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A Mosque at Ground Zero? A Gandhi-esque Idea September 19, 2010

Posted by rwf1954 in mosque at ground zero, religious harmony, religious tolerance.
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When I first heard about the idea of a mosque at ground zero, I reacted impulsively. I actually posted a comment at another writer’s blog—“While we’re at it, let’s put a mosque, a church and a temple side by side by side.” I felt some remorse for that post when I found out that the writer, Kamran Pasha, had been subjected to some form of cyber-attack because of his post and my reply. Sorry about that, Kamran Pasha. You are a man to be treasured, a moderate Muslim who condemns terrorism by Muslim fanatics. I want to see you and those who share your views supported in every way.

We are a few months down the line now. I have learned more about this, and have had more time to think about it. I have two lines of thought on this issue: the first will sound familiar while the second will seem utterly “out-of-the-box.”

Before I elaborate these lines of thought, I will clarify one aspect of this issue right now. In the United States of America, Muslims have the right to build a mosque and worship. This is not a controversy over whether the mosque can legally be built—of course it can. Religious freedom is part of this country’s founding tradition. It is woven into the fabric of our culture from the days of the first English colonists. No serious person speaking against this mosque is trying to deny Muslims the right to worship freely. It is the location of a mosque at that particular location that has created the controversy.

Also, I am not going to delve deeply into the background and motives of the imam who is the prime-mover behind the mosque. It is his behavior in the near future as this issue comes to a head that concerns me the most, and nothing he has said or done before now will matter as much as what he decides to do going forward.

Line of Thought One. This point has been expressed before, and I think it is valid. If the people putting up the mosque really want to be healers, if they want to be known that way, and not as provocateurs, they will voluntarily move that mosque. A few blocks away might very well do it. The precedent has occurred. The Catholic Church moved a convent established at Auschwitz during the mid 1980s. This issue was a little different, as the Polish Catholics attempting to establish the convent were doing so in memory of Polish Catholics killed at the German concentration camp. Feelings ran high over this issue as well. But the Pope pushed for the convent to be moved, and the nuns of the convent voted to move it by the early 1990s. Moving the convent was the healing thing to do, addressing the victims and victims’ descendants’ sensibilities. Moving the mosque location voluntarily, with a magnanimous, sympathetic heart, reaching out to pained victims with love and understanding, would be the healing thing to do. Such an act should not be compelled. It should be offered as a sincere gesture by human beings of good faith.

Line of Thought Two. Yes, we are back to my original impulse on this issue, an idea straight out of the Mahatma Gandhi playbook for religious tolerance. And the more I think about the idea, the more I think it puts everybody’s religious tolerance and sensitivity to the test. If the mosque builders want to be true healers, to build bridges to Christianity, to build bridges to the world, they should include every major faith as part of what I understand will be a large, multi-storied complex. Along with the mosque, they should include a church, and a temple. Maybe Catholic, Protestant and Eastern Orthodox churches side by side by side. Shia and Sunni Muslims should both be represented. Along with the Jewish temple, include a Buddhist temple. Hindus and Sikhs should also be provided for. Make this a monument to religious tolerance, to religious sharing. The Nine-Eleven savages will torment in their graves with such a result rising out of their vicious acts. This would be the ultimate celebration of the American tradition of religious freedom, religious tolerance, of what we Americans do every day—live in prosperity alongside people with origins from all over the world, coming to this place to join together and choose this way of life. And if this monument was to be established by Muslims, what a triumph it would be for true Muslims over the fanatics who have been trying to hijack their religion! So this idea is a real test. Could Muslims interested in healing possibly object to this idea? Could those who strenuously object to the mosque right now still object if the mosque came with all these other structures?

I have written in more detail about monotheism (see the tenth paragraph of my post “‘The Pillars of Earth’ – A Few Final Words”) and organized religions (my essay “Leave Organized Religions—And Find God!”). I will say here that I believe the best route to religious harmony in the world is for us to recognize that there may be more than one path to God. This is a major theme of my novel, The Swords of Faith. It would be the major statement of a religious center of the type I have described within this post. I will admit that while this idea has the potential to bring people together, it also runs the risk of angering both sides of the issue. But the idea is offered with earnest sincerity, in the hopes of bringing people together, and of catching a glimpse of the future, of religious harmony and mutual understanding, a future some of us believe we can live in right now in much of this country.

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What The Swords of Faith Says About Our Times June 16, 2010

Posted by rwf1954 in historical fiction, literary commentary.
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In my last post, I offered some ideas about how The Talisman was formed by the times of author Sir Walter Scott. This isn’t a criticism—it is a factor present in any literature or art. So how do I think our current times have shaped my novel, The Swords of Faith, due to be released on July 4th? Before I start into this, I need to admit that offering a commentary like this can only be a preliminary assessment because when writers are immersed in their time periods, there are influences swirling around that are not easily identified. Only the perspective of time passing allows a fully informed assessment. But, why not address the issue now? If nothing else, we can look back years from now and see if the initial comments still make any sense.

I fully admit that the events of September 11, 2001 inspired me to write this novel. The story of Richard and Saladin fascinated me for a long time, and in the back of my mind, I considered writing about it. Nine-Eleven brought the idea front-and-center.

I will identify three present-day influences I believe shaped The Swords of Faith, and how specifically they affected the book:

1. An understanding that terrorizing innocents has not always been the Muslim way. After Nine-Eleven, I found myself wanting to understand why these fanatic Muslims were so angry with us in the United States, why they were willing to kill so many innocent people and risk bringing down such terrible consequences on themselves. As I looked back at the history, at Saladin and other Muslim examples, I learned quickly that there is a constructive, altruistic side to Islam, historically, and in the present-day. What Western European historians commonly call the “Dark Ages” occurred while Muslims were experiencing their “Golden Age.” Muslims preserved Greek learning and advanced in many intellectual pursuits, including medicine and astronomy. These personal discoveries factor into the themes of The Swords of Faith. Knowing these facts beckons us to reach out to moderate Muslims, to Muslims who embrace the constructive and altruistic aspects of their faith. Then, together, we can defeat the fanatic terrorists trying to hijack Islam. (Kamran Pasha is a moderate Muslim who has written a throught-provoking, entertaining novel about the same time period as The Swords of Faith. His novel, Shadow of the Swords comes out on June 22nd.)

I will further develop this idea, with its complex historical aspects, in my follow-up novels, The Sultan and the Khan, The Ghosts of Baghdad and The Sultan and the Prince. It is important to consider that during the period from the late 1000s to the mid to late 1200s, Islam underwent an existence-threatening assault from two directions: the “Crusaders” from the West, and the far more severe threat of the Mongols from the East. The nobility of Saladin became a luxury Islam could not afford. The efficient ruthlessness of Baybars arguably provided Islam with what was needed for survival, and eventual victory. But a Baybars-instead-of-Saladin approach arguably changed Islam.

2. A desire to speak against demonizing an entire religion because of the actions of a few fanatic extremists. I have written at length against demonizing Islam; my essay “Demonizing Islam is Both Wrong and Foolish,” (published in August 2009 in Opposing Viewpoints: Islam.) The Swords of Faith reflects this idea. Demonizing the fanatic aspects of religion leads to counter-fanaticism, an effect absolutely in play during the Crusades. In The Swords of Faith, all four of the main characters (Richard, Saladin, and two fictional characters) thrive best when they approach the world without religious fanaticism. They have the most trouble when they lapse into fanaticism.

3. There is more than one path to God. This the most personal of the influences, an idea pervasive in our culture, but definitely not embraced by even a majority. Religious tolerance is honored, but the proselytizing religions of Christianity and Islam still have, in my opinion, the baggage of claiming to be the only “true faith.” I believe the idea that there is more than one path to God is an idea for our times, and I pursue that theme in The Swords of Faith. I will be developing this theme in additional writing.

I invite comments, particularly from readers of The Swords of Faith.

Items mentioned in this blog with links to purchase at Amazon.com:

Opposing Viewpoints - Islam

Shadow of the Swords by Kamran Pasha