misguided. As far as I know, no religion sanctions either suicide or indiscriminate homicide. I am convinced of this assumption to this very day.
The other point I want to share with our readers is the obvious resentment among non-Muslims here in the United States against the religion of Islam and Muslims. This resentment is understandable. However, there are times, such as the decision to build a mosque/community center “near Ground Zero”, when misguided right-wing politicians eager for cheap political points needed for national mid-term elections “whip-up” fears about Muslims here in the United States, thereby fostering resentment against Muslims still further and creating further misunderstanding about the religion of Islam and every-day social interactions between non-Muslims and Muslims alike.
Now I agree with others who say that they want a thorough investigation into the various sources of funding for this ambitious project. Our political authorities have sworn to root out threats to the U.S. government – both foreign and domestic. Muslims must respect the laws of this nation. I am sure, however, that these various investigations into this “money trail” will be a fair one – this is a nation of laws, not men. The prosecution has their lawyers, and the opposition has theirs, too. I will also add that our civil-rights organizations here in the United States – among them C.A.I.R. being the most prominent – must counteract the multifarious motives on the part of right-wing politicians as the need arises.
This “fog” of misunderstanding is now reflected in a startling statistic: over 18 % of Americans believe that the current U.S. president – Barak Hussein Obama – is a Muslim. The Rev. Franklin Graham, son of the prominent Christian evangelist Billy Graham, is reported to have said that he has been in consultation with and once prayed with the President, who related to him that he is a Christian, but that even he reserved reservations on this issue: “That’s what he says he has done [that Obama “renounced” the prophet Mohammed (sic) and has accepted Jesus Christ]. I cannot say that he hasn’t. So I just have to believe that the President is what he has said”.
Even though Muslims here in the United States are bracing for sporadic spates of violence, I focus squarely here on the abysmal misunderstanding among non-Muslims about Islam and Muslims. It is time to build this mosque/community center for this very reason – to bridge this abysmal gap of misunderstanding about Islam and Muslims here in the United States. As I think about what to include in this article at this very moment, two camps are trading barbs against each other at the site where the mosque/community center is to be built.
There are times in U.S. history when “minority” groups – particularly African-Americans within its society - struggled mightily to be included, or, counted as U.S. citizens, to enjoy the same “political rights” as those constituting “majority rule” – that is, white men. The story of the African in America is a long one, with its ups and downs, its failures and its victories. The failure consists in their forceful transportation in massive ships – many were “sand-witched” so tightly that diseases enveloped them; others jumped off these ships instead of enduring chattel slavery – to the United States and the Caribbean for sale and profit. Another failure is the many decades of scorn and derision African-Americans endured even with the passage of the Fourteenth Amendment (1868) – which granted them equal citizenship rights with those enjoying “majority rule”. However, one seminal victory for the African-American concerns the historic passage of the U.S. Civil Rights Act (1964), signed by then President Lyndon Baines Johnson, that solidified in practice the very words set forth by the Fourteenth Amendment some 86 years later. Among the group that witnessed the presidential signing of this historic piece of legislation was the prominent Christian civil-rights activist, Martin Luther King Jr.
Prior to this historic legislation granting African-Americans the “political right” to vote, along with an equal right to employment, housing, and so on, a massive “fog” of misunderstanding about African-Americans enveloped most if not all the rest of U.S. society. There is no need to include the negative stereotypes attached to the African-American personality here; suffice it to say there are many, and to this day they form the collective consciousness of this nation.
In 1963 the young Christian political activist Martin Luther King penned a forceful defense of his political agitation for African-American civil rights in jail – as he did not mind being arrested for organizing and participating in focused demonstrations for equal political and social rights for African-Americans. This forceful defense of his agitation, now called the “Letter from a Birmingham Jail”, arose as a response by some White ministers that his political agitation is moving too fast, that it is only creating discomfort among the rest of the society. They accused him of fomenting racial unrest as a result of challenging segregation laws, those that cemented supremacist attitudes against African-Americans within the Southern States. The ministers called his actions “unwise and untimely”. Martin Luther King disagreed as he wrote this: “Frankly, I have yet to engage in a direct-action campaign that was ‘well-timed’ in the view of those who have not suffered unduly from the disease of segregation. For years now I have heard the word ‘Wait!’ It rings in the ear of every Negro with piercing familiarity. This ‘Wait’ has almost always meant ‘Never’”.
Stephanie J. Jones of the Washington Post belatedly opines that “minorities” have long had to shoulder the burden of proving to the majority that they pose no threat”, and adds that it’s not fair “…to expect a minority community to educate the majority, especially when the majority is so hostile to it”. I empathize with her position on this score but counter that these spates of agitation is indeed necessary. Some may not see the connection between the African-American struggle for political and social rights and the situation faced by law-abiding Muslims in the wake of the political hysteria associated with the building of this mosque “near Ground Zero”. The connection here is this: the particular political situation faced by African-Americans put forth by Southern White political elites some fifty years ago created a “fog” of misinformation similar to the one put forth by right-wing political suits that, by their misinformed rhetoric, goad other individuals and political groups. But there is this unique opportunity to calm the heated rhetoric about Islam and Muslims. Through the building of this mosque/community center non-Muslims who are curious about Islam will be able to learn more about this glorious religion.
I see the building of this mosque/community center as a unique opportunity to transform this society into a virtuous one. I say here that there is a difference between happiness and virtuosity, for in this democratic society, like other European societies, the State affords everyone to pursue whatever form of “happiness” is available to her or him.
In a democratic society there are as much versions of happiness as there are the various human pleasures; for some, happiness is the satisfaction of pleasure. However, it is possible, however slight (and for some laughable) for a democratic society to undergo a smooth transition to a virtuous city.
Muhammad Ali Khalidi of the American University of Beirut in Lebanon has investigated Al-Farabi’s interpretation of democracy as put forth by Socrates and Plato before him, who viewed democracy with utter disdain. Al-Farabi breaks explicitly with Plato, who assumes that a smooth transformation to a virtuous city “requires a more radical rupture with the status quo”. According to Al-Farabi there are virtuous individuals and virtuous groups in the democratic city, who are in unique positions to transform a democratic society into a virtuous city by way of their virtuous life-styles. Plato’s rendition of democracy, as outlined in his Republic, resembles the political ideology of “Liberalism” today. Al-Farabi’s favorable attitude towards the democratic city is due, in part, to the atmosphere in which he worked to interpret Plato’s works, particularly Plato’s Republic; it was a time of flourishing intellectual activity within a society with a religious basis (Islam).
The author opines that Farabi “may be thinking of professional and guild associations, or religious groups and Sufi orders [which originated in Mesopotamia in the early tenth century, around the time he (Farabi) was writing.” Today, the political ideology of “Liberalism” is strictly a secular enterprise whose purpose is to establish equal protection of the laws of the State, regardless of race, religion, etc.
So it is indeed time to build this mosque. Sure, some may think that a “few rotten apples do spoil the whole bunch”. This is certainly not so. And this ambitious project, centered “near Ground Zero” will aid to bridge the abysmal misinformation about Islam and Muslims. Currently there is talk among New York’s political elites and the organizers of this mosque. No matter. This is the time for law-abiding Muslims who care deeply about humanity and who care to reach out for interfaith activities so crucial for our troubled times. Now is the time.
The writer is a recent revert to Islam and can be contacted at: firstname.lastname@example.org
 Tumulty, Karen. Some Republican leaders urge candidates not to focus on Ground Zero mosque issue. Wednesday, August 18, 2010; A03.
 Fanelli, James. Conservative clergyman concedes Bam Christian. The New York Daily News. Saturday, August 21, 2010, pg. 4
 Jones, Stephanie J. Martin Luther King tells us why the mosque must be built. Saturday, August 21, 2010;A13.
 Ali Khalidi, Muhammad. AL-FARABI ON THE DEMOCRATIC CITY. British Journal for the History of Philosophy 11(3) 2003;379-394.