Since a New York City community board voted on May 25 in favor of the construction of Cordoba House, a13 story Islamic center and Mosque to be built on a site two blocks from the fallen Twin Towers, there has been a storm of response in the media and on the Internet. On June 6, near the proposed site, several organizations came together to protest the project, carrying signs that read "Stop Welcoming Islamic Terrorists", and "All I need to know about Islam I learned on 9/11". Protest organizer Pamela Geller, head of the organization Stop Islamization of America, said in her blog,
"The mosque is an insult to the Americans who were murdered there. It is a manifestation of a radically intolerant belief system that is incompatible with the freedoms guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution."
The spiritual leader of Cordoba House is Imam Feisel Abdul Rauf, who founded the American Society for Muslim Advancement. His wife, Daisy Khan, who is now the Society's Executive Director, said of the plans,
"The time for a center like this has come because Islam is an American religion... We need to take the 9/11 tragedy and turn it into something very positive."
In support of this position, Joshua M. Z. Stanton, co-editor of the Journal of Inter-Religious Dialogue, and a rabbinical student at Hebrew Union College, wrote,
"Cordoba House is poised to become a gathering place for the enemies of militant Muslims: mainstream Muslims. It will be a sign of internal resistance to the tyranny that a small group of terrorists has tried to impose on the broader community of Muslim believers, whose ultimate goal is peace."
And so the arguments continue:
Against: The mosque is an affront to those who died at the hand of Islamic extremism, and must be stopped. Those who support it are delusional dupes who are blind to the threat of Islam.
For: The mosque is an opportunity to celebrate religious and cultural diversity in America, and recognize Islam as a religion of peace. Those who oppose the mosque are reacting from fear, bigotry, and small mindedness.
I'd like to propose another way to look at the plans for this mosque that moves past the fruitless back and forth of name calling, complacency, or catastrophizing, and that can use this event as a real opportunity to push forward toward growth and peace. I propose that this Mosque, whether built or not, can mark the beginning of the Islamic Reformation.
A little context:
All religions seem to follow a similar path:
1. Formation - when an individual or group are inspired by creative and spiritual insights, and seek to communicate these insights to others in order to improve human life.
2. Development - when these insights are collected, studied, and eventually codified in to texts and practices that are intended to facilitate spiritual development.
3. Concretization - when the texts and practices become fixed doctrine, and are seen as the only acceptable way to think and behave.
4. Extremism - when a loudly vocal, highly motivated, and often violent fringe group seeks to take control of the religion in order to force others in to the limitations of their vision, and to battle interior and exterior influences that pose a threat to this vision.
5. Reformation - when a courageous individual or group respond to extremism by simultaneously returning to the original impulse that formed the religion, and to modernize the religion to respond to social and evolutionary changes.
Then, the process begins again, where the reforms become doctrine, are concretized, made extreme, and reformed again. Each cycle, though, brings fresh insight and growth. Surprisingly, this process appears to take approximately 1,400 years. A few examples:
• Judaism began with the transmission on Torah in the 13th century BCE. 1,400 years later, in the year 200, Judah the Prince complied the Mishnah, the interpretation of Torah that formed the basis of the Talmud and modern Judaism. Again, 1,400 years later, the Ba'al Shem Tov founded Chasidism, a movement that responded to the intellectual restraints of Talmudic study.
• Hinduism seems to have taken form approximately 2,000 BCE. 1,400 years later the Buddha taught that there is a middle way between the extremes of asceticism and excess. Of course, Hinduism continued, and 1,400 years later, in the 8th century CE, Adi Shankara consolidated the various competing Hindu texts, and sought to create a unified tradition.
• Christianity began in the 1st century CE, and 1,400 years later, Martin Luther nailed his reform Theses on the door of the church in Wittenberg, protesting the corruption of the Catholic Church, and urging a return to individual piety.
• Islam began in the 6th Century CE; 1,400 years ago. Unlike the other major world religions, though, Islam has not been through a significant reformation, and is now at a crisis point - mired in, and intimidated by, extremism. A reformation is due, and is right on schedule.
Now that just such a reformation is desperately needed, the plan for this Mosque is an opportunity to publicly and dramatically begin that process. I encourage Imam Ruaf to write a proclamation and nail it to a sign on the site, stating new Islamic principles to the world. Here is a suggested list:
1. We reject discrimination against women in all of its forms
2. We prohibit any form of female genital mutilation.
3. We categorically reject suicide attacks, and any acts of violence against civilians.
4. We reject sectarianism, and condemn bloodshed between Islamic factions anywhere in the world
5. We respect all religions, and realize that Islam is one among many paths to a spiritual life.
6. We call on the Arab countries world to honor their commitment to care for displaced Muslims
7. We will fully cooperate with the local authorities to identify any extremist Islamic activity in this Mosque or in the community
8. We will open our doors to anyone interested in participating in any activity at this Mosque
9. We recognize the State of Israel, and support her right to exist
10. We pledge allegiance to the United States of America
With such a declaration, Imam Rauf can publically begin the desperately needed Islamic Reformation in a dramatic and powerful way, and demonstrate that real peace between Islam and the rest of the world is not only possible, but mutually desirable. He can at once answer the critics by - like all Reformers - finding a new way to view his tradition's teachings that propels it out of extremism, and toward a new, more expansive future.