Columbia Muslims share views on mosque near ground zero

Saturday, August 21, 2010 | 5:58 p.m. CDT; updated 7:15 p.m. CDT, Saturday, August 21, 2010
In this Aug. 19, 2010, file photo, pedestrians stop to argue with Abu Rahman, right, Matt Sky, second from right, and Julia Lundy, third from right, as they stand in front of the site of a proposed mosque near ground zero in New York. As rancor swirls around the issue of whether a mosque and Islamic cultural center should be built two blocks from the New York site where the destroyed Twin Towers stood, Americans are being forced to examine just how tolerant they are — or are not.

CORRECTION: A previous version of this story misidentified Samiha Islam.

COLUMBIA — Many members of the Islamic Center of Central Missouri, located in Columbia, understand the sensitivity surrounding the building of a Muslim community center two blocks from ground zero; but they say Constitutional rights should be placed before emotions.

Controversy surrounding the proposed Islamic center in lower Manhattan began in May, when a New York City community board unanimously approved the project. Since then, the plan to build the center near ground zero has been fiercely criticized by Republican leaders and some Democrats.

Opponents of the Muslim community center near ground zero — to be called the Park51 Islamic Cultural Center — have said its location offends the memory of Sept. 11. Many at Columbia's Islamic center think otherwise.

"Muslim Americans feel (9/11) was an attack on their country," said Rezwan Islam, the president of the Islamic Center of Central Missouri.

The organization seeking to build the center near ground zero has stressed its moderate beliefs. According to the official Park51 website, the Manhattan center would, "be dedicated to pluralism, service, arts and culture, education and empowerment, appreciation for our city and a deep respect for our planet."

A Muslim religious leader visiting Columbia emphasized the community value of the proposed Manhattan center.

"Community centers are the bread and butter of social development," Muhannad Elnatour said. Elnatour, who lives in Chicago, was at the Islamic center in Columbia to deliver a lecture on brotherhood and to appeal for donations for Pakistani flood victims, especially orphans.

Rezwan Islam said he believes denying construction of the mosque near ground zero would have profoundly negative consequences.

"If you don't let this mosque be built (near ground zero), it will be the greatest recruiting strategy for al-Qaida," Rezwan Islam said. He said prohibiting the Islamic center in Manhattan might fuel anti-American sentiment in predominantly Muslim countries, which terrorist organizations might use to their advantage.

Rezwan Islam said politicians and newscasters opposing the building of a community center are judging unfairly.

"Judging based on religion and color of skin, this is prejudging, this is prejudice," Rezwan Islam said.

Samiha Islam*, a member of the Columbia center whose father is the principal at the center's school, said she tries to avoid the controversy but does have frustrations.

"Why should restriction be placed on us because of the actions of a minority that do not represent us?" Samiha Islam said. She said she believes the community center near ground zero would be a place for dialogue and building bridges.

Samiha Islam said Columbia residents have not treated the Muslim community differently since the Manhattan center controversy began, citing the city's diversity.

Rafa Nizam, the outreach officer of the Columbia center, said residents have been very supportive of the Islamic center since it was built in 1983.

"Columbia is an excellent place and shows remarkable academic plurality. It's a cultural and intellectual hot spot here," he said. "(The Islamic center) is part of it and we try to contribute to it and give back to the community."

The center offers open houses that are open to non-Muslims and encourages community participation. The center's annual open house, which is held the same day as Columbia's Earth Day, aims to explain Islam to the local population.

Apart from open houses, the Columbia center arranges Friday prayers, guest speakers and lectures that focus on helping the community. The center also distributes free food to St. Francis House, a homeless shelter, on alternate weekends. Center members are hoping to organize free medical clinics at the center in the future.

During the month of Ramadan, when Muslims observe a fast from sunrise until sunset, the center becomes the focus of Columbia's Muslim community. On weekdays throughout the month, they offer free dinners for singles and students. The local Muslim community turns out in large numbers for the community-sponsored weekend dinners.

Rezwan Islam said the community in lower Manhattan will benefit from similar services if the Islamic center is allowed to be built. He says the center would also highlight the American values of liberty and justice.

"It is a touchy subject because people feel emotionally about it," he said, "but it is also a great moment to show the true America to the world."

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Carlos Sanchez August 22, 2010 | 6:22 a.m.

"Muslim Americans feel (9/11) was an attack on their country,"

Then how come they do not stand up as one voice to be heard across this entire nation and denounce openly their radical Muslim Brothers and Sisters?

(Report Comment)
Roger Martin August 22, 2010 | 6:30 a.m.

"If you don't let this mosque be built (near ground zero), it will be the greatest recruiting strategy for al-Qaida," Rezwan Islam said. He said prohibiting the Islamic center in Manhattan might fuel anti-American sentiment in predominantly Muslim countries, which terrorist organizations might use to their advantage. To ME this is like saying if you do not let us build this place of peace we but not me the bad guy me's will blow up and hate you more. The whole idea of us being better than them when in Islam there is no room for other religion. How many muslims fought in the American revolution for our Freedom, and For theirs in America

(Report Comment)
Ellis Smith August 22, 2010 | 8:08 a.m.

It could equally be argued that building the mosque IS a recruiting tool for al-Qaida. In any case, how much do citizens of Muslim countries care about the "true America" or, indeed, about America at all? Here in this country we can't agree as to what the "true America" is. (Actually, our lack of agreement on the subject may be a good thing.)

This appears to be a classic case of damned if you do and damned if you don't. There's going to be some penalty regardless of which choice is made, and that's exactly what some folks wished.

(Report Comment)
Gregg Bush August 22, 2010 | 11:34 a.m.

If you don't hear their voices, you're not paying attention. If all you hear are the radicals, turn the channel and go meet some Muslims. Frankly, all I hear are Muslims denouncing violence and hatred. Of course, then I don't watch Murdoch's and Prince Alwaleed bin Talal's "news" channel.
To the Islamic Center of Central Missouri, I, as an atheist, want to thank you for all of the work you do in our community. You are a wonderful model of positive actions that happen in a pluralistic society dedicated to liberty and mutual respect. Cheers.

(Report Comment)
Ray Shapiro August 22, 2010 | 11:38 a.m.

("It is a touchy subject because people feel emotionally about it," he said, "but it is also a great moment to show the true America to the world.")

An act of faith and goodwill on the part of the Muslim American community would be to advocate that the Mosque be built further away from ground zero.
They are free to exercise their constitutional right to do so.
To not exercise their constitutional right to participate and facilitate the grieving and healing of Americans who empathize with the families battling with their loss illustrates the disconnect these Muslims have with the Trade Center's destruction.
(It just seems too soon to build this Mosque where parts of the hijacked plane fell.)
Better that the grieving families partner with various religious leaders and the corporate community to build a "place of healing" community center and/or child care center with an interfaith group mentality.
Better yet, bring back the Burlington Coat Factory and the Papaya King Hot Dog stand.

(Report Comment)
Carlos Sanchez August 22, 2010 | 11:50 a.m.

@Gregg Bush FYI I look at a wide variety of news web sites from the far left to the far right to those dead center and have yet to see the protests you speak of here. If they are out there maybe they are hiding from those who worship radical Sharai Law perhaps?

(Report Comment)
Gregg Bush August 22, 2010 | 12:26 p.m.
(Report Comment)
Ellis Smith August 22, 2010 | 12:28 p.m.

We can rest assured that if tomorrow someone planned to build a synagogue in Mecca or Medina there would be absolutely no outrage from Muslims. Right? I'd understand it if they did express outrage.

Sometimes it's impossible to avoid being kicked, but we ought to be able to recognize when we've been kicked.

As a news story this probably won't have a long life, but the feelings it has caused won't go away easily.

(Report Comment)
Gregg Bush August 22, 2010 | 12:43 p.m.

Ellis -
Justification for our outrage is hypothetical outrage over a hypothetical situation in the most repressive, non-democratic birthplace of 15 of the 19 hijackers?
I thought America would be more different than that.

(Report Comment)
Laura Froese August 22, 2010 | 1:00 p.m.

This whole issue is for political gain in the time of election year politics. Consider the following facts:

This project: park51 was first reported about on December 9, 2009 in the New York times. Two weeks later, Fox New, Laura Ingram on the OReilly Factor interviewed Daisy Khan, the wife of the Iman. Ingram gave the project 'her blessing".
For 5 months nothing was mentioned about this project. Then in May, inspired by a blogger who thinks Obama is Malcom's X's illegimate son, Fox decided to reverse course.

Fact: The pentagon, another 9/11 site, has Muslim worship services.

Fact: all BUT 12 republicans in the house voted against health benefits for the 9/11 responders.

Fact: The only time Sarah Palin has only engaged on the 9/11 site was to use it as a political backdrop when named on the GOP ticket for vice president.

Please separate the religion from the country and the terrorist who attacked us. Just because some Catholic priests are pedophiles doesn't mean they all are.
And just because some guy from Flint Michigan blew up a federal building in Oklahoma doesn't mean that the people in Flint Michagan are all terrorists.

As an agnositic, I feel that the freedom to practice ones own religion openly is one of the most valued rights of American citizens. It forces, tolerance, diversity and a thicker skin.

(Report Comment)
Carlos Sanchez August 22, 2010 | 1:07 p.m.

If they can put a Mosque 2 blocks away from Ground Zero can we in turn establish a Hog Farm 2 blocks from Meca?

(Report Comment)
Carlos Sanchez August 22, 2010 | 1:10 p.m.

@Gregg Bush Newsweek I have seen but no clue where you dug up all of those other links and for sure the story in Newsweek must not have been a big deal because that is the first I have heard about it.

(Report Comment)
Gregg Bush August 22, 2010 | 1:16 p.m.

The internet and 15 minutes of searching.
Google is now a verb.

(Report Comment)
Laura Froese August 22, 2010 | 1:23 p.m.

I bet you can't get a Hog Farm at ground zero either. LOL.

(Report Comment)
Carlos Sanchez August 22, 2010 | 1:29 p.m.

@Gregg Bush you obviously miss my point if they are protesting so much it would be more widely known than having to do in depth searches. That is what I am saying here. Sure if you go search on an exact subject you can find anything you want but if this is actually a big deal as you portray it to be then we would see more of it openly on any major news networks or even blurbs on those networks. So far we seen none.

(Report Comment)
Gregg Bush August 22, 2010 | 2:16 p.m.

A lesson in irony -
After a news story about Mid-Missouri Muslims moderately reacting to bigotry with patience and understanding, a lamentation on how there aren't enough moderate Muslims represented in the media.
The fact is: extreme violence sells papers, magazines and advertising on television. Thoughtfulness and reason do not. Correlation does not prove causality - it's bad data interpretation.
While I don't disagree there are few moderate Muslims heard in media outlets, I reject the notion that is the responsibility of the moderates. What would you have them do? Act more extreme to get noticed? Absurd.

(Report Comment)
Kate McIntyre August 22, 2010 | 3:13 p.m.

I think the uproar over the mosque is ridiculous. We live in America! The general Muslim community isn't guilty of anything -- it was a few radicals who destroyed the World Trade Center. They have the right to practice their religion peacefully just like every other American. Why does it matter that the mosque is down the street from Ground Zero? Who is it disrespecting? These people are Americans, just like the victims and heroes of 9/11.

(Report Comment)
Ellis Smith August 22, 2010 | 7:25 p.m.

@ Gregg Bush

Other than containing certain Muslim shrines maybe Saudi Arabia is a poor choice for an analogy. How about Egypt as a substitute? While Egypt is an acknowledged police state, it is in several respects progressive. Most of the 90% Muslims and 10% Christians* that make up its population do not worry about being arrested and interrogated, that's reserved for renegade militant Muslims, whom the state correctly considers a threat. Women in Egypt have it far better than in some Muslim countries.

On the whole the population supports their government.

Did I get that from Google? No, I've worked in Egypt. I have experience working with Muslims in their own country, and I suppose you'll agree that's a good way to learn what they're REALLY like. BTW by law every factory in Egypt must have a mosque inside it. In my experience the mosques are the cleanest structures in factories.

And that said, I have no intention of changing my viewpoint on the current controversy.

*- There used to be a viable Jewish minority in Cairo; not any more.

(Report Comment)
Carlos Sanchez August 23, 2010 | 9:48 a.m.

A very good read on this issue of building Mosques in the USA. English starts on page 15.
PDF Download:

(Report Comment)

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