Tag Archive: islam


A surprising contingency of people seems to have their knickers in a knot about the so-called mosque at Ground Zero. What once was a retail clothing store has been sitting abandoned for years prior to these plans being drawn up. And though the common-sense response to rehabilitation of urban blight would be hearty support, it’s become a political and social lightning rod.

As can be the case all too often with emotionally-charged debates, people don’t wait for the facts to get in the way of their already-entrenched opinions. So I’ll beg the indulgence of those who already know the following “fun facts” and go ahead and share what really should be common knowledge.

First off, the “Ground Zero mosque” moniker is misleading. The site is blocks away from the former location of the Twin Towers, with any number of liquor stores, adult video arcades and sex-toy shops between them. Given America’s tendency toward sexually puritanical thought, it’s a wonder that a place of worship raises more ire than a window full of dildos.

Next, there’s much noise about this being a mosque, but in reality, the worship space is but a small portion of what is meant to be the Muslim equivalent of a YMCA. The entire center is budgeted at $100 million, and will include a theater, restaurant, workout facilities and more. Proportionately, the mosque itself is a mere fraction of the larger plan.

The mosque actually has actively been functional since last year. Worshipers meet several times a day amid raw Sheetrock and plastic liners to pray on an unfinished concrete floor. So, while all the objections to the mosque being there seem to focus on future development, it’s really only a matter of sprucing up the joint.

Goes to show that it doesn’t take a fancy sanctuary and minaret to invoke the sacred. You listening, Oral Roberts?

Officials representing the mosque have offered as much assurance as is humanly reasonable that no anti-American or otherwise radical talk or behavior will be tolerated. And don’t you think that if a terrorist’s idea were to carry out a nefarious plan without getting caught, a mosque near the location of the 9/11 attacks, that’s the subject of national scrutiny, might not offer the sort of cover they’re looking for in a hideout?

So where is the fear coming from? Research on this has revealed a less-than-shocking correlation between the number of negative rumors people had heard and believed about the Muslim community center and their propensity for watching Fox News as a primary information resource.

Which brings me to another fun fact. There’s been much speculation that radical Islamic groups from the Middle East must be funding the community center’s construction, but actually the primary funder is an organization called the Kingdom Foundation, whose primary benefactor is Prince Al-Waleed bin Talal.

Talal is a billionaire who, though it has been implied that he funds radical Islamists, is the second largest shareholder in a company called News Corp with more than $2 billion in holdings in the company. News Corp is a media juggernaut among whose holdings is – wait for it – Fox News.

Ironic, no?

I’ll admit I get some enjoyment out of the fact that the “news” station noted as the primary source for fear-mongering propaganda about the Islamic community center is owned in large part by the guy funding the center. As the now-obscure Russian comedian Yakov Smirnoff used to say, “America, what a country. I love it!”

My take on the center is not only that it should be allowed and tolerated, it should be encouraged by Muslims and non-Muslims alike. Some opponents of the center say that until Islamic countries build Christian churches near their holy sites we should not have a mosque near Ground Zero, which some people have since labeled as hallowed.

Seems that, in trying to distinguish ourselves from our so-called enemies, we have become more like them.

Another perspective is that an Islamic center near Ground Zero personifies the American values of plurality and peaceful coexistence. The very fact that Taliban propagandists have celebrated the schisms caused by the conflict around the mosque would suggest, perhaps, that we should be working in the opposite direction.

When mainstream Islamic people and groups are welcomed as an integral part of our culture, the work of the fringes claiming the same faith becomes increasingly impotent. It is in the context of ignorance, fear and division that terrorism makes its most indelible mark. We erase such marks from our psyche one relationship and one act of reconciliation at a time.

Some who wish to see the East-West discord continue would like nothing better than to have the community center banned. Illogical as it may seem to some, the greatest counter-terrorism measure we can take against such ideology requires no weapons or troops, but rather an open heart and mind.

The problem is that we have to stop reacting out of fear of what might be long enough to see the simple truth in front of us. It’s an ideal realized easily enough, though maybe not for the most heavily-armed nation in the history of the world.

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Going out of the way to be uncomfortable (Smells Like Spirit column)
(Originally published in PULP)

I’m a sucker for nearly any reality show in which participants undergo a radical transformation. I love the big payoff at the end of the Biggest Loser season; I watch American Idol like a tweenie fan; and I’m man enough to admit I’m a total sucker for a makeover.

That’s why, when Morgan Spurlock, creator and star of the documentary film Super Size Me, started a new TV series called 30 Days, I was hooked before I even saw the pilot.

The show follows the same sort of immersive, autobiographical documentary style as his film, placing people in situations unlike their typical environment for a month and watching how they respond, generally with some thread of social commentary at the core. In the first show, he and his girlfriend got minimum wage jobs and tried to live below the poverty line, with very sobering results.

But we pulled up on Netflix two more recent shows from the first season, both of which I think should be required viewing in all Christian churches. The first placed a traditional evangelical in Dearborn, Mich., to live with a Muslim family in a heavily Muslim neighborhood for 30 days. The second sent a good ol’ boy from the Nebraska farmland to live in the Castro district in San Francisco, commonly known as “the gayest place on the planet.”

In both cases, the men came in with strong preconceptions about — or against — the groups with which they were to cohabitate, judgments generally originating from the media, popular stereotypes in culture and of course, their churches. By the end, both men, though not divested of their original faith, were radically reoriented in the way they thought about people they thought they understood.

No, the farm boy didn’t come home in leather chaps or with a suitcase full of sex toys, and the evangelical didn’t toss out his Bible to make room for his Quran (but he did put them on the shelf next to each other). Both seemed to fear as much would happen, simply by opening themselves up to a different experience.

What the show demonstrates most importantly is twofold: Most of the most painful divisions between us as individuals and groups originate in fear, and direct personal relationship is bigger than that same fear in most cases.

So how do we go about allowing for such important transformation to take place out front in front of a camera? It seems that we have to go out of our way to put ourselves in uncomfortable situations. Not a natural inclination, and certainly not a popular angle for churches desperate to fill their pews and coffers with happy congregants, but if we’re seriously about the business of social healing and reconciliation, what other choice do we have?

Sure, lots of churches offer mission trips to help out in places unlike our home towns, but, often, those sorts of service projects – where we feel we have something of value to bring to those we’re helping, and not the other way around – are an inherent setup for an imbalance of power.

Also, the sort of change we’re talking about doesn’t seem to take place in a weekend, or even in a weeklong trip. It’s been said that it takes doing something 21 times in a new way before old habits are broken. So maybe a minimum of three weeks is required.

Of course few, if any, of us has three weeks to give up in order to travel somewhere with the explicit goal of being changed. It’s against our nature to seek unfamiliarity and to consciously look for things to challenge our worldview, let alone using every bit of vacation we have to do it. So yeah, I’m a bit of an idealist, and there’s potential in the idea.

Every community has its share of diversity, be it economic, cultural, sexual or otherwise. Part of the whole intent is not just to be more willing to seek out direct engagement with different types of people, but to do so in the spirit of openness, acknowledging that perhaps our views could actually benefit from being stretched a little.

Consider yourself a little homophobic? Sit in on a few Equality Alliance or PFLAG (Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays) meetings, or grab a cold one at the Pirate’s Cove, Pueblo’s only openly gay bar (that I know of, anyway).

Consider yourself to be agnostic or atheist? Go to church for a few months, not to become un-atheist, but to learn more about the thing you supposedly don’t believe in. Love your evangelical church? Check out a pagan festival or a Wiccan gathering, if there’s one open to the public.

The key question is: What can it hurt? Worst case, your preconceptions and objections are confirmed. Best case, you learn something, and maybe so do the folks with whom you engage. And if you’re really so worried about the potential change that may take place in yourself, maybe it’s worth wondering what the basis of your beliefs is in the first place.

After all, if a few encounters with the unfamiliar can bring your house of cards crashing down, it sounds like the raw material may not have had the soundest integrity to begin with.

When values collide
By Christian Piatt

If you’ve never taken the time to spend some time reflecting on the five pillars of Islam, it’s worth the effort, regardless of your religious affiliation. One particular pillar that stands out to me is Zakat, which is described as alms-giving.

All Muslims are required to donate a portion of their income to charity, both as a spiritual discipline and as a means of offering welfare for those who are less fortunate. Whereas is the Christian faith, we are encouraged to give sacrificially, Muslims see this practice of Zakat as inextricable from their foundational religious identity.

With the rampant concern about religiously-fueled terrorism in the United States since September 11, 2001, many efforts have been made by our government to cut off funding for terror cells at the source. As such, many Muslim charitable organizations are closely tracked by the FBI and CIA, and some are even “blacklisted” as untouchable.

To some degree, this is understandable. After all, if there’s money flowing from our own country into the coffers on those intent on destroying us, it makes sense to try and do something about it.

But it’s not that simple.

Some Muslim groups have asked the U.S. government to create a “white list” of approved organizations so that they can inform their community where it is safe to practice Zakat. However, government officials have declined to do so, suggesting that creating such a list would only make those charities an obvious target for terrorists to infiltrate and corrupt, once they are perceived as safe.

Some suggest this is easily remedied by giving to organizations that aren’t explicitly affiliated with Islam. However, this ignores one of the two-fold purposes of Zakat: to help those in need within the Muslim community in particular.

It seems, then, that we have two American values meeting at an impasse. Though we seek to preserve our safety and way of life, we also celebrate the value of religious freedom. So what is to be done when the premium of real, or perceived, safety infringes on such liberties?

It was Thomas Jefferson who said, “though the will of the majority is in all cases to prevail, that will, to be rightful, must be reasonable; that the minority possess their equal rights, which equal laws must protect, and to violate which would be oppression.” In this case, it seems the “will of the majority” is treading dangerously close to oppression.

Simply because the Muslims in America are a relatively small, silent – and these days, rightfully fearful – minority does not mean we can ignore the compromises to religious freedom our national security interests impose.

Originally printed in the August issue of PULP.

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