CHURCH groups in the United States marked the start of Ramadan last week by condemning the wave of “intolerance against Muslims” in the US, seen, they say, in the vehement protests against the construction of a new mosque near the site of the 9/11 attacks.
The National Council of Churches of Christ in the USA, its Interfaith Relations Commission, and Christian participants in the National Muslim-Christian initiative issued a statement saying that they were “troubled by fellow Christians in the United States who are expressing intolerance against Muslims in words and deed”.
Arguing that Christ’s commandment to “love your neighbour as yourself” should form the basis for Christian-Muslim relations, the statement questioned the “anti-Muslim tenor” of those Christian groups who have opposed the building of a community centre and mosque near the site of the World Trade Center in New York.
It decried “the anti-Muslim actions and plans of many church leaders and members, such those of the Dove World Outreach Center”, a church in Florida that is planning to hold a “Burn the Koran” day on 11 September.
The statement condemned this as “harassment of Muslims”. It said “Such open acts of hatred are not a witness to Christian faith, but a grave trespass against the ninth commandment, bearing false witness against our neighbour. They contradict the ministry of Christ and the witness of the Church in the world.”
President Obama appeared to support the building of the mosque and community centre near Ground Zero, saying that Muslims had the right to practise their religion and therefore to build places of worship. The Mayor of New York, Michael Bloomberg, backed the project. He said that it “would be a sad day for America” if a mosque and community centre were shut down “because it is two blocks away from the site where freedom was attacked”.
A poll carried out by CNN and the Opinion Research Corporation, however, suggested that many US citizens oppose the mosque: nearly 70 per cent were against it, and 29 per cent were in favour.
The building of the mosque has been supported by Brian McLaren, the American Christian speaker and writer who addressed the Lambeth Conference in 2008, and last year provoked criticism among some Christians for fasting during Ramadan.
He wrote on a blog for The Washington Post: “Shouldn’t it stab the hearts of caring Americans like you and me to imagine forbidding Muslims to experience the same freedom of religion in their new homeland that our own ancestors sought here in the past?
“Shouldn’t we remember how it feels to be seen as aliens, and shouldn’t we love our Muslim neighbours as ourselves, wanting the same religious freedom that we cherish?”