“Cordoba House: A Symbol of Progress in Lower Manhattan,” By Zeeshan Suhail, et al.

Posted on June 8th, 2010 | Filed under Faith and Politics, InterViews

This article does not represent the official position of the Journal of Inter-Religious Dialogue and is solely that of the authors.

New York, New York and Washington, DC - In the rabbinic tradition, it is said that if you bring colour to a person's face by upsetting them, it is as though you have physically struck him. If so, the Cordoba House and its leaders have endured a true assault.

This past month has seen a flurry of protests from extreme opponents of the Cordoba House, a proposed community centre in Lower Manhattan that would be founded by Muslims but serve all New Yorkers. While dissenters comprise only a small minority of voices, they have drowned out the large and growing number of the centre's supporters, as well as those who simply want to learn more about its overarching aims.

Individuals, like Tea Party leader Mark Williams, have mislabelled the Cordoba House a potential breeding ground for fundamentalism and tried to smear its sponsoring organisations, the American Society for Muslim Advancement and the Cordoba Initiative, both of which have a strong record of promoting interfaith dialogue and improving Muslim-Western relations.

Sadly, these protesters have failed to distinguish between the mainstream Muslim majority and the tiny minority of militant Muslims.
Opponents say that building a Muslim-led community centre near Ground Zero, a site of profound American loss and pain, would be a "victory" for militant Muslims and a loss for Americans. In fact, it is the undermining of Cordoba House that would be a true loss for Americans. One need only look as far as its name - inspired by the medieval city in Spain, Cordoba, where Christians, Jews and Muslims co-existed and thrived for 800 years - to realise that these critics are misguided.

In fact, Cordoba House is poised to become a gathering place for the enemies of militant Muslims: mainstream Muslims. It will be a sign of internal resistance to the tyranny that a small group of terrorists has tried to impose on the broader community of Muslim believers, whose ultimate goal is peace.

We, a lay Muslim American and former New Yorker, and a future rabbi and current New Yorker, are proud to stand behind this initiative. It sends a clear and profound global message that Muslims will not tolerate extremism and instead seek to collaborate with followers of other faiths and work for the common good.

Global significance aside, just imagine the local impact of Cordoba House: the community centre would provide, in its creators' words, a "cultural nexus" for New Yorkers to come together for education, performances, sports and person-to-person interaction.

New York is one of the most religiously diverse cities in the world. Where better to create a space where Muslim, Jewish, Christian and Hindu New Yorkers, among others, can learn from each other through art classes, poetry readings, film screenings and interfaith dialogue? By investing in the larger New York community, Cordoba House is poised to become an incubator of social progress and a haven of tolerance.

In many respects, fringe opponents of the Cordoba House have already failed - even before they rallied in protest against it on 6 June. New York's Community Board recently endorsed the community centre with a vote of 29 to 1, with 10 abstentions, and New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg expressed his support for its construction.

Yet for Cordoba House to achieve its true potential, particularly in the face of such radical critics, people of all backgrounds must support this initiative and others like it - politically, socially, financially and, most importantly, personally. For it to truly bring together people of all religions and even those of no particular faith, New Yorkers - and indeed all Americans - should voice their support for Cordoba House and speak up about what they would truly like to see within its walls.

By participating in this effort together, New Yorkers can reclaim Cordoba House from its detractors and help it come to fruition as a symbol of progress.


* Zeeshan Suhail is a Board Member with the New York City-based Muslim Consultative Network. Joshua M. Z. Stanton, his co-author, is co-editor of the Journal of Inter-Religious Dialogue and a rabbinical student at Hebrew Union College in New York City. This article was written for the Common Ground News Service. This article has also been featured in the Washington Post's On Faith Blog and the Tikkun Daily Blog, among others.

4 Responses to ““Cordoba House: A Symbol of Progress in Lower Manhattan,” By Zeeshan Suhail, et al.”

  1. As a future Reverend, I am also in full support of Cordoba House and anything similar. How else are Americans going to learn about authentic, mainstream Islam without interaction with authentic, mainstream Musli.ms?

    Despite what some may say in any sort of seminary, religion can never be reduced to books. Too many people are involved! Nashville is having its own issues with misunderstanding Islam. A Mosque proposal in Brentwood, TN was just denied. They said it was “zoning issues” but it was really a fear of political Islam. Education is the only way to stop this lack of understanding and something like Cordoba House would definitely help

  2. Jack McMillan says:

    First, I congratulate the citizens of Brentwood, TN for having the good sense and common decency to say a firm NO to a mosque. I only wish politicians in New York were similarly vertebrate. On 9/11 , 3000 people were murdered, yes MURDERED, by Islamist fanatics. It is an insult to their memory to have a symbol of the religion directly responsible for their deaths anywhere near Ground Zero. Of course, it doesn’t surprise me that pandering politicians are so quick to display their “tolerance”, naturally always at others’ expense. Yet this proposal isn’t surprising, sadly. Islam has a long tradition of conquering “sacred ground” then building mosques to display the supremacy of Islam. Fear of “political Islam”? Give me a break. Political Islam is the ONLY kind of Islam there is. NO Sharia country has freedom of religion, nor freedom of speech. This violent ideology is opposed to everything America and the West in general represents. So far as “education” goes, everyone reading this should go to Youtube and type
    “Wada Sultan” to hear the true story of a woman who spent the first 3 decades of her life living under the hell known as Sharia. She risked her life to flee that brutal, fascist system to find freedom in America.

    Sorry, Anthony, but I’m not “tolerant” of any religion that debases women, has no respect for human dignity, and routinely threatens the civilized world to get what it wants. If the backers of Cordoba House ( and we don’t know who they are, but I’m guessing the Saudis) want to build a mosque, well America is a big country – maybe they could find a more appropriate venue such as Death Valley. That would certainly be in keeping with the spirit of their religion.

    • Editor says:

      Dear Jack,

      The problem with generalizations is that they seldom apply to a community of 1.5 billion. To suggest that the entire community of Muslims is responsible for the actions of a small group of extremists is nothing more than the notion of collective punishment. Collective punishment is at best ‘un-American.’

      Josh Stanton

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