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Many Religious Leaders (Except for Franklin Graham) Support Mosque

17 minute read
Elizabeth Dias

TIME conducted interviews with eight prominent, diverse religious voices in the U.S. on the subject of the so-called Ground Zero mosque and community center in New York City. With the exception of Franklin Graham, the leaders appear committed to religious freedom, though a few worry that the funding for the mosque as well as its political and religious agenda have not been fully disclosed.

1. Heidi Hadsell, president of the Hartford Seminary
Hadsell supports the building of the mosque near the site of the Sept. 11 attacks. Hartford established a groundbreaking Christian-Muslim seminary program in the 1970s and has done some of the most innovative and leading work on Christian-Muslim dialogue. Meanwhile, in nearby Bridgeport, Conn., a similar mosque controversy is developing.

• “I’m afraid that politicians have gotten hold of this and are using it to pander to extreme voices that are really Islamophobic. The real issues get lost in the battle. I think theologically, there is nothing inside of Christianity that would indicate that we are to treat people of other religions with anything but the utmost respect and friendship.”

• “Christians need to speak out. My guess is they are speaking out and they are not being heard. The voices that are being heard are the more strident voices.”

• “I think it’s important for Christians across the country to hear what Christian leaders are saying and not just what right-wing politicians are saying. I think people … get confused unless their own religious leadership speaks up. The noise isn’t coming from religious leaders; it’s coming from politicians. In the main part, religious leaders are not attacking this mosque. The main part is politicians who are attacking this mosque hoping for votes.

• “If people would just calm down, it could go forward and in a few years people would see it doing exactly what [the mosque supporters] said it would do.”

• “The notion that one serves one’s own faith by knocking down another faith is false. One serves one’s faith by living up to the ideals of that faith. The ideals of Christianity, like the ideals of Islam and Judaism, are peaceful ideals. They are ideals of constructing peaceful and productive relationships with neighbors. The responsibility is to live up to the ideals of one’s religion and not sink to the lowest fears.”

See “Why the GOP Should Avoid the Mosque Issue.”

See the 25 most influential Evangelicals in America.

2. The Rev. Dr. Michael Kinnamon, general secretary for the National Council of Churches
Kinnamon’s concern is not radical Islam but radical American Koran-burning Christians whose statements misinform Muslims in the Middle East about Christianity and so endanger Christians living in the Middle East. The National Council of Churches represents more than 50 million people in mainline pews in the U.S. and strongly supports the mosque. Members extend from Presbyterians to Methodists to Syrian Orthodox and Coptic Orthodox, so they represent Middle Eastern Christians.

• “We are getting word from Christian communities in other parts of the world that extremist Muslims in countries like Egypt and Indonesia are threatening them because of extremist voices in [the U.S.]. Some of the extremist Muslim communities use extremist Christian voices in [the U.S.] as a pretext for putting pressure on Christians in their own areas. So it is important for moderate Christian voices to speak out [in the U.S.], also in more ways that welcome Muslim neighbors in order to protect Christians in other places.”

• “It’s important for people — Baptists, Methodists, others — in [the U.S.] who consider themselves the only Christians to realize that is not the case. If they are really serious about giving Christian witness, then they need to pay attention to what Christians are saying from other parts of the world and other parts of the church.”

• “[We’ve often heard,] ‘Why don’t the moderate Muslim voices speak out against terrorism?’ Well, here we have it: a center that’s devoted to reconciliation that witnesses against terrorists and against Muslims who use the Islamic faith as a pretext for that. And yet we are shutting that voice — that makes no sense to me.”

• “I got a letter: ‘How can you say the things you are saying when Christians wouldn’t be allowed to build a church in Mecca?’ That’s the point. [The U.S. is] not Saudi Arabia. We ought to act like it, protecting freedom of religion.”

• “Undoubtedly there are people in our pews who disagree. And I understand. But at the same time, we always have to stand for religious freedom.”

See “Ground Zero: Exaggerating the Jihadist Threat.”

See TIME’s photo-essay “Muslim in America.”

3. Jerry Campbell, president of the Claremont School of Theology
Campbell knows the lasting emotional power of Sept. 11 — his daughter was at the Twin Towers Marriott on that day and barely escaped with her life. But as the head of Southern California’s leading Christian seminary, Campbell says Christian love of neighbor must motivate Christians to support the mosque and Muslims.

• On whether the mosque should be moved out of prudence, if not political necessity: “God doesn’t recognize prudence as the primary reason to do anything. God’s calling is often imprudent, at least by human standards. It wasn’t prudent for Moses to go to Pharaoh and demand the people be let go. It wasn’t prudent to lead the people into the Dead Sea, into the desert and beyond. It wouldn’t have been exactly prudent for Noah to build a great big boat. But it was an act suggested by God. It wasn’t prudent for the Samaritan [in Jesus’ parable] to step in and help the man who was beaten up. It was a risk he took.”

• “It’s really kind of a sad moment for me in local American history that this [controversy] has happened.”

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4. Harold Attridge, dean of Yale Divinity School
Attridge was key to the “Common Word Between Us and You” project in 2007, a groundbreaking initiative between Muslim leaders overseas and Christian leaders in the U.S. to discuss points of theological unity between Islam and Christianity. And Yale has a leading interfaith program involving students with a range of theological and religious views.

• “We need to begin by recognizing that it was not the whole Muslim world that crashed into the Twin Towers on Sept. 11. It was a small fanatical group within Islam, and I think we need to stop demonizing the whole of the Islamic world because of the actions of Islamic radicals. I hope this project will go forward.”

• “Not all Christians should be judged by the actions [of the man in Florida who organized the Koran burnings], the same way we should not judge all Muslims by the actions of the Islamic terrorists.”

See “Islamophobia and the ‘Ground Zero Mosque’ Debate.”

See TIME’s religion covers.

5. Sohaib Sultan, Muslim life coordinator at Princeton University and author of The Koran for Dummies
Sultan is one of the most prominent up-and-coming Muslim theological voices in the U.S.

• “People who oppose this center should not miss the idea that the center would be a powerful symbol of what America stands for, which is religious liberty and freedom. It would be a powerful symbol of a very different type of Islam, an Islam that would be Osama bin Laden’s worst nightmare, an Islam that is pluralistic, that is tolerant, that is interfaith-oriented and that is seeking peace.”

• “People who are opposing the mosque have missed the point in understanding that there is a major difference between having some sort of center that represents in any way al-Qaeda-type of ideology vs. a center run by a Muslim-faith organization that [is] as tolerant and as interfaith-oriented as one could hope.”

• “This is probably the greatest test of the separation between state and religious institution that we have experienced in a long time. I think the government getting involved in moving the mosque in any capacity, in discouraging it or preventing it, would be a serious blow to American freedoms and also American constitutional principles. I think Mayor [Michael] Bloomberg’s defense of religious liberties must be one of the greatest civic discourses that has been produced in our lifetime.”

• “It’s not open for politicking. It’s not open for a vote. This idea that the vast majority of Americans are against the project — well, I think the vast majority of Americans are seriously misinformed about Islam, are really misinformed about this project, and if we were to base our rights on majority vote, then civil rights in this country would never have gone forward. There are certain things that go beyond people’s opinions, there are certain things that are enshrined as rights in [the U.S.] Constitution, and we have to stand up for those rights even when it is popularly opposed.”

• “[The World Trade Center site] is hallowed ground for [Muslims] as well. It would be a symbol, an antithesis to the horrible ideology that brought down the World Trade Center on 9/11. For Muslims to be able to condemn 9/11 — which we have been doing for years, since the very beginning — to be able to erect something in that area — not on that spot; in that area — that is a powerful antithesis to al-Qaeda ideology, [and it] would give Muslims a sense of contribution to America.”

• “For years, the same people opposing the mosque have been saying, Where are the moderate Muslims? How come the moderate Muslims don’t stand up? They even doubted there was such a thing as moderate Muslims. But now that moderate Muslims have come up with this project that would be the antithesis to extremism, those [moderate Muslims] are being criticized and maligned and their good name is now being distorted. It makes me question the intention [of those people] who have been crying all these years asking where the moderate voice of Islam is.”

See “The Moderate Imam Behind the ‘Ground Zero Mosque.’ “

See aerial photos of the World Trade Center’s destruction.

6. David Harris, executive director of the American Jewish Committee
The American Jewish Committee has a history of working for interfaith religious tolerance. It filed a court brief in Oregon as far back as 1925 to support the rights of parents to send their children to Catholic schools. Harris hopes the mosque would deliver its promise to enrich American life and religious tolerance but suspends unconditional support until its funding and political agenda have been fully disclosed.

• “Our support [for the mosque] is conditional support. It doesn’t say it doesn’t matter who the funders are, and it doesn’t matter what the founders believe. It says in a positive way, We want to support it. Our instinct is to want to support it. Our hesitation is that we feel the need for clarification on two important issues, [who the funders are and what the founders’ political and religious agendas are].”

• “There’s a lot riding on what happens.”

• “How offensive, how appalling it would be if funds were coming from people who support a radical vision of Islam that would defend of justify or rationalize the behavior of [9/11]. How hypocritical it would be to build a center in the shadow of the World Trade Center reportedly as a site for community for dialogue for openness with money from people who reject community and dialogue and openness.”

• “They should be crystal-clear, unambiguous in repudiating any form of terrorism against the backdrop of what happened on 9/11. There is no room for verbal games.”

See “Updating the Mosque for the 21st Century.”

See TIME’s photo-essay “The Challenge of Memorializing 9/11.”

7. Franklin Graham of the Billy Graham Evangelism Association
Quite unlike the conciliatory perspectives of his famous father, Graham is known for outrageous statements on Islam. The Pentagon pulled him from the National Day of Prayer in April. He does not support the mosque in any way.

(See pictures of Billy Graham.)

• On building the mosque: “It’s hypocrisy. It’s mockery. It’s mocking the 3,000 Americans who died just around the corner, who were killed by Islamists in the name of Islam. There was not one Islamic cleric who oversees outside the U.S. who condemned [the 9/11 attacks]. If this had been a Catholic saying his Hail Mary’s flying into the World Trade Center, the Pope would have been on television that night denouncing it. The lack of universal condemnation by the Islamic world, their silence, shows their support of this. President Bush and President Obama made great mistakes when they said that Islam is a peaceful religion. It is not. There is no evidence in its history. It’s a religion of hatred. It’s a religion of war.”

• “I’ve seen what happened to Christians and Jews and people of minority faiths [under Islam]. To have a mosque where the [imams] around the world did not condemn 9/11 and for Islamists to build a 13-story whatever it is — mosque, community center — at the actual foot of the towers that the Islamists brought down in the name of Islam is a terrible thing to happen.

• “Our country was attacked politically on 9/11, militarily on 9/11 and theologically on 9/11. The Muslims began a campaign to build Islam in the U.S. after 9/11, under this banner that ‘We are a people of peace.’ It is a great mistake, and Obama protects them and has gone out of his way to support Islam.”

• “I don’t think the government should move the mosque. I think the Muslims, out of respect, should decline to build at the foot of the World Trade Center.”

• “It’s not a Republican issue or a Democratic issue. This is something that is at the very core of this country. [Americans] have been tolerant of people of other religions, but this religion attacked America, and it attacks and kills Christians and Jews. This religion, all over the world, has been persecuting the innocent. What they do to women alone is horrific. The honor killings that take place, Shari’a law, where a man can rape his wife as often as he wants because it’s his right to rape her — this stuff is practiced in Islam, and that mosque represents Islam.”

• “If you want to see what true Islam is like, all you have to do is go to Saudi Arabia. Women can’t drive cars. They can’t have a passport unless their husband says they can have one. They have to keep themselves veiled. They can’t go out in public to show their face. They don’t have any rights but to make their husbands happy sexually. They don’t have any rights. They are treated like cattle. When a woman becomes pregnant, they are all happy about that, but now he can take another wife. Because that woman is pregnant, he can take another wife. And after she bears children and is not as pretty and pleasing to him anymore, he can divorce her and take a younger wife and take them up to as young as 9 years of age. The wife goes back to her brother or father, but [the husband] keeps the children. She doesn’t keep the children. Islam is all about satisfying the man sexually. He can have up to four wives at one time. He can have 100 wives, but he can only have four at a time. This is the religion. Where Jesus Christ gave freedom to women and elevated women, Islam degrades women and enslaves women.”

• “The President has made a big mistake in coming out in support of this. He is going to turn even what they call the ‘professional left’ against him. They are not supportive of this. I’ve just found a few people who are supportive of this. [Mayor] Bloomberg is one of them, and he’s made a big mistake.”

• “It wasn’t Islam that built America; it was the people of the Christian-Judeo faith that built [the U.S.]. We’ve given freedom to other religions to come, and now you have other religions coming that want to bring America down.”

• “The goal of Islam is world domination. That’s the goal. Wherever you plant a mosque, the people who attend the mosque walk to that mosque. They have to be able to get there by foot. The entire area they walk by foot they claim is Islamic territory. They will claim now that the World Trade Center property [and] everything within that area is now Islamic land, just like they claimed Israel as Islamic land. Saudi Arabia — Christians and Jews lived there hundreds of years before Islam, thousands of years. And there’s not a Christian left, there is not a Jew left. They have all been destroyed.”

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8. Albert Mohler, president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary
Mohler represents a leading voice for conservative Christianity in America. While supportive of the right to build a mosque, he wonders about whether it is prudent to build near the Ground Zero site.

• “Publicly, there is an absence of adequate information, and there are serious public questions of consequences that have been raised that Mayor Bloomberg and other New York officials and now the President of the United States are going to have to answer … All those things being said, I think this group has a right to build a mosque. The question is [where to build it].”

• “The question of whether or not building a mosque is separate from building this mosque in this place.”

• “I will contend for that right the same way I would contend for the fact that any church ought to be able to construct a facility to meet in public on any land, anywhere.”

• “There are serious questions about the name [of] the organization and the sponsors, and there is an on-the-record series of statements made by the man who is the head of this movement that I think would raise serious questions in the minds of Americans about the purpose of this facility.”

• “The city of New York is going to have demonstrate publicly that it has done adequate due diligence to know exactly what it is approving and to take responsibility for the statement that makes to the culture at large. What we’re looking at here is a project [that] doesn’t make sense on its face. You are talking about a group that has no obvious source of funding, that has chosen a name that, throughout the Muslim world, represents conquest, and you are talking about a group here that, at least in terms of its leader, has made very serious statements of a sort that would raise questions in anyone of fair-minded opinion as to what the actual purpose of this organization and facility would be.”

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