The Mosque in Tennessee Revisited

Last summer we followed stories about the controversy surrounding the proposed mosque in Lower Manhattan, and about the proposed construction of other mosques in America. As a  follow-up, this piece of news appeared recently, regarding the proposed mosque in Murfreesboro, Tennessee. It’s a piece of good news for all of us who value religious diversity, openness towards others, and elemental justice: a lawsuit– brought by opponents of the construction of the mosque– has failed:

MURFREESBORO — Chancellor Robert Corlew III ruled that plaintiffs suing the county for approving construction of a mosque just outside the city limits have failed to prove they’re being harmed.

“We must note that, under the law, the Plaintiffs have not demonstrated a loss different from that which is common to all citizens of Rutherford County,” Corlew wrote in his ruling issued this week. “That Islam is a religion has been proven in this case. That the county ordinance allows construction of a church or place of meeting within a residential planning zone as a matter of right in this case is further undisputed.”

via Court decides plaintiffs not harmed by mosque | The Daily News Journal |


A Holiday

From the Boston Globe we find that Cambridge schools will be closed for one Muslim holiday each year, beginning in 2011-2012. This follows school districts with similar policies in Dearborn, Michigan, and Burlington, Vermont:

The school will either close for Eid al-Fitr or Eid al-Adha, also known as the Festival of Sacrifice, depending on which holiday falls within the school year. If both fall within the school calendar, the district will close for only one of the days.

In communities with a significant Muslim population, this is appropriate school policy. Of course, the larger questions are about religious pluralism in America today, and more specifically about our cultural perception of Islam:

“At a time when I think the Muslim population is being characterized with a broad brush in a negative way, I think it’s important for us to say we’re not going to do that here,’’ Cambridge School Committee member Marc McGovern said.

Cambridge schools already close for some Christian and Jewish holidays, and McGovern said he believes Muslims should be treated equally.

“The issue that sort of came up was should we celebrate any religious holidays, but there was not the will to take away Good Friday or one of the Jewish holidays,’’ he said. “So I said, if that is the case, I think we have an obligation to celebrate one of the Muslim holidays, as well.’’

He’s right. In a city with significant Muslim, Jewish, and Christian populations, this kind of policy is fair. Bigots and others who are in the thrall of fear will be incensed. But this is the right way to go– it is in the spirit of recognizing the Other (in this case, the Muslim community) as part of us.

Cordoba Mosque Controversy– Some Context from “Salon”

I am skeptical of tidy, linear, cause-and-effect explanations. Still, I think there is helpful context in the following account. The  full article (click on the link at the end) contains, among other references, the link to a Fox TV interview with Daisy Khan, the wife of Feisal Abdul Rauf. I recommend making the time to read/listen.

The way we win against “religiously” inspired “Islamic” extremism (al Qaeda and its branches), and against puritanical, reactionary Islam (Salafism), is to befriend moderate Muslims in America, welcome their presence, and support rigorous, truth-seeking inter-religious dialogue. The premise of violent, puritanical Islam, is that Islam and Western values are incompatible. We need to pursue– and show– a more excellent way.

Blogger Pamela Geller and Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf

A group of progressive Muslim-Americans plans to build an Islamic community center two and a half blocks from ground zero in lower Manhattan. They have had a mosque in the same neighborhood for many years. There’s another mosque two blocks away from the site. City officials support the project. Muslims have been praying at the Pentagon, the other building hit on Sept. 11, for many years….

via How the “ground zero mosque” fear mongering began – Ground Zero Mosque –

We’re Still Here at the “Ground Zero” Mosque. What Does That Mean?

I went out to the barn at the end of last week to build a stall for the calf, expecting to be blogging about something else this week. A quick survey of the news revealed that we’re still here.

Whether a mosque should be built two blocks from the World Trade Center site is a question that’s been pretty fully aired; whoever has an opinion on this is not likely to suddenly see the other side’s reasoning and be convinced.

The interesting questions at this point are: 1. What are the dynamics driving the passion on this issue, and what does that say about who we are, as an American society, in 2010?; 2. What role do church and faith-community leaders and institutions have, in offering guidance for that society? (In other words, how do we– in general– bring wisdom (rather than adrenaline) to bear on vexing public questions?)

Ramadan Begins– take a moment to reach out with a generosity grounded in God

Ramadan begins today– a time of intentional self-denial for Muslims, an opportunity to re-focus one’s life upon God.

In response to the recent spirit and words of fear that have marked some people’s reaction to Islamic centers and mosques being built in New York, Tennessee, and California; and as an act of generosity and grace grounded in the God of Abraham, here’s something we can do: we can offer Ramadan greetings to Muslims and Islamic communities near us.

I sent this greeting to a Muslim acquaintance at the Worcester Islamic Center in Worcester, Massachussetts: “I offer my best wishes and prayerful blessing upon you and your community as Ramadan begins.” It’s a simple, respectful acknowledgment that this is a special time for Muslims.

For readers in New Hampshire, you may find email addresses to send your Ramadan greeting, at the Islamic Society of Greater Manchester:  (You can copy and paste this address into your web browser; “Contact Us” is in the sidebar at the left.)

Mosques in America, continued

Reactions to mosque building in such diverse places as Manhattan and  Murfreesboro, TN, are revealing, and merit our continuing attention.

What do those reactions reveal?

They reveal something old in the American psyche. We’ve been here before: on the one hand, fear and demonization of the other; on the other hand, an appeal to tolerance– a reaching out to the other in generosity of spirit. American history is full of both. Here’s what it looks and sounds like in Tennessee in 2010:

In June, Congressional candidate Lou Ann Zelenik issued a statement that included the following:

“Lou Ann stands with everyone who is opposed to the idea of an Islamic training center being built in our community. This ‘Islamic Center’ is not part of a religious movement; it is a political movement designed to fracture the moral and political foundation of Middle Tennessee.”

“Yes, we are tolerant, but our nation was founded on the tenets of the Judeo-Christian tradition; we have a right to defend that tradition. Until the American Muslim community find it in their hearts to separate themselves from their evil, radical counterparts, to condemn those who want to destroy our civilization and will fight against them, we are not obligated to open our society to any of them.”

via Tennessee: New Vandalism at Mosque – “Tea Party” Candidate Rejects Mosque Proposal :: Responsible for Equality And Liberty (R.E.A.L.).

On the other hand:

Another Congressional candidate, U.S. Marine and Iraq combat veteran Ben Leming, had this to say about opposition to the mosque, about Americans, and about fear:

“Once again, fear is our enemy, not law-abiding Americans who are exercising their constitutional right to worship free from persecution…. We must reject the loud and angry voices that manipulate and motivate people through fear. We are Americans, strong, brave, and proud.”

“The people that want to build a house of worship in Murfreesboro are not the enemy. Osama bin Laden and his band of thugs and criminals are the enemy.”

via Mosque expansion proposal in Murfreesboro spotlights fear, shame | | The Tennessean.

Tolerance may spring from a recognition of the rights of others. Tolerance, for a Christian, is grounded in an identification with God’s own self-disclosure in Christ: a self-disclosure whose character is a daring, generous, all-embracing agape-love.

The practical application of God’s hospitable agape-love is not naivete, nor is it insipid, namby-pamby can’t-we-all-get-along-ism. It is courageous, patient, wise-as-a-serpent-and-innocent-as-a-dove relationship-building.

Rights and Right– Part Two

As a reminder, the end of the Anti-Defamation League’s statement on the Cordoba Mosque contains this helpful distinction between rights and right:

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.

What’s missing in this moral judgment are many other factors, in addition to the one– the conceivable pain felt by some victims– that the ADL cites. Here are some others– some with more import than others, but all relevant:

1. The exact  location of the proposed Islamic center is morally relevant. It makes a difference whether this location is within the footprint of one of the towers; within the 16-acre World Trade Center site; or two blocks north of that site. Any moral objection to building an Islamic Center/mosque in this part of Manhattan is stronger, the closer it is to the tower footprints. The exact location is 2 blocks north of the 16-acre site. I would say: close enough to be pertinent; not close enough to carry significant moral weight.

2. While it is useful to distinguish rights (legal permissibility) from right (morally correct judgment), the two are related. The legality/illegality of the process of acquiring the property and getting necessary planning committee approval is morally relevant. This was done legally. I would say: this fact weakens the moral case against the Cordoba mosque proposal.

3. The funding for the project is morally relevant. I would say: If the Cordoba Initiative is being funded by the same people who fund Hamas and Hezbollah, this would morally de-legitimize the project.

4. The stated mission of the Islamic Center is morally relevant. Here it is: “Cordoba Initiative aims to achieve a tipping point in Muslim-West relations within the next decade, bringing back the atmosphere of interfaith tolerance and respect that we have longed for since Muslims, Christians and Jews lived together in harmony and prosperity eight hundred years ago.” I would say: in the moral equation, this is compellingly on the side of the good.

5. Any spiritual connection between the 9/11 murderers and the Cordoba Initiative is morally relevant: the more distant the connection, the weaker the moral argument against the mosque location.  As in Christianity, there is a spectrum of Islamic belief and practice; and then, even beyond legitimate differences within a religion, some people do things in the name of a religion that are, in fact, diabolical. I would say: there is no spiritual connection between the 9/11 murderers and the Cordoba Initiative– the 9/11 murderers served a spirit of death; the Cordoba Initiative aims to serve a spirit of life.

6. Healing is morally relevant. What promotes healing is good; what retards healing is bad. Healing is not about feeling no pain; healing is about integrating one’s pain into one’s own life story, and using the pain in one’s own life to be able to feel the pain of others. Based on my experience of journeying with people in grief, the deep and true healing so desired by those for whom the ADL is concerned, will not be promoted or retarded in any significant way by the Cordoba mosque.

On balance, the moral case against the Cordoba mosque is, at best, weak.