9/11 and Cordoba HouseBy Lavina Melwani • Sep 11th, 2010 • Category: The Buzz
9/11 Remembered at Ground Zero
On 9/11, 2001 all hell broke loose from the sky in Lower Manhattan, and America and Americans have never been the same again. A human trust was broken, and now there’s always a chasm, a looking over the shoulder, a wound which never completely heals.
I was never at Ground Zero but like the rest of the world, I saw the nightmare unfold on my television screen. Now even nine years later, if I drive past very tall buildings silhouetted against the sky, I often imagine people jumping out, human bodies flying into oblivion. And I was not even there. So what of those who lived there, worked there, lost a loved one forever?
And now once again, nine years later, it’s 9/11. The beautiful beams of blue light are dominating the skyline and you think in sadness of the vanished towers of the World Trade Center, and all the lost lives.
In the past months there’s been disturbing talk from an obscure preacher about burning a pile of Korans on 9/11 to avenge the proposed building of an Islamic Center near Ground Zero.In India, when I was growing up, if you merely dropped a book, any book, even by accident, you picked it up and reverentially put it to your forehead and your eyes. Books were knowledge, books were learning. And this is the Holy Koran. There’s been an outpouring of protest around the world, and thankfully plans seem to have been canceled.
Recently a Bangladeshi taxi driver was attacked in the line of duty by the very passenger he was driving. It was because he looked different and had a different God. The passenger asked him if he were a Muslim, and then plunged a knife into him.
If that was humanity at its worst, a few weeks later I saw humanity at its best.
I was waiting for friends outside the subway station on 51st street. On this beautiful summer evening with crowds flooding the pavements, with time on my hands, I idly watched the people parade go by.
Right across from me was a young vendor dishing out sizzling hot chicken and falafel from his cart. Then I saw him unroll a small prayer rug right on the pavement next to the cart, place a cap on his head and facing Mecca he got down on his knees to pray. People swirled around him on the busy street yet not one interfered with his prayers or showed any rancor. He may as well have been in a mosque, lost in meditation, even as traffic lights changed around him and cars honked.
After several minutes on his knees, he calmly rolled up his rug and plunked it under his cart. A few hungry passers-by had been waiting for him to finish, and without missing a beat he fell back into his routine of feeding people and earning a living. His customers did not ask him if he was a Muslim, nor did he question them about their faith before he fed them.
New York is full of people who accept – and respect – each other for who they are and keep the city moving.
Cordoba House – Yes or No?
That brings us to the proposed Cordoba House community center/mosque near Ground Zero. Not a handful of soil has been turned nor a brick has been laid, yet this mosque-to-be has caused angst, debate and anger. Like a phantom, it has entered into conversations, both real and virtual.
America is about freedom of religion and Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf and his followers have the right to build the mosque wherever they choose. The proposal is to use this interfaith center as a catalyst for peace, by hosting all the faiths in one place – with altars to all the different paths to God.
Thinking of this mosque, I recall Ami, my Hindu mother-in-law who had to flee from Sindh during the partition of India. Having lost everything in communal riots which were stoked by religious hatred, she nevertheless opened her home shrine to all the divine powers – Hindu Gods, the Sikh Gurus and Sufi Saints. When my little daughter brought home a picture of Christ which a proselytizing teacher had given her, Ami smiled, touched it to her forehead and placed it right next to the others.
Instead of ‘Them’ and ‘Us’, imagine a place near Ground Zero where, like Kabir the Muslim Weaver, you could pray to the Divine by any name.
This could be a step towards a perfect world. After all, it is our ideals which sustain us and better us. So imagine an interfaith center/mosque near Ground Zero that understands the grief caused by a misrepresentation of religion – and chooses to be a leader, a healer by giving an inclusive welcome to all who come to its door.
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