By Syed Qamar Hasan
Is there a real need for the mosque near the site of 9/11 attacks?
To build or not to build Ground Zero mosque near the site of the World Trade Centre destroyed in attacks on September 11, 2001, has nothing to do with Islam as the faith of 1.5 billion people across the globe or even to the seven million faithful living in America.
The absence of the proposed mosque is not a threat to Islam. It will in no way harm or lessen the belief of the American Muslims of New York. They can continue to keep their five-time prayer schedules as they would in other mosques, prayer halls and rooms across the city and in Manhattan.
The Ground Zero mosque has become a political issue pitching people of different faith against each other. It is bound to generate a lot of Intra-community and inter-community tensions, bigotry and rifts. The ongoing furore over the project belies the claim of the supporters of the project that the mosque will help interfaith dialogue and promote tolerance. Given the grief and sorrow palpable even to the day among those who lost their loved ones in the attacks, there is bound to be more acrimony and bitterness in the coming days as the project gets underway.
A mosque as is one of the basic requirements of the Quranic injunction of Iqamat-e-Salah -- establishing an order, that helps perform organised five times mandatory prayers in congregation. The other requirements being the appointment of imam (prayer leader), muezzin (who calls for the five-time prayer) and proper and regular maintenance of the mosques.
It is mandatory for every Muslim state to create such an office that facilitates its citizens to perform the mandatory five times daily prayers with ease and comfort, and also to look after the running and maintenance of the mosques. In general term such an office or department is known in the Muslim countries as the Auqaf. In the UAE it is known as the General Authority for Islamic Affairs and Auqaf.
A believer is allowed to perform salat (prayer) alone or in congregation in any clean and open space, if a mosque is not available. Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, is reported to have said, the whole earth is a mosque for my people. (Bukhari).
Accordingly, scholars maintain that while performing congregational or individual prayers it is incumbent upon the faithful to avoid inconvenience to others.
Such situations are common in non-Muslim countries or where Muslims are in a minority. Even here in the UAE, one often comes across the faithful converging in open spaces in Souks and Markets to offer prayers when mosques are not anywhere in the vicinity. The Prophet emphasised the importance of intentions behind actions and deeds to be acceptable to God. “Your actions are judged by your intentions,” said the Prophet.
It is obvious that Feisal Abdul Rauf, the 52-year-old Kuwaiti born founder of the Cordoba Initiative, spearheading the Park 51 Project near the site of Twin Towers has other agenda, than leading five time daily prayers in this mosque.
The Ground Zero Mosque, is not just a common mosque necessary to facilitate the Muslims working in Manhattan to perform prayers. There are many mosques, prayers halls and rooms in New York City and Manhattan for the 800,000 faithful of the city.
According to Rauf, a follower of the Sufi stream of Islam and who is currently Imam of a mosque in Tribeca district of New York City, he will be propagating “moderate Islam”. He and his Indian-born wife Daisy Khan are the kind of modernist Muslims that are being promoted in the West to counter the rising tide of “extremist Islam.”
He claims that the Cordoba Initiative will bring about a Muslim-West fusion within the next decade, driving the world back to the course of mutual recognition and respect and away from the heightened tensions. A tall claim, which several others in the business have without any measurable success attempted to do so.
Can Sufism defuse the current crisis? There are over hundred such initiatives in the West working for decades with funds running in millions of dollars and patronised by vested interests have failed to bring about a tipping point in Islam-west relations.
Perhaps at individual and group levels such efforts can bring about the necessary understanding. At national level, the rift is growing by the day as are the atrocities of occupying powers, be they in Palestine, Iraq, Afghanistan, and Chechnya. There is only one remedy for this clash to subside that has not been tried so far, despite myriad appeals by the wise and sane on both sides of the divide: That the West-led by the US give up their hegemonic designs on Muslim lands and that it stop supporting corrupt and autocratic regimes in the region.
Syed Qamar Hasan is former Abu Dhabi bureau chief of Khaleej Times and Emirates Today.