As a dispute rages over a planned Muslim Community Center in Lower Manhattan – often referred to as the “Ground Zero Mosque” – Daisy Khan must respond.
The full case is comprised of an (A) Case and a (B) Case.
On the evening of May 5, 2010, Daisy Khan was in a festive mood. Khan and her husband Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, together with colleagues and friends, celebrated the first formal presentation of their plans for a Muslim Community Center in Lower Manhattan. As the plates of tandoori chicken, biryani, and saag paneer were passed around the restaurant table, they discussed how warmly the local Community Board received the proposal: “All 15 members were in favor of this; they were glad a center like this was coming to their neighborhood.” The center promised to bring jobs, vitality, and cultural events to an area near the World Trade Center site. In a neighborhood that had more commerce than community, and many empty storefronts, they would build a place for recreation, education, worship, and interfaith engagement. After more than ten years of imagining the project, even small steps forward were a cause for celebration. There was still much to be done, from fundraising to developing a board, yet she and Rauf were elated that their vision was finally becoming a reality. It would be called “Cordoba House,” taking its name from the Spanish city in which Christians, Muslims, and Jews once “lived together in peace and harmony.”
Yet Khan’s mood changed the next morning when she came into the Upper West Side offices of the American Society for Muslim Advancement. A staff member gave Khan a copy of the Daily News, which reported that Cordoba House was “a 13‐story mosque” located “steps from ground zero.” Khan was stunned. At the presentation the night before, they identified the prayer area as a small part of a larger project. Yet, she recalled, “There it was, in black and white: a 13 story mosque.” Khan put down the newspaper and braced herself for what would come next.
From Cordoba House to Ground Zero Mosque
In the blogosphere, the dispute over the center had just begun. Pamela Geller, a blogger and executive director at Stop the Islamization of America (SIOA) took a particular interest in the project. The day after the presentation to the civic association, Geller posted: “What better way to mark your territory than to plant a giant mosque on the still‐barren land of the World Trade Center? Sort of a giant victory lap.” Calling it an “insult,” she asked: “What's wrong with these people? Have they no heart? No soul?” The next day, Geller announced the launch of a "Campaign Offensive” called “Stop the 9/11 Mosque!" Geller’s blog posts about Cordoba House generated emotional responses:
Disgusting!!! This is an insult beyond comprehension. … I would rather not see any more mosques built here, but guess that can't be stopped. … This cannot be allowed to happen. … When are we as a people going to open our eyes and see the creeping infestation by this vile cult?
News coverage quoted those who questioned the sensitivity of the project: one 9/11 family member said, “That’s sacred ground.” Some characterized Cordoba House as a "slap in the face” or an “insult”; others found it “despicable.” One week later, a New York Post piece, "Mosque Madness at Ground Zero” quoted Geller, who asked: "What could be more insulting and humiliating than a monster mosque in the shadow of the World Trade Center buildings that were brought down by an Islamic jihad attack?” Later, the piece quoted Khan: "For us, it's a symbol, a platform that will give voice to the silent majority of Muslims who suffer at the hands of extremists. A center will show that Muslims will be part of rebuilding lower Manhattan." The columnist raised a host of issues, from appropriateness to funding, and concluded: “There are many questions about the Ground Zero mosque. But just one answer. Move it away.”
Khan considered how to respond. Their goal was to improve understanding and build trust, yet now she and her husband found themselves in the middle of a heated dispute. Khan noted, “And then we saw the people behind it, and then we began to see who was driving the opposition. Stop the Islamization of America is an organized group, and this is now going to be a big fight.” She explained: “So, either we were going to stay in the fight or we were going to withdraw completely. We decided to stay in the fight.”
1. Daisy Khan reads the Daily News article describing the Cordoba House as a “13-story mosque…steps from ground zero.” Draft a letter to the editor, written from the perspective of Daisy Khan. How would you describe the project? What would be most important to convey? Are there other ways she could respond?
2. One of the early opponents to the project is a group called Stop the Islamization of America. What does Khan need to know about this group, and where can she find this information? What advice might you offer about engaging with this group after your own research?
3. For Khan and Rauf, the mosque is “a symbol, a platform” for the “silent majority of Muslims.” What risks are inherent in such “symbolic” projects? What are the risks of speaking of—or for—the larger Muslim community?
4. Are you aware of other cases of opposition to the development of a mosque, whether in your own community, in the news, or in another community? How is that opposition framed? How is it similar—or different—than this case?
5. Early on, with controversy over the project in the headlines, and major anti-Muslim organizations involved, Daisy Khan characterizes their choice to “withdraw completely” or “stay in the fight.” How would you evaluate this binary choice? Do you agree with her decision? What should her next steps be?