Common Ground not Found at NYC Islamic Center Site

Common Ground not Found at NYC Islamic Center Site August 27, 2010

In all of the back and forth within the Pagan community over if we should or shouldn’t support the proposed Islamic Center,  one of the more compelling things I’ve read was a comment from NorseAlchemist on the Wild Hunt, “I find myself in an unenviable position which seems I must either stand for freedom of religion (a thing near and dear to my heart) and permit a religion that would see my ways wiped from human existence or stand for something that appears to be against freedom of religion and prevent said ideology from gaining more power.”

Sadd branch of family in US: my grangmother and her sisters

I’m going to leave aside the legal and constitutional red herrings that have been thrown out there because this isn’t, as of yet, a constitutional or legal issue. No governmental agency is blocking the center from being built. Instead this is a public discussion of preference. Do you prefer the center to be built in that spot, somewhere else, or should Islamic Centers not be built anywhere in the USA? The group behind the center is free to follow or ignore these opinions on preference.

Within the Pagan community, this has been put forward as an issue of showing solidarity with another minority religion. That we must stand with them, as we would expect them to stand with us. Mostly I agree with this. It makes sense to me and appeals to the concepts of honor that are so much a part of Hellenismos. But I can’t do it. No, that’s not true. I choose not to do it. I would lead the charge to assist the Muslim community if the government were infringing on their rights, but I will not assist them in getting the center built.

The main reason for this is exactly because I, too, have thought long and hard about the very dilemma that NorseAlchemist outlines. In a very real and personal way.

Coming out as a Pagan in the USA is not a totally risk-free enterprise. You could lose your job. Your family could cast you out. People could vandalize your property or physically harm you. We fear these things primarily from the Christian majority. I have been lucky. My Christian family did not cast me out. I haven’t lost my job. I have received some threats and other unpleasantness, but overall things are fine. If I came out to my extended family and lived where they do, in the Middle East, I wouldn’t have to worry about my family casting me out. I wouldn’t worry about losing my job. I wouldn’t even have to worry about being physically harmed. I would have none of these worries because I would most probably be dead. Likely by my own family’s hands. They would not go to jail for killing me and their spiritual leaders would not condemn them.

The rule of law and religion, called Sharia, are one in the same in much of the Middle East. People can talk about radicalism or fundamentalism, but killing a Pagan family member – especially a female one – is not a radical or fundamentalist act in most Muslim controlled countries. Nor is killing an adulteress. Or any female who gets out of line. Justice seems to fall heavier on the women under Islamic law. It is an act acceptable to the mainstream of the religion and is promoted and protected by custom, by sacred writings, and by law.

This isn’t just in Islamic-controlled theocracies. The religion and ethics of Islam that offer the choice of compliance with their theological laws or death or other harsh punishments are practiced in Europe, North America, and other regions of the world. I absolutely agree that many Muslims move to the USA (and elsewhere) to escape the draconian religious laws of the Middle East, Africa, and Asia. They are not looking to convert by force and are content with the rest of us living our lives how we see fit. Yet many also still enforce those same draconian laws within their family. Wives cannot refuse their husband’s sexual advances. Religious seeking, outside Islam, is severely punished. Forms of dress are to be observed or, again, the punishment can be severe. Enough of that. Suffice it to say I believe every person is free to voluntarily comply with religious tenants that apply only to themselves, but I oppose those who would force compliance on others.

Does this happen in other religions? Yes. And we rightfully criticize them. Especially in our community, you can’t hardly mention Christianity without a litany of negative comments, most involving words like homophobic and misogyny, being recited. Pagans navel gaze and we aren’t shy about voicing concerns and criticisms of our own, each others’, traditions.

Yet we, and much of the USA, are so careful to not criticize Islam. As if, by being extra sensitive, we can make up for those who would like to harm Muslims. We excuse the Muslim religion for things that we would not excuse in any other religion. To state concerns over the possible spread of sharia law in the USA, which has crept into Canada and the UK, is to be labeled a bigot and an Islamaphobe. To blast Christians who want Judeo-Christian ethics to influence our laws, is to be lauded as intelligent and progressive. The Christianization of our laws is openly discussed as a valid threat. Understandable since they are in the majority. You are ridiculed as a tinfoil hat wearer for thinking Islamic law could gain ground in our institutions here. They have no power, such concerns are silly.

In some Minneapolis public schools, there are rooms set aside so that Muslim students can go and pray during school-time. We have a public school that the ACLU contents is actually a religious Muslim school. If you are carrying alcohol or want to go to a bar, Muslim taxi drivers are allowed to refuse you service.  Muslim women are allowed to veil when posing for a photo ID.

I don’t put the blame, for lack of a better word, on Muslims for this. They can only ask for these allowances and what’s the harm in asking? No, it’s a strange brand of hypocrisy, a type of squeamishness that those who label themselves “tolerant” in the USA seem to have regarding Islam that they do not have towards any other religious group. They are the ones who support using taxpayer money to create prayer rooms, footbaths, and halal lunches for Muslim students in public schools while refusing even a hint of accommodation to other religions. It also drives lifelong committed feminists to defend or ignore many of Islam’s human rights violations against women. Our citizenry also doesn’t have much of a problem with taxpayer funds paying for the Islamic Center’s Imam to tour the Mid-East on a bridge building tour which he is also using to raise funds and gain publicity for building the center. I don’t ask for people to castigate the Islamic faith, but is it asking too much for people to treat it with the same critical or neutral eye they cast on other religions?  Our government and our citizens show themselves unwilling to place the same restraints on Islam as they place on every other religion in our country when it looks to cross the line.  That is what raises my level of concern.  Not some pathological fear of Islam or ingrained bigotry, but I’m losing my trust in all of you to not allow sharia to gain ground because of some misguided attempt to show how tolerant you are.  Where sharia gains, Pagans lose.

This isn’t to say Islam and those who practice it are evil. Far from it. Or that Islam isn’t a spiritually fulfilling religious path for those who are devoted to it. I haven’t found a religion yet that doesn’t have much to recommend it and Islam is no different in that regard. I will not stand quietly while any religion in the USA is discriminated against by our government. I will not condone violence against any religion. But I’m not rooting for Islam to spread throughout the USA as I, like NorseAlchemist feel that “Christians, while unhappy with our existance, at least is not that big a threat.  Islam certainly is, from my studies.”

Right now, Islam, as a religion, is in an internal struggling with issues of violence, oppression and human rights violations, and imperialism. I’m hopeful that American  moderate Muslims (whom I know to be decent, wonderful people) win this struggle against sharia.  They are the ones most concerned by how Western nations seem unwilling to push back against sharia and are the ones targeted for violence by their coreligionists for their non-compliance.

So while I support and will defend anyone’s right to use private funds to build on private property, I will not add my voice to the chorus urging the Islamic Center near Ground Zero be built. Nor will I add my voice to those opposed to it.


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  • I really think this fails to get to the heart of the matter. Pagans should oppose the spread of Islam precisely because Islam threatens us. And Americans in general, whether Pagan, Christian, Jew, Atheist, Hindu, etc, should oppose the spread of Islam because Islam poses a direct threat to the basic American principles of equality, liberty and democracy.

    And there simply is no contradiction involved in opposing Islam and supporting religious freedom. Many of the most important voices in the history of the struggle for religious freedom have been forthright critics of Christianity. There was never any contradiction involved in that, despite the fact that the Christians scream, on cue, “persecution!” any time they face the least criticism.

    We can fight Islam by spreading the truth about Islam. We can fight against mosques and “Islamic Community Centers” by exposing their sources of funding and the ideological ties of those associated with them. The first Amendment does not protect the “right” of Saudi Arabian Wahhabists to spread their doctrines of hate here in the US.

    And when people come forward claiming to be “moderates” who have no ties to extremists, we have every right to demand that they present evidence: show us where the money is coming from, and show us where you have denouced Hamas, Hezbollah, the Muslim Brotherhood, etc. And also tell us what you think of Sharia.

    We can’t afford to stay on the sidelines. Either as Americans or as Pagans.

  • I too am ambivalent about this issue. I totally support the right of any group to “use private funds to build on private property”. I just wish they wouldn’t build here – the current controversy isn’t in anyone’s best interest.

    Like every other religion, Islam can be a fulfilling spiritual path or it can be a tool of oppression or it can be somewhere in between. I want to support moderate Muslims in America and elsewhere, but anyone advocating sharia in any form is no friend of mine.

  • I too have to echo Norsealchemist’s comments. I find myself really torn over this. The Imam who is proposing the center was one of my teachers when I attended Interfaith seminary and I believe he is a good and holy man; and of course i deplore religious discrimination and belonging to a minority religion that is all too often misunderstood and misrepresented in the popular press, I’m extremely sensitive to situations where people might be condemned solely for their practices.

    That being said, I also believe monotheism is inherently intolerant. Its spread across the the world was an act of religious colonialism and, imo, religious genocide…and not just Islam. I lay the same charge even more thoroughly at the foot of Christianity. I have a huge issue with promoting or protecting any of the monotheistic religions that would, in fact, wipe us out if given half a chance. I know many good and peaceful Muslims who are trying to live good lives and would never dream of hurting anyone and i can’t deny them the right to serve their God but it’s their God and when it comes to promulgating the tenets or worship of Allah (or Yahweh for that matter), in a way that would negate any other Deity or religion, I find that I can’t stand behind that. And yet……what if it were a Heathen center? Or a Pagan Center? So I find myself caught, stuck in the middle of what to me, is an ideological conundrum.

    I suppose at the last, I think the placement is at the very least in poor taste. My objections to it have to do with my overall objections to publicly furthering monotheism in general though, rather than because it’s Islam in particular.

  • Bookhousegal

    I do think that for Pagans this is double-edged: I oppose the intolerance we’ve seen regarding this: it does seem that all this feeds into is the idea there should be total *Christian* hegemony, here, in times that are given to too much hysteria and xenophobia as it is.

    I have no illusions about Islam being inherently tolerant of us, either, but neither is Christianity. We manage to live, by and large, among Christians, anyway, as long as they don’t have too much government power, or indeed overtly-hostile churches trying to run us out of town. What this means is that we need to nurture a free society, not ‘pick a side’ in the endless ‘holy wars’ of words.

    For this reason, I’m more on the side of the place being part of some interfaith dialogue: whatever there is about it being *civil,* not so much about what seems to me to be more about rage and frustration and Islamophobia, which is being applied to our electoral politics. Remember this goes further than this one building: in a country where one in five supposedly believe and fear our President is a crypto-Muslim, this is being used for other purposes by people I *know* I don’t believe or trust, either.

    Pagans can be a force for civility and tolerance about this without being fools, (as some people insinuate about those of us who don’t think we can or should join in with those who’d ostracize Muslim-Americans,) …the question is what’s the right action?

    Maybe we should even be mediators, if anything: instead of being ‘divided’ over this, maybe we really can see both sides.

    I wouldn’t want to live in a Muslim-dominated country, either, but who said this was about ‘all or nothing?’

    I’m sure not attached to one location or another for this place, but I do think that as a society, we need to keep the fear and anger and intolerance factor down. That only serves extremists.

  • Oops. Don’t look now, but NorseAlchemist just got a lot less ambivalent about this whole thang:
    http://norsealchemist.blogspot.com/2010/08/heathens-and-pagans-and-muslims-and.html

    I won’t try to speak for him, but it looks to me like the whole issue of the Cordoba Initiative’s relationship to Sharia Law (they are for it) is making NorseAlchemist rethink whether or not this is something that Pagans can really stay out of.

  • It seems I came here at a good time, as my article has already been posted.

    Permit me to wax philosophical.

    It is true, I suppose, that I am less than ambivalent. That said, I seek to keep as many councils on this matter as I may. I still stand by religious freedom, and I believe the author above puts forth an even better explanation of the situation than I could. We must not let our passions override our judgment. My attempt in my above blog post was an attempt to lay out that all three sides of this argument have points, while illustrating why I chose where I stand. It is not a decision made lightly. But it is the decision I made based on the information I had, some of which is in that post.

    I sometimes wonder if this discussion Pagans and Heathens are having about the Ground Zero Mosque, or whatever you choose to call it, is anything like the discussions our Pagan and Heathen ancestors had when Christianity was first appearing in their various territories, especially the Vikings. Did Olaf, Ragnar, and Hilda debate like this what they should do about the Christians pressing their religion into Scandinavia, wondering if long valued trading partners were now to become enemies, if people they had lived in moderate peace with were now to become the other side of a war.

    If we compare the slaughter of 4500 Pagans at Verden to the 3000+ Killed at the WTC, where does that lead us? Can we imagine the feelings of our ancestors? Their fears, their hopes, their choices? It was only ten years from Verden to the first Viking raid at Lindisfarne. Ten years, much like we have had since 9/11. Time enough, for discussions like this between kin and at the Thing. Time for Pagans and Heathens to discuss how it is our ways to tolerate other gods, that each man and woman have right to their belief and for others to stand up and proclaim that those who worship the One God of Abraham tolerate no other beliefs. I wish that we could go back and talk to them. Talk to the Norse, the Germans, the Celts, the Greeks, and the Romans and see what they saw, hear what they hear.

    I have tried to think of what my gods and goddesses would say. Some are silent, but those I know I think I can imagine what they would say.

    Tyr would say that the Law is Law and we must keep the law, but that when a great beast is at your door and threatens to devour you, a sacrifice must be made to keep your kin safe.

    Thor, I can imagine raising a horn and toasting to battle, proclaiming that Christianity and Islam are a threat and must be driven back.

    Hel, I feel, would say as far as the GZM, would be to let the dead rest, and leave them from the troubles of the living. I don’t know if she would say to move the mosque or build it or not. I just know she would wish the dead their peace and that for good or ill, our fighting over this disturbs that peace.

    I would like to hear what others feel and think about this. I will try to keep up here, but if anyone wishes to contact me, easiest way is through my blog and the comments section.

    I leave you with my thoughts on this matter. Let us not hate nor fear, but be wise and honorable.

  • The following, from Tikkun Dailiy Blog says it so much better than I could:

    On August 6, 2007 Specialist Kareem Rashad Sultan Khan of the United States Army was killed along with three other American soldiers when a bomb detonated as they were checking abandoned houses for explosives in Baquba, Iraq.

    If you have the audacity, try telling this American patriot’s family that they don’t have the right to pray at a mosque near Ground Zero.

  • If it is a Mosque that preaches that women are not equal to men, that homosexuals and adulterers are to be stoned to death, that non-believers were born of pigs and monkeys and weren’t even human, and that non-believers should be slaughtered until they are dead or converted, then I have that audacity.

    I would do the same if it was a Christian Church.

    I would do the same if it was a Buddhist Temple.

    I would do the same if it was an Asatru Grove.

    I have the audacity to stand in the face of hatred and bigotry, even if I am called hater and bigot as the price. Because America is a land of Religious Freedom, but not a land where Religions are free to preach ideologies that advocate the deaths of non-believers.

    Ask yourselves this, if it was a Minority Christian Sect that was building this center, and was a proponent that Pagans should be put to death, that Homosexuals deserved to be killed, and that “Minorities” were sub-human, would you be supporting it in the name of “Religious Freedom” or would you be calling to stop the hate?

  • Thank you for this article and thank you to all who have commented. I have been on the fence as well about this Center and it’s nice to know that many other Pagans have the same concerns. I am finding myselfe, however, on the side of protecting myself and my loved ones first before standing up for a group (even a minority group) that wishes harm.

    http://tpoaic.blogspot.com/2010/09/pagans-view-on-mosque.html