7 Questions for the Imam at Ground Zero

In my prior article for Fox News Opinion, I posed seven questions of Pastor Terry Jones, concerning his (now suspended) plans to burn copies of the Koran on September 11. There is also the need to pose questions of Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, and his Cordoba House planned near Ground Zero.

In his September 7 New York Times opinion piece, and subsequent media appearances, Imam Rauf has defined an Islamic commitment to “building bridges,” and “fostering understanding and peace.”

As a Christian, there's a biblical assumption that genuine understanding and bridge building are rooted in the power to love hard questions – where the mutual honor of an equal humanity is assumed for all people.

Here, I see seven important issues, along with cognate questions.

Imam Rauf states: “Our name, Cordoba, was inspired by the city in Spain where Muslims, Christians and Jews co-existed in the Middle Ages during a period of great cultural enrichment created by Muslims.”

The Iberian peninsula – modern Spain – was conquered by Berber Muslims in A.D. 711. Later, under Abd al-Rahman, the newly named al-Andalus had its capitol city in Cordoba. Islam maintained religious, political and economic hegemony.

In Cordoba, Jews and Christians were tolerated as dhimmis, or “protected peoples.” Their ideas were welcomed in learning and culture only to the extent that Islam had the final say. But dhimmis did not have equal status with Muslims in terms of rights or liberties. “Infidels” (atheists or polytheists) had to convert or be put to the sword.

1. Does the choice of the name Cordoba House indicate an ideal for Imam Rauf, and a desire to emulate the Islamic state of al-Andalus?

A related concern is the historical reality that Islam is a “one-way religion” where people who are born Muslim, or convert to Islam, are not allowed to leave Islam. Historically, many apostates were put to death, and a range of pressures have always been employed to prohibit Muslims from leaving Islam.

In a reflection of this one-way reality, Imam Rauf addressed the multifaith nature of the Cordoba House in an interview with CNN on September 8. He said he wanted Jews and Christians to be “perfect” in their religions. But Islam believes the Koran fulfills and supersedes the Hebrew Bible and Christian New Testament, and thus, such perfection is only found in becoming Muslim.

2. Does the Cordoba House hold to the classic view of Islam as a one-way religion?

Imam Rauf also defines “the very American values under debate” as a “recognition of the rights of others, tolerance and freedom of worship.” This language, if consistent with the historical nature of Cordoba, refers to the rights of Muslims to tolerate and control the worship of Jews and Christians as second class people. This is wholly at odds with unalienable rights given by the Creator to all people equally – life, liberty and property – and thus, at odds with the core of “American values.”

3. Can the unalienable rights of the Declaration of Independence, and the First Amendment liberties in the U.S. Constitution, be rooted in the “tolerance” of Cordoba?

The Cordoba House’s stated purpose is to “cultivate understanding among all religions and cultures.” In Islam, ijtihad, or reasoning, is employed by many Muslims in the 21st century for freedom of thought within Islam, and in its multifaith communications. However, historically, ijtihad is not allowed to be used to question a) Allah’s existence or nature; b) Muhammad’s veracity as the final and true Prophet of Allah; and c) the authenticity of the Koran.

4. Will the Cordoba House likewise place restrictions on these and other questions, or can it embrace rigorous liberal arts inquiry?

Imam Rauf says: “The very word ‘islam’ comes from a cognate to shalom, which means peace in Hebrew.”

However, at the primary and contextual level in biblical Hebrew, shalom means “integrity” and “wholeness,” with “peace” as a derivative term. In Arabic, the primary meaning of islam means “submission” to Allah. Thus, two cognate terms have been compared here by Imam Rauf, instead of two primary terms.

5. Does the Cordoba House understand that true “peace” can only be attained through submission to Islam?

Elsewhere, Imam Rauf has called the United States a “shari’a compliant state,” in seeking to link it with unalienable rights in the Declaration of Independence. Shari’a, or Islamic law, is obligatory for all Muslims. It is based on a detailed imitation of the Sunnah of Muhammad, consistent with the Koran. Accordingly, minute details in every Muslim’s life are prescribed by such an overlord. Shari’a does not speak of unalienable rights for all people equally, as does the Declaration in its biblical roots.

6. As the United States moves dangerously closer to a top-down government that regulates the smallest details of our lives, is this not a more accurate analogy for shari’a?

There is asymmetry here. Namely, the United States was founded on the biblical ethics of unalienable rights, extending to Muslims the same rights, as it does to all peoples. Nations and cultures governed by shari’a law do not treat non-Muslims likewise.

In my asymmetrical freedom, I am free to convert to Islam if persuaded, and thus, I welcome the toughest and unrestricted questions Islam would pose of my Christian faith.

7. Can the Cordoba House celebrate the freedom of Muslims to convert to Jesus, Son of God, if they are thus persuaded?

Rev. John Rankin is president of the Theological Education Institute and Mars Hill Society in West Simsbury, Connecticut. For more from Rev. Rankin visit his websites at: www.johnrankin.org and www.teinet.net.

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