So a gathering of Muslim leaders from across the USA discussing "the ground Zero Mosque" (1) has just announced that as Americans they have a freedom to worship where they choose. They have also committed themselves to increased dialogue. Muslim Groups Back Islamic Center Near Ground Zero.
''We stand for the constitutional right of Muslims, and Americans of all faiths, to build houses of worship anywhere in our nation as allowed by local laws and regulations,'
Quite honestly it was to be expected. It is no longer a case just for Iman Rauf, but has become the cause celebre for all American Muslims. It has moved beyond the issue of a mosque near such an iconic place and has become about their right to build mosques in many places, about their freedom to celebrate their faith as they choose, about the sacredness of their holy book the Qu'ran, about their integration into American society, about their very identity as Americans who are Muslims. At the heart of the discussion has been a deep and growing fear and hatred of Islam, not just of extremist forms of Islam. Islamophobia is running deeply through the veins of American society. In many ways to back down would be to set back their own integration into the nation, the very thing they are accused of avoiding. You could argue that it would be to allow Islamophobia to have its ugly way.
In What a lot of anger - It can't be good for you written a month ago I argued that that while they should be free to build, it may be wisdom had another way.
As for the issue of wisdom, the answer needs to be arrived at not by a media / political / interfaith slanging match but by seeking healing of the huge scar in America's national psyche that Ground Zero represents. No truly fair or just decision that is really good for the nation can ever be made for a mosque or indeed anything on the site when it not only represents the evil of 9-11 (and make no mistake, I do not deny it was evil) but is also suffused with so much pain and anger, so much victim-hood, so much unforgiveness.
I was reading this afternoon a piece that my American friend Charles Strohmer recently wrote in a very similar way in a piece on his blog, Truth about ‘The Mosque at Ground Zero’ . Charles is pursuing the application of the ancient wisdom traditions to international relations and diplomacy, ideas that are at the heart of the wisdom tradition in which the Hebrew scriptures emerged, and which are thus central to Jews, Christians and Muslims. Having sorted out truth from error about the location of the Community Centre (1), and the Sufi Muslim beliefs of Rauf (2), he moves on to what a wisdom oriented approach would be to bring healing to Americas deep woundedness. In doing so he adopts an analysis of the situation similar to mine. He tries to look at it from the shoes of the Iman. Strohmer recognises that while law allows the mosque, law doesn't heal, and he urges Rauf to consider what would bring healing:
What we need right now is a dramatic gesture that will defuse the firestorm while being an agent of healing. It really would be nothing short of a blooming miracle to have it in one’s power to evoke both concurrently, but Imam Rauf now has that in his power to do. To release it would only take a simple announcement in the right spirit that “we are going to refocus our efforts on finding another site, still in our beloved neighborhood Tribeca in lower Manhattan, but one a bit farther removed from Vesey Street.”
... Show us on a grand scale that “Islam,” which you told us in your New York Times editorial, “comes from a word cognate to shalom, which means peace in Hebrew,” can repay evil with good, big time. Help make our country more sound. Forget about a physical space so near to ground zero. Create a capacity space for healing in the lives of zillions of Americans across this country who are not bigots but who for whatever reasons still remain too sensitive to an overt institutional Muslim presence in the halo area."
Strohmer here is encouraging a grand, generous and gracious gesture. I agree with him it would be good, it might have done the job. It is still not impossible, but for Rauf now to move so far from the counsel of his brothers in faith is most unlikely.
So if a start to the healing does not come from his gracious move, we have to look elsewhere. I argues a month ago that:
The task of God's people in this is not just to act the chaplain to the victim but to seek to move beyond that to be the representative of He who we believe brings full healing, freedom and reconciliation.
... To be even more direct, it is time for America to move on, and experience the healing of its national wounds that can come from the faith of many of its people. And its time for its Christian people, and especially its Christian leaders to lead the way, by proclaiming the source of that healing. I make no apology for being direct.
Strohmer was calling for a gracious response.He was right! But I would widen it to say that grace can come from both sides. It can come be exercised in an apology or in forgiveness. It can be demonstrated in the humilty of backing down, or the humility of making space. It comes through embrace, not exclusion.
Rather that wait for the other side to make the move, rather than pointing the finger of blame, we need to look in the mirror, and examine again the call to forgiveness, and the resource we have for forgiveness. As Christians we know forgiveness and the healing that can flow from it are not an option; we can never say "they didn't do their part!"
I believe this issue is pivotal in relation to the standing of Islam and Muslims in American society. It will have implications at home and overseas. We need to see it from that perspective. Again this is genuinely the moment for a grand gesture of grace. May we be seeking to outdo one another in grace!
(1) I use "Ground Zero Mosque" to identify it as that is popular speak; the reality is that it is three blocks from Ground Zero. I drew attention to that in my piece on the plans a month ago, What a lot of anger - It can't be good for you.). The piece by my friend Charles Strohmer has a detailed description of its location in his piece Truth about ‘The Mosque at Ground Zero’
(2) More on Sufi Islam here, and see Strohmer for the outworking of that: Truth about ‘The Mosque at Ground Zero’ Most journalism looking at the subject have lost the subject of the nature of his faith. It frankly seems as if it is enough to say Muslim and allow the stereotypes to define.