Pray for the Opponents of the Community Center in NYC
by Robert Salaam
In the heat of a debate when our emotions are at their highest, we tend to emphatically state or say things that aren’t necessarily true, nice, or over generalized. Many of us who support the construction of the Park 51/Cordoba House Community Center that is 2 blocks away from the site of the WTC 9/11 attacks, fall into this category. Supporters of the community center project including this blogger, have levied against our opponents accusations of racism, bigotry, and islamophobia as tensions and agitation increased in part due to the non-stop coverage of protests and commentary from opponents, much of which we claim fit the exact descriptions of the charges we collectively raised.
However, missing in our opinionated missives is reality on the ground and the very use of reason that we allege our opponents are lacking. Missing from the debate is our compassion and the desire to seriously examine the mindsets of our opponents. In many ways, through our commentary and counter protests we have become exactly what we accuse our opponents of. We are often just as guilty of the same broad brush tactics and guilt by association reasoning that we vehemently fight against.
Even though our passions are high and while we feel that much of our opponents reasoning is devoid of logic and dripping with the kind of irrationality that makes us question their motives, we still have to accept that every opponent is not a racist, bigot, or islamophobe. We have to accept as supporters that a vast amount of our opponents are most likely well intentioned. They are our fellow Americans who feel strong about their opposition and many are genuinely emotionally affected by this projects proximity to Ground Zero.
The only way to discover the truth one way or the other is not through verbal sniping, but through meaningful dialogue that will produce an atmosphere of civil disagreement. Communication that can wash away ignorance with knowledge, replace fear with tolerance, and destroy hate rebuilding with love.
If meaningful dialogue is what we truly seek then we have to accept that our opponents emotions are valid and real to them no matter who illogical we may think they are being. Part of the discussion has to be in accepting the validity of the human experience and the pain and emotion that is felt on both sides.
I happen to believe that the reason the discussion has navigated into ugly waters is due to the orchestrated manipulation of these raw feelings on both sides. I think it’s safe to assume that the talking points and stated reasoning for the opposition of this project was constructed and implanted by those with a clear agenda and focus. These manipulators don’t really care about the emotions and or sensibilities of those they claim to represent, they use their supporters only as a means to an end, a catalyst to springboard their various platforms and agendas. In many instances, our opponents are just as much a victim of their own ignorance as we who support the project feel victimized.
The discussion has become so turbulent these, that we may never be able to reach a point where we can deal with each other one to one on the human level; yet there is still hope. We can choose to be civil moving forward. We can choose to be all those things that we know are ideal. We can choose pray for our opponents.
In chapter 5:44-45 of the book of Matthew it is written:
But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you; That ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven: for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust.
These timeless words speak of a kind of humanity and compassion that is lacking in our debate over this community center and truly speaks to our need to be compassionate toward our fellow man no matter how we perceive their words, actions, or intentions.
On compassion and mercy in Islam in the Qur’an we are told in early Surah 60 that while God does not like the unjust, we should follow the example of Abraham who prayed for those who were even his open enemies. If we were to exercise that type of mercy, the result would be as the Qur’an says in verse 7:
“it may well be that God will bring about mutual affection between you and some of those whom you now face as enemies: for, God is all-powerful - and God is much-forgiving, a dispenser of grace.” (60:7)
So in this passage from the Qur’an we are told that being kind and just even to our enemies may even bring the two opposing sides together. Muslims are also told by the Prophet Muhammad, the value of kindness, mercy, and love as a testament to true faith and reward from God.
“Whoever is kind, Allah will be kind to him; therefore be kind to man on the earth. He who is in heaven will show mercy on you.” (Abu Daud, Tirmidhi)
“You will not enter paradise until you have faith; and you will not complete your faith till you love one another.” (Muslim)
“Allah will not give mercy to anyone, except those who give mercy to other creatures.” (Abdullah b. Amr, Abu Daud, Tirmidhi)
Dealing with our opponents may be frustrating, irksome, hurtful, and at times unjust, we have to be able to stand strong against whatever our opponents throw at us, in love and in prayer. We should still do what is right and what is better, even in the face of adversity and what may seem like insurmountable odds as in doing so is the best path. So let us pledge that in our moving forward, that instead of generalizing or stereotyping our opponents, and using that over simplification as an impetus to do unto them as they do unto us, let us counter that bitter exercise in moral and spiritual decay by trying to be better to our opponents than they are to us. Whether we are Christian, Muslim, Jewish, believer and non-believer alike, goodness can and will prevail in the end, if we but work and walk in the path of good.
“The good deed and the evil deed cannot be equal. Repel evil with that which is better; then indeed, he between whom and you there was enmity, will become as though he was a close friend.” [41:34]