Obama, the "Ground Zero Mosque," and the World's Muslims
by Irfan Al-Alawi
Fear and distrust of Muslims have been stimulated in the American public by the proponents of the "Ground Zero mosque" undertaking, rather than by its critics. Opposition to the "Ground Zero mosque" should not imply a denial of religious freedom. The issue is not what rights Muslims possess in America (which are not seriously challenged), but the responsibility with which they are exercised. We are teaching in the UK and elsewhere in Western Europe that the first responsibility of Muslims is to secure good relations with non-Muslims in the communities where we live.
Media and politicians sympathetic to the concept have acclaimed the "spiritual leader" of the mosque plan, Feisal Abdul Rauf, as a mystical Sufi and moderate cleric, whose admirers refer to him as "imam." But Rauf possesses no recognized standing in the international Sufi network, and no known religious education that would justify him appointing himself an "imam."
Dalil Boubakeur, rector of the Grand Mosque of Paris and one of Western Europe's leading traditional Muslim figures, has opposed the "Ground Zero mosque."
We, too, at the Center for Islamic Pluralism, oppose the spread of other oversized mosques that may be financed by radicals, as well as the Saudi obsession with massive architectural structures erected to replace important heritage sites. The clumsy attempts at pro-Muslim diplomacy by president Obama, in a parallel with the "Ground Zero mosque," complicate, rather than clarifying, these problems.
Recently, the proposal that Obama be named the global emir ul-mominin (commander of the faithful) and caliph was put forward by Pakistan's current State Minister for Industries, Ayatollah Durrani, as reported in that country's daily The Nation on September 2. Given that the U.S. is not a Muslim country, the suggestion ventures beyond the fanciful, and even the paper that publicized the idea, called it "a development that could be duly termed as one and only of its kind."
That U.S. president Barack Obama be considered the caliph (khalifa), or supreme commander of the faithful, over the world's Muslims is but one unintended consequence of Obama's misconceived and awkward attempts to win favor at exploiting his Muslim cultural background – although he adheres to Christianity -- by seeking to flatter Muslims, presumably to create a new relationship between the U.S. and the Muslim lands.
Durrani further suggested that at the approaching Eid-al-Fitr, or end-of-Ramadan holiday, which may conclude on 11 September, Obama should go to the site of the proposed controversial "Ground Zero mosque" in New York City and offer Islamic prayers. In this manner, according to Durrani, "all the problems of Muslim World would be solved." According to the Pakistani daily, "Durrani argued that Muslim World was in 'dire need' of a Caliph and the distinguished slot of Caliphate would earn President Obama the… titles of… 'Mullah Barack Hussein Obama' or 'Allama [Wise] Obama.' 'The time is approaching fast. Barack Hussein Obama must act now. This is a golden opportunity, Muslims badly need it," Durrani added, saying that the elevation of President Obama to [the] Muslim Caliphate would be the 'key to success.'"
This episode illustrates two points:
The first is that the Pakistani cabinet of president Asif Ali Zardari includes individuals whose world-view is out of touch with reality. It seems likely that minister Durrani is unaware, or does not care, that allegations Obama is a secret Muslim have been divisive within the American public. Such obliviousness is not rare for Zardari and other high Pakistani officials, who appear blind to the dangers of their accommodation to the Afghan and Pakistan Taliban, as well as the Pakistani radical Jamaat-e-Islami (JI), which has infiltrated the military and intelligence establishment.
The second is that although such nonsense does him no good, Obama has, intentionally or not, lent himself to such folk beliefs among Muslims. Obama's rhetoric and policy of empty "compliments" to Muslims have included the appointment of Rashad Hussain as American diplomatic representative to the Organisation of the Islamic Conference (OIC), headquartered in Saudi Arabia. Hussain returned the favor to his boss by calling Obama America's "educator in chief" on Islam and on the current fasting month of Ramadan. This is ludicrous; Americans and others should be educated about Islam by reputable experts and religious authorities, rather than by any politician.
Obama's superficial "Cairo speech" delivered last year is now forgotten. Obama's failure to present a consistent position on the proposed "Ground Zero mosque" provided the latest example of the lack of coherence in his mission to placate Islamic opinion. At an official Ramadan fast-breaking event (iftar) on August 13, Obama affirmed America's constitutional freedom of religion, and seemed to consider the debate over the "high rise" mosque near the former World Trade Center only in that light. "Recently," he declared, "attention has been focused on the construction of mosques in certain communities -– particularly New York. Now, we must all recognize and respect the sensitivities surrounding the development of Lower Manhattan… But let me be clear. As a citizen, and as President, I believe that Muslims have the same right to practice their religion as everyone else in this country. (Applause.) And that includes the right to build a place of worship and a community center on private property in Lower Manhattan, in accordance with local laws and ordinances."
But the next day, Obama changed his position. He said he was only reaffirming the freedom to practise Islam as a faith, and did not intend to judge the "wisdom" of building "Park51," as the projected Islamic cultural center and mosque near Ground Zero is now called. American commentators seemed to have ignored that his original remarks to the assembled Muslims, including notable representatives of "Wahhabi lobby" groups, like Salam Al Marayati of the Muslim Public Affairs Council (MPAC) and Ingrid Mattson of the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA), were not met with much applause or other public demonstrations of approval. In reality, most Muslims have avoided the debate over the "Ground Zero mosque" because the risks in embracing such a scheme – offense to non-Muslims leading to heightened suspicion of Muslims – were obvious, and its negative effects on relations between the two communities have already become undeniable.
Other Muslims have pointed out that Muslims in New York City have never suggested that a large, intrusive Islamic center was necessary in the vicinity of the former World Trade Center. America has a sufficient supply of mosques, too many of them under radical Wahhabi or Pakistani jihadi control.
If Obama were a Muslim, he would merit criticism for making the situation of American Muslims worse, rather than better. As shown by the deluded claims of Pakistani minister Durrani, Obama's improvised posturing distorts his image as an American leader, harming his own credibility.