It’s been almost a month since my article was published in the Ottawa Citizen http://www.ottawacitizen.com/news/Mischief+Manhattan/3370303/story.html
regarding the proposed Mosque at Ground Zero, followed by my trip to New York to attend a meeting of the organizers and the follow up which has been good, bad and ugly. I felt no need to give a defense of my actions as everyone has the right to pursue the truth. It’s been a turbulent two months with many ups and downs. However I had written a report about my visit to New York since I met the organizers, asked questions and was able to make an informed opinion. Events that followed have only confirmed my stance. Hence I owe it to myself and readers, to give an accurate account of my visit. Here it is. I have also added an article at the end of this report, that sums up my reason for speaking out against building an exclusive place of worship at the 9/11 site, which is purely faith based – no agenda, no conspiracy and no politics.
At 5:57 pm on Monday August 16, 2010, my cell phone rang. The man asked me “is this Raheel Raza?” I automatically said yes. He said “I am Sharif El Gamal – do you remember you dared jump into a meeting called by Daisy Khan for 9/11 victims in New York.” I was a bit shocked at the tone but I retorted “I was invited to that meeting.” He said curtly “you were not.” I tried to explain that I went as a guest of a 9/11 widow. “You were not invited” he said again. “I am an American and a Muslim and may Allah protect you.” These words sent chills down my back. It took only one minute for the veneer of ‘tolerance’ to be peeled away, and the reality of the agenda became crystal clear.
As part of an ongoing controversy to build a mosque at Ground Zero in Manhattan, I went to New York on Tuesday August 10, to attend a meeting hosted by The ASMA Society as a guest of Maureen Basnicki, who is the widow of a 9/11 victim. I went to the meeting because I wanted to see and hear firsthand what the Ground Zero Mosque was all about, to ask some important questions and to deliver a message that this is not a good idea.
There were about 30 people in the room, most of them 9/11 survivors and their families. Some were carrying placards saying LOCATION which they respectfully kept under their chairs. The meeting was chaired by Gerry Bogacz who is part of the 9/11 Community for Common Ground. There were no formal introductions of people around the table.
However, as soon as the organizers started speaking, I knew that this was not about sincere intentions but a con-job, a cover-up for a subversive agenda and all about the money. Ms. Daisy Khan spent 20 minutes telling us about her life and work. Eventually she came to the Mosque project and said that this monument (Ground Zero Mosque/Cordoba Institute/ Park 51) is to help shape Islam in America. She also said that the idea has garnered support not only in USA but “would be replicated all over the world.”
She was joined by Mr. Sharif El Gamal, CEO of Soho Properties. The slick Mr. Gamal took another 15 minutes to tell his life story explaining that he’s a born American of mixed heritage and has feelings for the people in the room. He mentioned that he had been looking for a property in Manhattan since 2002, and bought this building in 2005. Finally they opened for questions. (Interesting note in retrospect that neither Mr. Gamal nor Ms. Khan addressed me the entire evening although they knew who I am).
This was the flavor of the Q & A”
- Q: How do you not expect a backlash when Muslims killed nearly 3000 people? Where is Imam Faisal and where is the funding going to come from?
- Gamal: Those were not Muslims – they are not my brothers and sisters and this is not our belief system. We never have anticipated such a backlash to our project so this is a surprise.
- Ms. Khan: It’s the start of the month of Ramadhan in which Muslims fast from sunrise to sunset and in this time Imam Faisal is travelling to build bridges.
- Q: Where will the Funding come from?
- Gamal: We have not raised funds yet but we will not accept any funds that compromise American values.
- Q: What is the mission statement of the Cordoba Center?
- Gamal: The project’s name is Park 51. It will be like a YMCA and promote tolerance and understanding between people.
- Woman: The YMCA is a secular place.
- Me: If you are a feeling, caring American how come you were not aware that this location might be problematic and since you purchased the property in 2005, did you spend 5 years in outreach, bridge-building, garnering community support and fund raising?
- Gamal: I never thought the location would be such a sore point and no, we did not do any outreach until now. I honestly never thought I would be sitting here giving a defense. I can’t imagine what all the fuss is about.
- Me: How naïve can you be not to be aware that this location is sensitive to Americans. Are you not concerned that a majority of Americans are against this project going ahead at this location?
- Gamal: I honestly did not think the location would be a problem. We need the space.
- Me: Are you going to get funds from outside USA (I asked this 3 times)
- Gamal: I can’t answer that question.
- Q: Why not move to another location? No response.
- Mike a retired New York City Police officer: you are very good at filibusters and you have not said anything right tonight.
- Q: Historically mosques have been built in places of conquest and why have the larger Muslim communities not come out to support you? Why do the Imams not condemn the terrorists?
- Ms. Khan: There have been no new terrorist attacks because our diligence as Muslims.
- Man in the audience: It’s offensive of you to say this. There have been no new attacks because of our police system and the FBI.
- Firemen # 1: I was at 9/11. This project is insensitive and insulting because we saw TV images of Muslims celebrating the 9/11 tragedy around the world. Now I’m supposed to embrace the idea of a mosque at that very spot? Can you build it somewhere else?
- Fireman # 2: Building it where you are is pouring salt on my wounds and I resent that. You say you need a mosque. We need our twin towers back. Can you help rebuild those?
- Fireman # 3: no construction worker, no fireman or police officer who wears a cap saying Never Again, will work on this project and I hope it fails. I hope you don’t get the funds to make this happen. I hope you discard this project.
I discovered was that there was no transparency, no honest answers and therefore no sincerity of intention. Mr. Gamal was like a used car salesman: contradicting himself, prevaricating and evasive. He spoke about everything accept the make and model of the car! Ms. Khan was described by one of the women as a “cult-type leader” because she answered every question with a lecture about Islam.
I suspect that the organizers already have a green light from the US State Department or the White House. Otherwise they would not have been so arrogant as to ignore the cries of the victims and their friends and families. They did not care for the opinions of the community, when clearly the majority of those present were against the project.
Ms. Basnicki who was with me, has this to say. “I went to this meeting with mixed feelings. I was eager to assert that as a Canadian I found it easy to accept religious tolerance. However I left the meeting with even more confusion! Simple questions such as where is the funding coming from for this $100 million center, renamed Park51 were not answered. This was not a bridge building meeting……..it caused greater unease and a much larger gulf!”
AN ARTICLE FROM PAKTEAHOUSE:
Muslims will pass a great opportunity for Islam to prevail in its mission of peace through a practical act of reconciliation! It will be a field day for the opponents of Islam.
I urge the reader to reflect on the Treaty of Hudaibiyah, which is a practical model for peace building and tolerance among communities. The wisdom taught by the Holy Prophet (SAW) through the remarkable treaty is far reaching and must not be brushed aside.
The events leading to the Treaty of Hudaibiyah are starkly similar to the issue of Cordoba House. Unfortunately, the exemplary lessons of the Treaty of Hudaibiyah are being lost in the raucous created by insisting to build Cordoba House near Ground Zero. A hand of reconciliation should be extended to promote good will and harmony by voluntarily relocating the center elsewhere. The result of this gesture of peace building would far out weight the point being made by adamantly insisting to exercise the constitutional right. It is child like, immature, and is out right detrimental to the local and global Muslim community. It defeats the stated objective of the Cordoba project.
The Treaty of Hudaibiyah emphasizes that:
a. The well being and long term benefits of the people must be is a priority for Muslim leadership.
b. Peace must always be an objective and preferred over unjustified confrontations and provocations which lead to ill will, hate and loss of life and property. Promotion of peace must not be ended casually, or without just cause.
c. At times it may be necessary to temporarily limit rights and freedoms hoping to achieve the build the path for the bigger cause.
Muslims will be ill served if they disregard and discount the precedence set in the magnanimous treaty. Muslims must choose reconciliation and long term benefits over the need to exercise a constitutional right.
I would urge my friends to read the brilliant scholarship arguing against the wisdom of the Cordoba house in the following post.
Select comments from readers of the cited Pak Tea House article strongly support and justify the position of not building the Cordoba House at its proposed location.
“I think Akbar Ahmed had it right when he said:
I don’t think the Muslim leadership has fully appreciated the impact of 9/11 on America. They assume Americans have forgotten 9/11 and even, in a profound way, forgiven 9/11, and that has not happened. The wounds remain largely open […] and when wounds are raw, an episode like constructing a house of worship—even one protected by the Constitution, protected by law—becomes like salt in the wounds.”
“This is the right cause and the wrong time, the wrong place. Sentiment and emotion has a value. Of all people, we in South Asia should empathise with this. Among us, those who have pointed out to majority communities that they have been insensitive to intangibles should empathise the most.
The good Imam and his wife, who seem to be genuine people a little out of their depth, have nothing to lose and everything to gain by displaying a little, a very little magnanimity, and giving up their technically correct position to embrace others who fear symbolism.”