Well a mosque is different from those other two houses of worship in some very important ways, but most obviously, they are different because each structure is designed and built for the purposes of practicing a particular faith. A church, Christianity; a synagogue, Judaism; a mosque, Islam. In the United States, we have all three of these structures in many different cities and towns, sometimes right across from one another. We have all three of these structures in the United States because of the founding principle of this nation that we shall not discriminate within our laws for or against any particular religion or creed; that every citizen has the right to practice whatever religion they so choose. It has been a guiding principle of this nation for over 200 years and has brought about iconical phrases that have permeated the American lexicon, such as “separation of church and state.” However, if you have not heard recently, according to the right-wing news media, there is apparently a place within this country that is exempted from this principle, that is subject to prejudices of one religion over another, that is eerily reminiscent of the kind of religious persecution that the settlers of the American continent were fleeing from when they crossed the Atlantic so many years ago. And oddly enough, it’s located in New York City, the metropolis of metropolises, and arguably one of the most culturally diverse settings in the entire United States, if not the world.

If you don’t already know by my inferences, I am of course referring to the disgraceful controversy that has surrounded the construction of an Islamic mosque near Ground Zero in lower Manhattan where the Twin Towers once stood. Apparently, the right-wing within the media got completely incensed by the idea of religious pluralism, which is what the construction of this mosque is meant to symbolize. Now, the right-wing intolerants have been trying to portray this well-intentioned initiative as some kind of game of “Capture the Hill,” and by letting this mosque be constructed, it is essentially letting the terrorists claim victory. I don’t believe its necessary to go into how utterly absurd and ignorant and disgraceful such a portrayal is, so instead I will pose the question of why this has become such an issue and make an attempt at an answer.

September 11th is undoubtedly one of the most traumatic and affecting events in US history, and it especially has a profound impact on those who were directly affected by the attacks of that day. We should all be sensitive to those persons’ feelings when it comes to how we treat the land on which those Twin Towers once stood. However, what cannot be forsaken is our nation’s principles, and that includes the enabling of citizens to practice their religion wherever and however they choose, as long as they do not violate the law. Islam is undoubtedly one of these religions and they have every right to build that mosque at the location they have set for it. However, this does not answer the question of whether it should be built there. I am arguing that it should…in fact, it must, and here’s why:

In the previous paragraph I mentioned that every citizen has the right to practice their religion wherever and however they want as long they do not violate the law. The counterargument to this statement that has been either explicitly stated by the right-wing, or strongly implied, is that Islam is a religion of terrorists and that all it breeds is people who want to kill Americans and attack our way of life, thusly violating the law and consequently invalidating their right to practice. The most obvious rebuttal to this kind of argument is to call it for what it is, a combination of ignorance and racism. I personally know several people and know of many others who are devout Muslims and are nothing like what their religion supposedly brainwashes them to be. And many surveys of Muslims in America have been conducted and they show time and time again that the vast majority of Muslims are peaceful, non-violent and contributing members to American society. People who believe otherwise are so gullible and so insecure and so fearful that they have allowed stereotypes and manipulation to alter their view of this enormous contingent of people to the point where hate, and even violence, are the only end result.

The only way to counter this kind of hatred and fear is to supplant it with hope and acceptance, which is not something that is easily done. Confrontation between these two polar opposites is inevitable and necessary if we are to make any progress for the future. And the building of the mosque near Ground Zero represents this kind of healthy, non-violent confrontation of worldviews, and it is why I argue that it must be built there. For what better place is there in this country to lay the foundation for religious pluralism, than the place where fear and hatred unfortunately triumphed over love and acceptance? I can think of no better place to demonstrate to those who attacked us on that fateful day almost 9 years ago that we are better than them, and we will rise above what you have done to us and come out a better people that is continually striving to reach the maximum of our potential.

So, in the spirit of unity over division, let me harken back to my title question: “Why is a mosque different from a church, or a synagogue?” Diversity and variety is good, of which I illustrated examples of above, but it also helps to see the commonalities. Therefore, let me rephrase the question, “How is a mosque similar to a church, and a synagogue?” There are many answers to the question, but the one that resonates most with me is this: “They’re similar because they all represent the desire of human beings to answer the most basic of questions about our humanity, like ‘why are we here?’ and ‘what are we supposed to be doing?'” All of these architectural structures represent institutions and beliefs that attempt to answer those questions in their own way, so my attitude is that since I am trying to answer them too, why not invite them to join in and see what we can gleam from each other?