The national furor over the proposed mosque at Ground Zero in New York has caused local Muslim leaders to delay their annual Ramadan celebration to avoid holding it on Sept. 11, the anniversary of the terrorist attacks in 2001.
"We wanted to be sensitive to the feelings over that horrible, evil act," said Hakim Ouansafi, president and chairman of the Hawaii Muslim Association.
He said the Eid al Fitr ("the breaking of the fast") festival — celebrating the end of the monthlong Ramadan — would normally fall on Sept. 11, but it will be pushed back to Sept. 24, which coincides with Islam Day in Hawaii.
Ramadan, during which Muslims refrain from food and drink from sunrise to sunset, occurred this year from Aug. 11 through yesterday. Prayers were held yesterday morning at Manoa Valley District Park to mark its conclusion, symbolized by the appearance of the new moon, Quansafi said.
Heated debate and acts of violence have erupted over the past few months amid opposition to the planned construction of a Muslim cultural center two blocks away from the former World Trade Center site in lower Manhattan.
Ouansafi said the controversy is fueled by "politics at its worst," as the midterm elections draw near.
Opponents protest that the center would be too close to Ground Zero, where two hijacked airliners brought down the World Trade Center, and that it is insensitive to the memories of the 3,000 people who died and their remaining loved ones.
"Our view is that, one: Muslims died in that attack and have to be honored as well; and two: Most important, the very first time we allow the diluting of our Constitution, then the terrorists win," Ouansafi said. "Building a place of worship is the right of every American, and once we say: This one is OK, but that one isn’t, it becomes a tragedy. When they say it is allowed in the Constitution but — that ‘but’ is a recruiting billboard to the terrorists."
The Muslim Association’s decision to delay its festival is "a wonderful gesture," said Sister Joan Chatfield, a longtime board member of the Interfaith Alliance Hawaii and the All Believers Network, which promote the commonality among religions.
"He (Ouansafi) is being very sensitive by moving the date," she said. "Hawaii has a remarkable tradition of religious harmony. … By virtue of talk-story, we’ve resolved a number of issues. We really know the people we talk about. The people who are upset about (the mosque) may have never bumped into a real, live Muslim, and they are captive to prejudice."
Last year, the state Legislature established Islam Day each Sept. 24 despite opposition, she recalled.
The founders of the Ground Zero mosque, a project called Park51, say they aim to improve Muslim relations with the West by reinforcing their similarities and addressing differences.
"The whole of Islam is a religion of peace," Chatfield said, adding that al-Qaida’s jihadists have used quotations from the Quran out of context to justify their atrocities.
"That’s what skinheads do, and the Ku Klux Klan," she said. "Hitler thought he was doing the right thing, right out of the New Testament. We all have to keep cool. We live in an area where we have free speech, but we’re not allowed to yell ‘fire’ in a theater, either."