Ramadan, Sept. 11, Cordoba House to collide

Susie Skowronek

The debate over the right to build a mosque near the Ground Zero site surges as Sept. 11 will not only mark the ninth anniversary of the attack on the World Trade Center but also the celebration of Ramadan for more than 1.5 billion Muslims worldwide.

The mosque under discussion will be housed in a cultural center, the Cordoba House, which will include an auditorium, an art exhibition hall, a swimming pool and rental spaces.

Gamal Gasim, an assistant professor of Middle Eastern Studies at Grand Valley State University, said he supports building the mosque, which upholds the ideals of liberty and democracy.

He said opponents of the building like to use the words “Ground Zero” and “mosque” in the same sentence to generate Islam-phobia. But in truth another mosque has been operating near the Ground Zero site for decades.

“We do not talk about allowing strip clubs,” Gasim added.

With their religion under scrutiny, on Sept. 11 Muslim communities will join fellow Americans in mourning those lost in the World Trade Center and celebrating the heroism of the New York City fire fighters and rescue teams.

Despite Islam-phobia perpetuated by the media, Muslims in the United States are Americans, too, Gasim said. Therefore, Muslim communities did not expect the building of the cultural center to turn into a national issue. Now families must explain to their children why people are talking about Islam negatively.

“To equate Al Qaeda with Islam is exactly what Al Qaeda wanted,” Gasim said.

Similar to Gasim, senior Katie Wendt sees the mosque debate as a issue more about religion than about politics.

“If you look at who is supporting and opposing, it is not necessarily split by party lines,” said Wendt, a political science major from Canton, Mich. “No one party holds the majority – people are more looking at it from a religious point of view.”

While Wendt supports building the mosque, she also sympathizes with those who oppose the building and wishes the mosque could be built farther from Ground Zero.

“It is an issue close to some people’s hearts, and Congress has a lot more on their plates to look at,” Wendt added. “Congress should let New York deal with the mosque.”

Unlike Wendt, who considers the effects of the cultural center on Congress, senior Andy West views the issue on a personal scale.

“They are free to do it,” said West, a natural resource management major from Grand Rapids, Mich. “Who am I to tell someone that they cannot build something?”

In his two years at GVSU, Gasim has found the campus community to be welcoming to various religious groups, and he does not expect this will change during the upcoming Sept. 11 memorial and end of Ramadan.

“Muslim students do not have any problems,” he said. “Michigan has a lot of minority groups, so students have probably encountered a Muslim sometime in their lives.”

But for students to approach the discussion of the Cordoba House, Gasim said they must become better informed about Islam.

“They should not just listen to politicians and the media,” Gasim said. “They need to go to main sources.”
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