Dr. Rev. Michael Kinnamon, Executive Secretary of the National Council of Churches, provides a thoughtful response to the contoversy over building a mosque near Ground Zero in Manhattan, noting that Muslims as well as non-Muslims were killed, and that Christians should treat Muslims as they would like to be treated in such a situation.
For thousands of families, Ground Zero in southern Manhattan is holy ground. Thousands lost someone they love in the terror attacks of September 11, 2001, and hundreds of thousands know someone who was directly or indirectly scarred by the collapse of the World Trade Center.
The emotional investment in Ground Zero cannot be overestimated.
That is precisely why Ground Zero must be open to the religious expression of all people whose lives were scarred by the tragedy: Christians, Jews, Sikhs, Buddhists, Hindus, and more. And Muslims.
No one knows how many Muslims died on 9/11, but they number in the hundreds. One was Salman Hamdani, a 23-year-old New York City police cadet, emergency medical technician and medical student. When Salman disappeared on September 11, law enforcement officials who knew of his Islamic faith sought him out among his family to question him about the attacks. His family lived with the onus of suspicion for six months until Salman’s body was identified. He was found near the North Tower with his EMT bag beside him, situated where he could help people in need.
The point of this now famous story is simple. Not every Muslim at Ground Zero was a terrorist, and not every Muslim was a hero. The vast majority were like thousands of others on September 11: victims of one of the most heinous events of our times.
But for the family of Salman Hamdani and millions of innocent Muslims, the tragedy has been exacerbated by the fact that so many of the rest of us have formed our opinions about them out of prejudice and ignorance of the Muslim faith.
It is that narrow-minded intolerance that has led to the outcry against the building of Cordoba House and Mosque near Ground Zero. It is the same ignorance that has led many to the outrageous conclusion that all Muslims advocate hatred and violence against non-Muslims. It is the same ignorance that has led to hate crimeand systematic discrimination against Muslims, and to calls to burn the Qur’an.
On the eve of Ramadan on August 11, the National Council of Churches, its Interfaith Relations Commission and Christian participants in the National Muslim-Christian Initiative, issued a strong call for respect for our Muslim neighbors.
“Christ calls us to ‘love your neighbor as yourself’ (Matthew 22:39),” the statement said. “It is this commandment, more than the simple bonds of our common humanity, which is the basis for our relationship with Muslims around the world.”
The statement supported building Cordoba House “as a living monument to mark the tragedy of 9/11 through a community center dedicated to learning, compassion, and respect for all people.”
Now the National Council of Churches reaffirms that support and calls upon Christians and people of faith to join us in that affirmation.
The alternative to that support is to engage in a bigotry that will scar our generation in the same way as bigotry scarred our forebears.
Three-hundred years ago, European settlers came to these shores with a determination to conquer and settle at the expense of millions of indigenous peoples who were regarded as sub-human savages. Today, we can’t look back on that history without painful contrition.
One-hundred and fifty years ago, white Americans subjugated black Africans in a cruel slavery that was justified with Bible proof-texts and a belief that blacks were inferior to whites. Today, we look back on that history with agonized disbelief.
Sixty years ago, in a time of war and great fear, tens of thousands of Japanese-Americans were deprived of their property and forced into detention camps because our grandparents feared everyone of Japanese ancestry. Today that decision is universally regarded as an unconscionable mistake and a blot on American history.
Today, millions of Muslims are subjected to thoughtless generalizations, open discrimination and outright hostility because of the actions of a tiny minority whose violent acts defy the teachings of Mohammed.
How will we explain our ignorance and our compliance to our grandchildren?
It’s time to turn away from ignorance and embrace again the words of Christ: Love your neighbor as yourself.
In that spirit, we welcome the building of Cordoba House and Mosque near Ground Zero.
The Rev. Dr. Michael Kinnamon, a Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) clergyman and a long-time educator and ecumenical leader, is the ninth General Secretary of the National Council of Churches of Christ in the USA. The NCC is the ecumenical voice of America's Orthodox, Protestant,Anglican, historic African American, evangelical and traditional peacechurches. These 36 communions have 45 million faithful members in 100,000 congregations in all 50 states.