Free to build a place of peace
The proposed Islamic center in New York City, known as Park51, is meant to increase harmony, peace and well-being, says Feisal Abdul Rauf, the imam behind the project. But, as so often happens today, those who spread fear and prejudice are distorting such intentions.
Christians with a broad vision of peace must not give in to the voices of intolerance that oppose Park51.
As Islamophobia resurfaces, and guilt by association plagues Muslims once again, I’m longing for signs of hope.
I found one in a recent CNN piece that took a unique look at Islam in New York City through the story of Cyrus McGoldrick, a Muslim who raps for peace.
Cyrus was my middle school best friend. Born to an Irish-Catholic father and a Muslim-Iranian mother, he attended church as a child but reclaimed his Islamic heritage while attending Columbia University. Today he lives in New York City, serving as a community activist and hip-hop musician whose lyrics proclaim faithful social action.
Though we haven’t seen each other for four years, Cyrus e-mailed me recently.
“We all want peace,” he said. “We all want stability. We all want to raise families and strengthen our communities. Islam is a religion of mercy and service.”
Anabaptists are part of a prophetic heritage of persecuted peacemakers and justice-seekers. So is Cyrus. The distinguishing factor is that Anabaptists follow Jesus, the Prince of Peace, in our daily lives. Yet Cyrus and I both place peacemaking and reconciliation at the heart of our faith. We both value cultivating peace as part of an emerging generation growing up post-9/11. In fact, I’m realizing Anabaptists have no monopoly on peace.
We have work to do. Park51 debates have pitted Christians vs. Muslims. The Bible vs. the Quran. Us vs. them. Fear vs. hope. It’s time to declare God’s peace for everyone.
As columnist Paul Krugman said in the New York Times, “The hysteria over the proposed Islamic center in Lower Manhattan almost makes one long for the days when former President George W. Bush tried to soothe religious hatred, declaring Islam a religion of peace. There were good reasons for his position: there are a billion Muslims in the world, and America can’t afford to make all of them its enemies.”
An Islamic center devoted to prayer would cultivate peace and denounce terrorists, whose violence violates Islam. Near Ground Zero, Park51 would prove that terrorists can’t destroy America’s values of cultural diversity and religious freedom. It would defy those who attempt to define Christians and Muslims as enemies.
While visiting Casablanca in 2008, I toured the Hassan II mosque, one of two Moroccan mosques open to non-Muslims – including conservative Mennonites from Lancaster, Pa., whom I met there. I remember standing on the edge of the Atlantic Ocean, looking due west toward New York City, recalling how a few generations ago my ancestors immigrated to the United States to escape violence and find religious freedom.
Now, I imagine myself looking toward Park51, originally named Cordoba House, after Cordoba, Spain, a city historically renowned for the peaceful coexistence of Christians, Muslims and Jews. I wish New York City, and the post-9/11 United States, could be known for that too.
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