Ground Zero Mosque: Are We Becoming More Like 'Them'?
I just read an excellent article at The Moderate Voice titled “Burning The Qur’an, Literally and Figuratively.”
The article made me reflect quite a bit on the disturbing increase in anti-Muslim, anti-Islam sentiments and rhetoric in our country, but it also reminded me of a very innocent act of 30 years ago. An act that—along with other “Saudi memories”—seems to be very relevant to what our nation is going through today.
When I first moved to Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, in the early 80s—after having lived in the port city of Jeddah for a couple of years—my company put me up in the brand new Marriott hotel for a few months until housing was available for my family.
Each room was provided with a huge, 2,000-page, beautifully green-and-gold-bound Qur’an.
The Qur’an was written both in English and Arabic.
I periodically browsed through the Qur’an, but never spent much time on it.
When my wife joined me in Riyadh, we thought that it would be a nice memento to have a Qur’an and to take it back home. It didn’t take much sweet-talking by my wife to convince the manager to let us have the Qur’an.
Setting the Qur’an aside for a moment, of course we witnessed and were affected by the religious restrictions—yes, intolerances—practiced by the Saudi government.
We are all too familiar with them by now. The practice of any religion except Islam is strictly prohibited. The building of a church or a synagogue anywhere near the Holy Cities of Mecca and Medina would never be allowed. As a matter of fact, it is not allowed anywhere in the Kingdom.
Even the import and use of religious Christmas decorations for use in the home was a risky matter in those days.
If the Mutawa(Saudi religious police) were to discover a Bible or a Torah, it would definitely be taken away. I don’t know what happened to the confiscated holy books. Perhaps they were just stored somewhere, perhaps they were somehow destroyed. However, I don’t think the Saudis burnt them.
As I said, this was in the early 80s. Perhaps conditions have changed. Perhaps the Saudi authorities are a little more tolerant today. I don’t know.
Today, here in America, there is fierce, almost fanatical opposition to the building of a mosque and an Islamic community center so close to what many consider to be “hallowed Ground Zero.”
Today, here in America, as related by Kathy Gill, there is even an organized movement to hold an “International Burn A Koran Day.”
Today, here in America, there are many signs of what some call “Islamophobia.”
This brings me back to the Qur’an
After returning home from our extended assignment in Saudi Arabia, I always displayed that beautifully-bound Qur’an prominently in our living room, along with my many other books.
A few days after 9/11, I somehow felt it necessary to place the Qur’an in a less conspicuous place in my office—a room in our house generally used only by me.
After reading and hearing about Qur’an burning initiatives and other anti-Islamic rhetoric, the thought has occurred to me that perhaps I should hide or even get rid of the Qur’an.
Is it embarrassment, or is it perhaps some foreboding, more sinister conern?
Some may call my apprehensions and concerns paranoid and totally unwarranted. I hope so.
Nevertheless, a couple of questions keep nagging at me.
Have I changed since 9/11?
More importantly, have we, Americans, who have always been so proud of those sacred words, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,” changed?
Are we becoming more like “them”?
I don’t think so. I believe and hope that we are going through an exceptionally difficult, emotional and complex social-political-economic period and that it, too, shall pass.