The controversy surrounding Park 51 or the so called ‘ground-zero mosque’ has been making headlines all over the United States. The intensity and interest surrounding this debate has been unprecedented. Everyone has an opinion on it. Sadly, it seems, most Americans are against the idea of building such an institution close to ground-zero. The very fact that this debate exists is indicative of several facts about the present day America. Following are some of the things it represents:

1) Most Americans still hold the collective Muslim community responsible for the World Trade Center attacks. After all the bridge building and dialogue that has happened over the past decade, it seems that public opinion is still against the Muslims. Unfortunately, the general American population can’t differentiate between the terrorists that attacked the World Trade Center and the average Muslim. I was outraged when I heard politician Newt Gingrich saying that the Nazi were to the holocaust victims what the Muslims are to the 9/11 victims.

2) The ignorance of the American people. Ignorance on innumerable levels. Ignorance about the project itself for example. A lot people don’t know that the mosque is actually a community center which will be open to everyone. Also, as Keith Olbermann pointed out, an existing mosque (Masjid Manhattan) close to ground-zero has already been in operation for the past 40 years; why then has this project become so controversial? Ignorance about Islam in general is another major problem and is the main thing fueling this debate. The project was initially named Cordoba House in honour of the historic city of Muslim Spain which was known for the peaceful co-existence of the Muslims, Jews and Christians. Opponents of the group forced the name to be changed, as to them it falsely represented Muslim subjugation of the medieval Christian world.

3) The good of the American people. Despite all the the opposition, there have been numerous people that have stood up and defended the Muslim community despite being themselves non-Muslim. These include journalists such as Keith Olbermann, politicians such as Mayor Bloomberg and even comedians like Jon Stewart. I greatly admire such individuals for their courage and strong indignation. Their open mindedness and their faith in American democratic values is not only inspirational but helps balance out the image of prejudice and ignorance painted by numerous Americans.

4) The work that still needs to be done by the Muslim community in order to change how the beautiful religion of Islam is perceived in America. The pious and upright character of early Muslims is something even their enemies attested to. Even up until the 60’s being Muslim in America was associated with something good thanks to the Black Muslim movement led by Malcolm X. Present day Muslims need to walk in those footsteps and take it upon themselves to educate the general populace about Islam. It is only through knowledge that ignorance,injustice and prejudice will be defeated.

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