I applaud President Barack Obama’s Aug. 13 affirmation of the right of Muslims "to practice their religion as anyone else in the country" and "to build a place of worship and a community center on private property in lower Manhattan, in accordance with local laws and ordinances."
This revealed his mettle and conviction to stand for justice and fair play — although it angered some critics who accuse him of being a Muslim (as if that were a plague).
However, while Muslims supporting the "Ground Zero Mosque" seem to have won their battle to build a tangible concrete structure for prayers and meetings, this double-edged sword might make them lose the intangible war against bigotry, narrow-mindedness, and other schisms dividing humans.
The reported Aug. 25 stabbing of a Muslim cab driver in New York forewarns of a possible large-scale and long-term confrontation that could erupt.
To me, a mosque should serve as a symbol of spiritual joy and unite the community in which it is constructed. This ideal, unfortunately, might not be realized by the mosque’s current design.
There might be a solution: Instead of — or in addition to — a mosque, the organizers should consider building a Peace Memorial and a Center for Interfaith Dialogue and Meditation.
Situated near Ground Zero, this would affirm that Islam is a religion of peace; that it stands against violence, the use of force, and the taking of innocent lives for any cause.
Inviting people of all faiths to celebrate their festivals and to explore spiritual commonalities among religions could enable the center to underscore how similar are all religions in terms of spiritual beliefs and values that unite — instead of the current practice of focusing on ritualistic differences that divide.
Proponents and opponents of that mosque could learn from Hawaii, where followers of various religions pray and celebrate together.
Where else might they find, for example, a Muslim call for prayers (adhan) opening a Thanksgiving celebration in a Jewish synagogue? Or a Muslim joining prayer service in a Hindu temple? Indeed, where else would they see followers of various religions joining in a Buddhist obon dance or a Daoist celebration of harmony? The list is endless.
Enriched by its all-embracing Hawaiian spirituality, I believe Hawaii could serve as a model to help alleviate religion-based tensions worldwide which create chasms between otherwise well-meaning people.
A peace memorial/center would also give practical shape to the Quran’s often-ignored directive to Muslims to honor equally all messengers that God sent worldwide with the same message: Believe in Him and lead a righteous life. And since the Quran also clarifies that God has assigned different rites to different religions — which should not be questioned by others — are not our various religions converging paths to the same Destination?
With broad-minded leadership and goodwill, the center could perhaps become as prestigious as the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in the nation’s capital.