A depiction of the proposed $100 million mosque and community center on Park Place near Ground Zero
With troubles in Afghanistan and a gloomy economy staring him straight in the face, President Obama placed his feet even closer to the fire, first by appearing to endorse the building of Park51, the planned mosque in lower Manhattan; only to parse his words the following day; saying he wasn’t actually endorsing the ``wisdom’’ of the mosque.
Mr. Obama’s waffling on such a controversial issue as a building of a mosque on Park Place , two blocks north of the World Trade Center, was seized upon my many leading Republicans, including Liz Cheney, who wrote in a text message to Politico’s Mike Allen: ``I guess President Obama was for the mosque before he was against it.’’
Let the fighting begin.
Asked to weigh-in on this emotionally charged issue, Peter Awn, professor in the Department of Religion at Columbia University thinks the mosque and community center near Ground Zero are being used to promote political agendas, especially by Christians and Jews as a way to paint all Muslims as terrorists.
``The effort to blame all Muslims or see them all as potential terrorist’’ Awn thinks, `` is simplistic and bigoted. ‘’ ``If we are concerned about the sensitivities of the families who lost loved ones, some of them Muslim families I might add, then one could perhaps argue equally that all Jews should be barred from leadership roles in the financial services industry for twenty year out of sensitivity for the thousands of lives that Bernie Madoff destroyed. This is, of course, ludicrous. And we know that the opinions of the 9/11 families range from approval to violent disapproval.’’
Ihsan Bagby, associate professor of Islamic studies at the University of Kentucky, meanwhile, thinks that after all the political posturing is over and done with, the building of the mosque in Manhattan carries with it the real possibility of mending Christian/Jewish/Muslim relations rather than damaging it beyond repair.
``I personally think that the mosque near Ground Zero’’ Bagby wrote in an email, `` will eventually bring the faith groups closer together because I trust the leaders of that mosque and I am sure they will make great and effective efforts in that area’’. `` I also trust that most American people when exposed to the real face of Muslims will be accepting of Muslims and Islam.''
So as both Republicans and Democrats sharpen their arrows before the real sparring begins, this might be a good time to review a brief history of the Muslim community and mosques in the United States.
• 1870’s: The first wave of Muslims arrives in the United States voluntarily.
• 1893: The World’s Parliament of Religions meets in Chicago, a historic event which introduced Americans to different religions, including Islam, Hinduism and Buddhism.
• 1915: Albania Muslims started a mosque in Biddeford, Maine. Another Masjid or mosque is built in Connecticut in 1919; Polish speaking Tartars opened a mosque in Brooklyn, N.Y. beginning in 1926, while a group of African-Americans started a mosque in Philadelphia in 1930.
• In Cedar Rapids, Iowa, a group calling itself ``The Modern Age Arabian Islamic Society’’ secured rental space for prayers in 1925, by 1934 a newly structured building, ``The Mother Mosque of America’’ becomes the first structure in the United States specifically designed to serve as a mosque.
NOTE: ``The Mother Mosque of America’’ is listed in the National Historic Register; giving it legal protection from being altered or destroyed.
• Former U.S. President Dwight D. Eisenhower speaks during the dedication ceremony of The Islamic Center in Washington D.C. on June 28, 1957. The Center has material on Islam in 34 different languages, including video and audio resources. Since 1957, more than 14,000 Muslims have been married at the Center.
• 1963: Muslim students formed the ``Muslim Students Association’’ (MSA) at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign.
• 1969: The Association of Muslim Scientists & Engineers (AMSE) was organized to help American Muslims re-establish traditions of Islamic Science, with a particular emphasis on Muslim Science in the Golden Age.
• A large number of recent mosques in the United States attempt to re-create the architecture of the traditional mosque with its towering minarets and doomed roofs, much like the Darul Islah mosque in Teaneck, New Jersey (built in 1986); the Masjid Ibrahim mosque in Kingman, Arizona (built in 1990) and King Fadh Mosque in Culver City, California (completed in 1998).
• 1996: First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton hosts the Eid-al-Fitr at the White House, the festival marking the end of Ramadan.
• September 14, 2001: A mosque in Paterson, New Jersey, raised a sign protesting the actions of terrorists on September 11th.
• November 7, 2006: In Minneapolis, Keith Ellison, a 43-year-old defense attorney, becomes the first Muslim elected to the U.S. Congress.
• March 11, 2008: Andre Carson, grandson of the late Democrat Rep. Julia Carson, becomes the second Muslim elected to Congress in a special election in Indiana.
• Islam is the second largest religion in the world, with more than one billion Muslim followers worldwide and approximately six million in the United States
• In 1991, Imam Siraj Wahhaj makes history, becoming the first Muslim to offer the opening prayer in the U.S. House of Representatives. A year later, Imam Warith Deen Mohammed offers the invocation in the U.S. Senate.
• There are more than 1,200 mosques in America with an average of about 360,000 Muslims attending services every Friday across the U.S.
• Two million Muslims in the United States associate themselves with activities of the mosque.
• More than 80 percent of U.S. mosques have been built since 1970; and since 1975, attendance at mosques have increased by 75 percent.
• About three-quarters of mosque attendees are comprised of males
• 81 percent of those who participate in mosque services are high school graduates, while almost half are college graduates.
• 29 percent are converts to Islam.
• One quarter of mosque attendees have household incomes of less than $20,000 per year.
• 15 percent of mosques are located in the West and Mountain regions; 33 percent are in the East, 26 percent in the South, and 29 percent are in the Midwest.
• In the United States, 93 percent of mosques provide cash for families; 77 percent offer counseling services; 69 percent provide a food pantry or soup kitchens; 64 percent organize collection drives for the less fortunate; and 33 percent sponsor voter registration drives.
• A full third of mosque attendees are from Pakistan, India, Bangladesh and Afghanistan; another 30 percent are African-Americans and 25 percent are from Arab backgrounds
• Of the 1,510 Islamic institutions in the United States surveyed by authors Ilyas Ba-Humus and Kassim Kone, 801 (53 percent) were Islamic Centers; 194 (13 percent) were neighborhood Masajid or mosques; 101 (seven percent) were Musallas (a small mosque or a place where you prayer regularly) ; and 199 (13 percent) were full-time schools
• The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) documented more than 1,700 attacks on American Muslims from September 11 through February, 2002, including 289 acts physical violence and property damage and 166 reported incidents of discrimination in the workplace.
• There are approximately 5, 745, 100 Muslims living in the United States.
Source: ``Muslims in the United States’’ By Ilyas Ba-Yunus and Kassim Kone (Greenwood Press, 2006); ``Islamic Faith in America’ (Facts on File, Inc. 2008 ) By James A Beverly and J. Gordon Melton, Series Editor; ``Muslims in America: A Short History’’ by Edward Ed. Curtis IV (Oxford University Press, 2009).
Web sites to keep in mind:
Self-Described Religious Identification of Adult Population (U.S. Census Bureau Historical Abstract)
Religious Bodies (U.S. Census Bureau Historical Abstract)
Christian Church Adherents-States: 2008 (U.S. Census Bureau Historical Abstract)