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Sacrificing for a Greater Good | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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Imam Faisal Abdul Rauf, the man behind the controversial Cordoba Islamic Center whose proposed construction near the site of the 9/11 attack in New York believes that the best thing is for the construction of this mosque to go ahead, despite the angry reaction this has sparked in large sections of European and American society. Perhaps the most extreme reaction to the proposed location of this mosque was the ignorant reaction of Reverend Terry Jones, who planned to burn copies of the Quran in protest to this.

In an interview with ABC News, Abdul Rauf argued that not building the mosque at the proposed location close to “Ground Zero” would send the “wrong message” to the Muslim community around the world, which is that Islam is under attack in the US. Abdul Rauf said that this would “strengthen the radicals in the Muslims world, help their recruitment.”

Our brother Abdul Rauf is right to be apprehensive about this. We have seen how feelings of panic and Islamophobia have escalated in the US and the West following this insistence that this mosque be built close to the location of this American wound that was inflicted by fundamentalist terrorists affiliated to Islam, however he is not right assessing the danger of these sensitivities.

Yes, the US is not in a state of war with Islam but rather with a certain extremist group of Muslims called al-Qaeda, just like US President Obama said. However this is the talk from the “rational” and the elite, and it does not necessarily reflect the hostile and angry feelings of the [American] public, especially figures like Pastor Terry Jones and other western figures who do not even know the most basic information about Islam and the history of the Muslim world.

The reality is that there is a state of schizophrenia in American society, or at least American society is approaching this state, according to the British newspaper “The Independent.” Whilst, according to an Agence France-Presse report, the confrontation that took place between representatives of the Muslim and Christian faiths in the US on the anniversary of the 9/11 attacks poses an important question with regards to the presence of Islamophobia among broad sections of American society.

Nearly a decade has passed since the terrible 9/11 attacks inaugurated the new century, and raised questions between the Islamic and Western civilizations, almost resulting in a “Clash of Civilization” as had previously anticipated by US political scientist Samuel Huntington.

Advocators of moderation and dialogue have been unsuccessful. Even Barack Obama, who came to power calling for tolerance, improving America’s image, and cleaning away the bitter legacy left by his predecessor George W. Bush, and who delivered greetings of peace to the Muslim world – in the Arabic language no less – from Cairo, could not prevent this. A media war has returned, and this is something that has stopped serious questions [regarding relations between the West and the Islamic world] from being discussed.

Could this religious confrontation have been avoided, with the discussions rather focussing on the possibility of Muslims coexisting with the West, and ways of bridging the gap between the West and the Muslim World or was it inevitable that we would reach this point? We have locked horns, undertaken direct [military] engagement, and sought to settle historical scores, whilst our civilians are living in a state of tension.

Hundreds of speeches and books, and dozens of international conferences and meetings have been unable to erase the state of tension between the Muslim World and the West.

There has always been a historic and deep and mutual sense of suspicion between Islam and the Christian Western, even after the West converted to secularist and civil ideology. It is true that extremist voices faded during times of prosperity and cooperation, but during any moments of friction or disagreement, these extremists voice return to cause uproar.

The anniversary of the 9/11 attacks has rekindled these marginal feelings, and everybody is levelling accusations at everybody else, while a frantic campaign calling for moderation and calmness has appeared here and there. The issue of Islamic reform and moderation has become an international one that not only concerns the Muslims. In other words, Western leaders and institutions are today extremely concerned with Islamic reform and supporting moderate discourse. However, these issues existed long before the West began to show an interest in them, and so we do not require any superficial lectures [from the West] regarding the importance of implementing Islamic moderation now!

This is an issue that cannot be solved overnight. This is an issue that involves philosophical struggle, political reform, and social reform, and it will take some time for the Muslims to get right. Perhaps this will not take as long as the history of reform and development in the West, but what is for certain is that it will take more than a decade or two [to implement]. This was something that was primarily desired within Islam, before it became an external Western desire; for reform and renewal represents two concepts that form the core of Islamic culture and discourse.

In the midst of these feelings, clashes and exhaustive searches for balance and calmness, the voices of those who aim to exploit moderation or terrorize [the public] with extremism have only gotten louder. They might not be “profiting” [from these clashes] in the literal meaning of the word, but these voices are definitely unaware of the complexity and difficulty of cultural transformation.

Faisal Abdul Rauf could be a man of good intentions; however I can confirm that his interpretation [of the situation] and his actions and behaviour have been mistaken. He created a tense situation and transformed the issue of the construction of an Islamic centre at a controversial location into a question of identity. Abdul Rauf could have established this mosque in another location in the same city, if the Muslim community really needed one. Even the famous Muslim intellectual, Tariq Ramadan, writing in ‘The Washington Post’ newspaper, commented on Abdul Rauf’s decision, describing the timing and proposed location of the mosque’s construction as being “unwise.”

In any case, recent events have raised an even larger issue, namely the crisis of understanding our identity and how others perceive us. Many Westerners perceive us in a naïve, superficial and at times prejudiced manner based upon historical wounds. However this is another matter which deserves a far more extensive debate.

Before I end this article, I would like to remind “Sheikh” Faisal, myself, and everybody else, of a wise Quranic warning that is appropriate to this occasion and which we ought to heed. “Revile not ye those whom they call upon besides Allah, lest they out of spite revile Allah in their ignorance. Thus have We made alluring to each people its own doings. In the end will they return to their Lord, and We shall then tell them the truth of all that they did. [Surat al-Anaam; Verse 108]”

The famed Quranic interpreter, Imam al-Qurtubi, in his book “Tafsir al-Qurtubi” wrote that “this indicates that those in the right must refrain from reviling those who are wrong, who would merely return their insult, because berating them in the first place is akin to encouraging wrongdoing and indulging in it.”

Pay attention to the interpretation of this grand Muslim scholar. He says that those who are ‘in the right’ must occasionally sacrifice their position if they concluded that their actions would most likely lead to greater corruption.

The problem here is not just the idea of building a mosque, but rather the corruption and allegations that have followed this. These have harmed the wider interests of the Muslim World. Unfortunately, good intentions alone are not enough, especially in a world simmering with animosity; this requires one’s mind to be stronger than one’s heart.