Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Religious freedom should be a two-way street, but is not in Islam

Though the subject of the Cordoba Mosque proposed for construction near ground zero in New York has been in the news for several weeks, recent comments by political leaders have brought new attention. The issue is fairly simple.

A group of Muslims want to build a multimillion-dollar mosque and multipurpose Islamic center just next to where the Twin Towers stood until Sept. 11, 2001. The proposed religious center would occupy a building that an engine from one of the airplanes struck, raising the argument that it should be protected as a historical site and not used for any private purpose.

But the real concern is that the construction of a mosque next to the ruins of the once world-famous icons of Western capitalism and strength destroyed by a team of highly committed Islamic jihadists simply endorses their success. Numerous writers have pointed out that historically, whenever Islam gains political, economic and military control over an area, it most often builds a mosque in a prominent place as a symbol of victory. (Think of the computer game, “Age of Empires.” In the final stage of empire development, the player can build a religious monument.)

Respect seemingly should be a two-way street. Recently while visiting some friends in Turkey (99.9 percent Muslim population) I was enjoying an evening of conversation and tea-drinking under a gazebo in the garden behind a bed and breakfast. The evening air was cool and clean, and I was quietly strumming my guitar. No problem, until the local mosque starting broadcasting the evening call to prayer. Still no problem. Few Turkish people actually drop what they are doing and go to their ritual prayers.

But a problem arose when another guest in the hotel informed me that all music should cease during the call to prayer. In other words, I should have stopped strumming my barely audible $50 acoustic guitar. But, I replied, I'm not a Muslim, and Turkey claims to have freedom of religion.

The guest said, “If I was in a church, I should respect what is going on there.”

“True,” I said, “but we are sitting in a garden behind a public hotel several blocks from the mosque. This isn't the mosque.”

In a recent poll in Turkey, 60 percent of the country said no religion other than Islam should be allowed. According to historical Islamic law, no church can be built near a mosque and no religion other than Islam is allowed to publicly practice or spread its beliefs.

From a global perspective, the problem is not so much what is happening in New York with the proposed mosque near ground zero. Its builders may or may not be consciously erecting it as a symbol of conquest. The problem is that in Islam respect almost always runs in one direction. The majority of Americans are usually willing to tolerate diversity of belief, and willing or not, our Constitution guarantees freedom of religion.

But what do you do with a “religion” that is also a political system? Islam never had the teaching to “give to Caesar what is Caesar's and to God what is God's.” It has Shariah law that teaches, “Everything is Allah's, throne and pulpit, give everything to him.” That's what the word Islam means, submission to Allah. America will allow mosques in every city, village and hamlet, but don't expect the favor to be returned in Cairo or Medina or Pakistan.

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