The imam behind the so-called Ground Zero mosque reflects on the “insanity” of religious radicals.
How have the events of the summer changed you?
We learned a number of lessons, the most important of which is this: the real battlefront is not between the West and the Muslim world. It’s between the moderates of all faith traditions and the extremists or radicals—and I include in that the agnostic and atheist community. The radicals are unwitting partners. They fuel each other.
We can actually create an opposite and upward spiral. Over the summer we saw a rallying around us of many, many people—from every state in the union and from countries in all six continents. They wrote to us, emailed to us, donated to us. So we’re launching something called the Cordoba Movement. We have a website, and we are raising funds. The idea is to have not only a virtual community but also actual spaces—Cordoba Houses all over the world, where you build a global fraternity of people who amplify the voice of moderates. The moderates have become the silent majority, but we are the majority.
What’s the timeline for the construction of the Islamic center near Ground Zero?
We had hoped to start by now, but it’s hard for me to predict a timeline.
What do you call the project?
I call it Cordoba House at Park51.
How did you feel in August when the president waffled in his support for the mosque?
I would have preferred that he didn’t, but we understood that certain right-wing politicians wanted to make our project a wedge issue in the midterms.
What would be your message for Abraham Foxman, [the director of the Anti-Defamation League, who suggested relocating the mosque]?
That Islamophobia is another version of anti-Semitism. Your fight is our fight as well. Bigotry toward any faith community cannot have any place in civilized society anywhere in the world.
Some critics have said that you are insufficiently Muslim.
That’s absurd. It is not for us to judge another person’s faith. Jesus Christ said, “Judge not, lest you be judged,” and the teachings of our Prophet are very clear on people who judge another person’s faith as being inadequate.
Would you move Cordoba House at Park51 to another location?
At this point, we’re committed to doing it. We’re committed to engaging, informing, and educating people.
You didn’t answer the question.
At this point, I’m committed to staying the course.
You’ve gotten a lot of grief for not clearly condemning Hamas as a terrorist organization. Is Hamas a terrorist organization?
Yes, they are.
And what do you say to people who argue that Cordoba House is a symbolic celebration of Muslim hegemony?
Jesus said, “By their fruits you shall know them.” We have said what we plan to do. We’re inviting people of all faiths to help us build this vision. Come and listen to us, learn about us, engage with us, talk about us, see if this is, in fact, Muslim hegemony. I’m not saying it’s going to be easy, but if we do not do this, the alternative is going to be disaster. We will go down the route of bin Laden and the pastor [in Florida who threatened to burn the Quran] and insulting cartoons. And we just can’t do that—we can’t do that anymore. We’ve got to put a stop to this insanity.