Thursday, September 2, 2010

If You Build It... | The New Republic

If You Build It... | The New Republic
Yossi Klein Halevi's article about the proposed Islamic Center near ground zero is well reasoned and insightful. He writes:

I am urging you [Imam Rauf] to rise to your moment of spiritual greatness. You have dedicated your life to helping Islam enter the American mainstream. In its current form, though, your project will have the opposite effect. The way to ease Islam into the American mainstream is in the company of its fellow Abrahamic faiths. The great obstacle to Islam’s reconciliation with the West is the adherence of even mainstream Muslims to a kind of medieval notion of interfaith relations. Muslim spokesmen often note how, during the Middle Ages, Islam provided protection for Christianity and Judaism. But that model—tolerance under Islamic rule—is inadequate for our time. The new interfaith theology affirms the spiritual legitimacy of all three Abrahamic faiths. Whether or not we accept one another’s faiths as theologically true, we can affirm them as devotionally true, that is, as worthy vessels for a God-centered life.

What will define a genuinely American Islam will be its ability to embrace this modern notion of interfaith relations. A 15-story Islamic center near Ground Zero will undermine that process. In the Muslim world, as you well know, architecture often buttresses triumphalist theology. Throughout the Holy Land, minarets deliberately tower over churches. However inadvertently, your current plan would be understood by large parts of the Muslim world as a victory over the West. Merely adding an interfaith component to the proposed Islamic center would not counter that distorted impression. Instead, it would likely reinforce the medieval theology of extending “protection” to Christianity and Judaism under the auspices of Islam. But an interfaith center in which the three Abrahamic faiths are given equal status would send the message that I believe you intend to convey.

American Muslims in particular and America in general will be best served by an interfaith center that reaches out to people of all faiths. An Islam that lives in harmony with other faiths is sorely needed. What an extraordinary example such an interfaith center would serve to the world's Muslims. I continue as well to object to the name "Cordoba House" that affirms an interfaith dialogue where one faith is held superior to other faiths. We do not live in an Islamic state which treats Jews and Christians with benevolence. We live instead in a country that is a amalgam of many different faiths. Let any new center built near ground zero represent this particular American vision.

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