NEW YORK: Bishop calls for 'civil, respectful discussion' concerning lower Manhattan mosque
By ENS staff August 25, 2010
[Episcopal News Service] The dispute over the planned Islamic community center and mosque in lower Manhattan should be seen as "an opportunity for a civil, rational, loving, respectful discussion," Diocese of New York Bishop Mark S. Sisk has said drawing on similar comments from Archbishop Timothy M. Dolan of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of New York.
"The plan to build this center is, without doubt, an emotionally highly charged issue," Sisk said in an Aug. 24 letter to the Episcopal New York diocese. "But as a nation with tolerance and religious freedom at its very foundation, we must not let our emotions lead us into the error of persecuting or condemning an entire religion for the sins of its most misguided adherents."
The plan to build the center near Ground Zero -- where the twin towers of the World Trade Center stood before they were attacked and destroyed by Islamic extremists on Sept. 11, 2001 -- has drawn both criticism and support.
President Barack Obama has defended the plans, saying in mid-August that Muslims have the same rights to practice their religion "as anyone else" and that commitment to religious freedom in the United States "must be unshakeable."
The plans have also been supported by New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who said in an early August speech: "We may not always agree with every one of our neighbors. That's life, and it's part of living in such a diverse and dense city. But we also recognize that part of being a New Yorker is living with your neighbors in mutual respect and tolerance."
Bloomberg, again, defended the proposed project during the annual Ramadan Iftar dinner he hosted Aug. 24 at Gracie Mansion, the mayor of New York's official residence.
Opponents have called the proposal “an insult to Americans” and those who died in the 9/11 terrorist attacks and say the mosque should be moved farther away from Ground Zero. And New York Governor David Paterson has offered the project's developers state land should they agree to move the cultural center and mosque away from Ground Zero, according to news reports.
In May, the Rev. Canon Anne Mallonee, vicar of Trinity Church, Wall Street, spoke at a community board meeting in support of the community center, now known as Park 51.
"The mission of the center is to be peace and reconciliation, inter and intra-faith understanding," Mallonee wrote in an August 23 opinion piece for Episcopal News Service.
She described the community board meeting as "a frightening display of hatred and incivility. What I encountered there, with what I have read and heard in the months since, has only strengthened my resolve for this difficult work of reconciliation."
Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, one of the leaders of Park 51 initiative, worked with Trinity Television after 9/11 to produce a video piece to promote dialogue and mutual understanding in the wake of the terrorist attacks, Mallonee said, noting that he leads worship in a mosque -- just a few blocks from Ground Zero -- that has been there almost 30 years.
Rauf and his wife Daisy Khan are well known in the Diocese of New York as "loving, gentle people, who epitomize Islamic moderation," Sisk said in his letter. "We know that as Sufis, they are members of an Islamic sect that teaches a universal belief in man's relationship to God that is not dissimilar from mystic elements in certain strains of Judaism and Christianity. Feisal Abdul Rauf and Daisy Khan are, without question, people to whom Christians of good will should reach out with the hand of hospitality and friendship, as they reach out to us. I understand and support their desire to build an Islamic center, intended in part to promote understanding and tolerance among different religions."