Why not build an interfaith shrine next to Ground Zero on the property proposed for a mosque? Such a project would be quintessentially American and would go a long way toward defusing animosity generated by an atrocity ostensibly committed in the name of Islam.
Such a project would turn the proposal for a mosque into a positive for the Muslims who seek to erect a mosque next to where the Twin Towers stood. The single structure would include worship and cultural centers for all faiths.
Such a decision by Iman Faisal Rauf would send a message to Muslims all over the world that Islam and core American values are compatible, and that the true real Islam rejects hatred and violence. It would reassure Americans that their Muslim fellow citizens embrace the essential beliefs of our nation, including freedom of religion and respect for those who choose to believe differently.
Granted that it seems to be in the nature of religious faith to insist that dissenting beliefs are to be vigorously rejected. Not long ago American Protestants and Catholics seemed to be at each other’s throats over theological issues almost all the time. In recent years those passions have largely melted away as Christians realized that religious indifference and militant atheism are the real “enemies.”
Such an interfaith project need not undercut the belief of Muslims that theirs is the one, true faith. Indeed Christians make that claim too. What is different in America is that believers of any stripe are free to express their faith, worship publicly in peace, and seek to convert others. We even allow Communists to freely make their arguments so long as they do not turn to or foment violence. Nazis were allowed to march in Skokie a few decades ago.
Keep in mind that Christians are not allowed to practice their faith in many Muslim countries. And God forbid that they would seek to proselytize Muslims. The penalty can be imprisonment or worse. Muslim converts to Christianity can be sentenced to death in some places.
A dramatic stroke by the mosque proponents would be to finance the whole interfaith project themselves. I envision a rotunda with separate by equal entrances for all the world’s major faiths with any kind of following in this country—Islam, Protestantism, Christianity, Buddhism, Hinduism, etc.
I see such a gesture by Muslims as a blow on behalf of religious and cultural tolerance not only in America but worldwide. As Americans have demonstrated, tolerance of other faiths need not undercut the firmness of one’s own belief. Muslims are free to believe that the prevailing American lifestyle is hedonistic and corrupt (as so many Christians believe). All that is required is respect and civility for those don’t agree with us.
I find it hard to believe that the suggestion in this column has not been raised and discussed before, but I have not seen or heard it any major media outlet. I have to believe it’s a good idea.
How about it, Imam Rauf?
Since Muslims own the land and are financing it, it might well be that the centerpiece of the structure would be a mosque, with a generous gesture being made to other faiths.