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Constructing Shrines of all Faiths at Ground Zero: An Alternative Idea

IDEA Viewpoint

August 16, 2010

Ghelawdewos Araia, Ph.D.

There is no doubt that the idea of constructing a mosque near Ground Zero, which by most Americans is considered a hallow ground, has stirred controversy among the public. The opinions debated on the mosque idea by proponents and opponents are understandable, but unfortunately people on either side tend to dichotomize the issues pertaining to the mosque vis-à-vis Ground Zero. They don’t see a middle ground in the extremities of the continuum and we are all lost in the blazing arguments and counter-arguments. Therefore, this IDEA viewpoint offers an alternative idea, indeed a novel solution, of constructing shrines of all faiths at Ground Zero. 

New York City is my hometown after Ethiopia, a country of my birthplace; and although I no longer live in the City, I still commute to the Bronx to earn a living. For all the 21 years I have lived in New York, I used to visit the Twin Towers (aka World Trade Center) whenever I hosted guests that come from somewhere. That ended after the Towers literally melted in front of my eyes when some diabolical Kamikaze type Jihadists, who incidentally have nothing to contribute to civilization, hit them. But, it is not only the magnificent towers that were destroyed on September 11 2001; thousands of Americans perished in the World Trade Center inferno and, of course, thousands of Americans also lost their loved ones and they were devastated. For the latter, recalling the act of the suicide squad remains a constant nightmare, and the idea of a mosque near Ground Zero could be insult to injury for these still bereaving families. I think we should understand their feelings although the ‘direct link’ of the mosque and/or Islam with the terrorists is egregiously wrong. For me personally, the World Trade Center incident was a shock I was never prepared for; imagine how those who lost family members and friends could feel.

On the other hand, those Americans who are in favor of constructing a mosque near Ground Zero have a point because their rationale, after all, corresponds to the American ideal of religious toleration and the right of a people to worship and not to worship. However, they tend to gloss over the sorrow and sad encounter of people when they entertain and advance dry rationale, and it is no wonder that the people who lost there loved ones at Ground Zero are genuinely puzzled.

The American public must transcend the binary opposition of verbal discourses and as per their civic culture promote toleration instead. All it takes is a moment of reflection, and once we exhibit a modicum of sobriety, we will begin to understand the universal human penchant to live side by side irrespective of race, ethnicity, and religious background. We will then emancipate ourselves from the shackles of extremism, in this case the pros and cons for the establishment of a mosque near Ground Zero. Extremism is negative energy; extremists are mono-directional and for the most part they entertain ideas that are flagrantly counter empirical and counter productive, and in the end serve only a disempowering function. That is why extremists are destructive and it is in this context that we must understand that the best solution for virtually all problems that we encounter does not lie with extremes; it lies in the middle of the continuum that we like to call ‘an alternative idea’ for the purpose of this viewpoint.

Instead of going all against reason and history with respect to the controversy of a mosque near Ground Zero, we suggest that shrines of all faiths be constructed on the American sacred ground. By building these shrines, we can actually score two major achievements:

  1. We will honor all those who died on 9/11/2001 for ever, and
  2. Humanity will be united by a common purpose of tolerance and dialogue 

The shrines of all faiths will symbolize the destiny and rendezvous point of all human beings, and as a result annual pilgrimage (renaissance) could be observed from all over the world!

All Rights reserved. Copyright © IDEA, Inc. 2010.  Dr. Ghelawdewos Araia can be contacted for educational and constructive feedback via dr.garaia@africanidea.org