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Religious Tolerance logo

A proposed Muslim community center near 9/11's "ground zero"

Background. Conflicts over the project.

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Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf is a prominent voice within the Sufi tradition of Islam. Sufism is a spiritual, esoteric, and essentially peaceful branch of Islam. Rauf is also the author of a book: "What's Right with Islam is What's Right with America: A New Vision for Muslims and the West." It describes his vision for a reconciliation between Islam and the West. 1

Imam Rauf heads the Cordoba Initiative (CI) -- an American non-profit group dedicated to "improving Muslim-West relations." 2 The initiative:

"... aims to achieve a tipping point in Muslim-West relations within the next decade, steering the world back to the course of mutual recognition and respect, and away from heightened tensions."

CI is the chief sponsor for Cordoba House -- now called Park51 -- a proposed 13 floor Muslim community center with a mosque on one floor. It would be located in New York City, NY at 45 to 51 Park Place in lower Manhattan. This is about the equivalent of six city blocks away from ground zero where the twin towers of the World Trade Center (WTC) were demolished in the 9/11 terrorist attack, with the loss of over 3,000 lives. It is two blocks away from the edge of the WTC grounds. A warehouse erected in 1857 is currently at the site. Its upper floors and parts of its outside wall were damaged by landing gear that fell from one of the airplanes used in the terrorist attack. It was a Burlington Coat retail store before 9/11. It currently houses a mosque where services have been held since 2009. 3

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Problems with the Park51 project:

Normally, the destruction of an ancient warehouse and its replacement by a religiously-oriented community center would not pose much of a problem anywhere in the U.S. However, Park51 is special because of its close proximity to the 9/11 site, because the perpetrators of the tragedy were Muslims, and because the building will contain a mosque on one of its 13 floors.

There are two items related to Cordoba House which are particularly important:

  1. The relationship between the terrorists and Cordoba Initiative personnel: Some Westerners accept the concept of collective responsibility. They believe that an entire group of people may be held responsible for actions by a small number of its individuals. The larger group may include all individuals of a given gender, skin color, religion, nationality, sexual orientation, gender identity, religion, or some other identifier. In this case, it is the religion of Islam. Some who accept this concept hold all Muslims responsible for the actions of 19 radical, violent, fundamentalist Muslims who attacked the WTC, and Pentagon, and tried to attack Congress.

    "The Final Report of the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States (the '9/11 Commission') claims that 'Islamist terrorism' finds inspiration in 'a long tradition of extreme intolerance' that flows 'through the founders of Wahhabism'." Wahhabism is the name given to the Saudi Arabian version of Salafiyya -- an extreme puritanical and radically intolerant Islamic movement.

    On the other hand, many Westerners reject the concept of collective responsibility. They feel that to hold all Muslims responsible for an attack by 19 violent fundamentalist Muslims who had no regard for human life makes about as much sense as holding all Christians responsible for the attack on the Murrah Building in Oklahoma City. They readily differentiate between:

    • The Muslims inspired by Wahhabism who belonged to Al-Qaeda and who perpetrated 9/11, and

    • The group that is attempting to build Park51, and who who follow Sufism -- a peaceful tradition of Islam that is being severely oppressed by Wahhabism.

    It worth noting that al-Zawahri, the political theorist of Al-Qaeda is a believer in collective responsibility and collective punishment. He views the destruction if Israel as the issue of greatest importance to Al-Qaeda. The U.S. has historically supported Israel and is therefore also considered the enemy. He believes that every U.S. civilian is guilty because they elect and fund their government.

    It is also interesting to note that the concept of transferring guilt and punishment from the guilty to the innocent is a persistent theme in the Bible, from Genesis to Revelation. It is rejected as immoral by most Christian faith groups. However, passages supporting the concept are easily found throughout the Hebrew and Christian Scriptures (Old and New Testament).

  2. The internal structure of Islam: Most Westerners are familiar with the many denominations that identify with Christianity: Roman Catholicism; liberal, mainline and conservative Protestantism, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (The Mormons), the Eastern Orthodox Churches, Jehovah's Witnesses, Christian Science, etc. But many incorrectly view Islam as a homogenous religion; they do not recognize the differences among the Shi'ite, Sufism, Sunni, Salafiyya, Wahhabi, and other Islamic traditions. 4

    Stephen Schwartz, writing in the Weekly Standard, stated:

    "The Muslim world comprises a spectrum of religious interpretations. If, at one end of the continuum, we find the fanatical creed of Wahhabism, cruel and arbitrary, more an Arab-supremacist state ideology than a religious sect. At the other end we find the enlightened traditions of Sufism. These stress not only intra-Islamic dialogue, separation of spiritual from clerical authority, and teaching in the vernacular, but also respect for all believers, whether Muslim, Christian, Jewish, Hindu, Buddhist, or other. Sufis emphasize, above all, their commitment to mutual civility, interaction, and cooperation among believers, regardless of sect." 5

As noted above, Imam Rauf is a Sufi. Members of his tradition are severely oppressed in in Saudi Arabia which primarily practices the Wahhabi tradition of Islam. It is this country from which fifteen of the nineteen 9/11 terrorists originated.

Full disclosure: The staff at this website is not particularly enamored of the Saudi Arabian government. They appear to be the only country in the world that prevents its citizens to access this website.

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References used:

The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.

  1. Feisal Abdul Rauf, "What's Right with Islam is What's Right with America: A New Vision for Muslims and the West," HarperOne, (2005). Read reviews or order this book safely from online book store
  2. "Cordoba Initiative: Improving Muslim-West relations," Cordoba Initiative, at:
  3. Fern Sidman, "Demonstrators say 'No' to mosque at ground zero," Israel National News, 2010-JUN-07, at:
  4. "Al-Qaeda: the misunderstood Wahhabi connection and the ideology of violence," The Royal Institute of International Affairs, Page 4, 2003-FEB, at: This is a PDF file.
  5. Stephen Swartz, "Getting to know the Sufis," The Weekly Standard, 2005-FEB-03, at:
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Copyright © 2010 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Original posting: 2010-JUL-27
Latest update: 2010-SEP-05
Author: B.A. Robinson

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