A New Generation of Conservative Thought

The mosque firestorm: calling for one God

By Dr. Grace Vuoto

September 7, 2010

Relations between Muslims and Christians are now more strained than they have been since the attacks on U.S. soil by Islamist extremists on September 11, 2001. Then, President Bush was quick to denounce Islamic fascism and to encourage respect for law-abiding Muslims in the U.S. and around the world. Yet, President Barack Obama, who said he would reshape relations between Americans and Muslims, has been unable to quell burgeoning anti-Muslim sentiments in America.

Mr. Obama has bent over backwards to create understanding and cooperation: He apologized to Muslims for past American wrongs in his landmark June 4, 2009 Cairo speech in which he attempted to launch a “new beginning” between Muslim nations and America; he has repeatedly reached out to Muslim leaders and he has refused to use religious terminology such as “Islamic radicalism” in reference to the war on terror. Nonetheless, there is a rise in anti-Islam attitudes. More Americans are wary of Islam than they were in 2005, according to a poll by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life: 30 per cent of respondents said they have a favorable view Islam this summer, in contrast to 41 per cent who said they had a favorable view of the faith in July, 2005.

Much of the recent animus stems from the projected building of a mosque and cultural center near the site of ground zero. A majority of Americans oppose the building of the mosque near what is referred to as “sacred ground”—the place where about 3,000 Americans lost their lives during the 9/11 attacks. Equally galling to opponents is the original name of the anticipated building, Cordoba House, referencing the 8th to 11th century period of Muslim rule in Spain. Proponents of the mosque, now named Park51, indicate the original name was meant to invoke a period of Christian-Muslim peaceful coexistence rather than Islamic triumph over America.

Thus, almost a decade after the 9/11 attacks, many Muslims and Christians view one another with increasing suspicion. An evangelical Christian church, Dove World Outreach Center, has plans to burn copies of the Koran, the Muslim holy book on Sept. 11 in order to “send a clear message to the radical element of Islam,” according to senior pastor Terry Jones. “We will no longer be controlled and dominated by their fears and threats. It is time for America to return to being America," said the pastor in a statement. The projected burning of the Koran has sparked protests across Indonesia.

The escalating tension between Christians and Muslims highlights the historical suspicion among the faiths: While there have been periods of peace, toleration and cooperation, Christians and Muslims share a mutual fear that the ultimate goal of each faith is to eradicate one another—politically, socially, culturally and theologically. Both faiths are monotheistic, but Christians believe Jesus shares the divine person with God and Muslims maintain Mohammed came to perfect the faith of the Jews and the Christians. Hence for Christians, Jesus marks the pinnacle of the faith that will one day overcome the world; for Muslims, Mohammed has supplanted Jesus and Islam will ultimately supplant Christendom. The root of the tensions, today and through time, is the clashing view of who is the ultimate world redeemer.

The chasm between Christians and Muslims is ultimately more profound than that between Christians and Jews, Christians and Hindus, Christians and Buddhists, and different Christian denominations, including Catholics and Protestants. This is because, although Christians and Muslims can find common ground on a practical, worldly basis, they can never agree on the end game for mankind. And for Christians and Muslims, the end game is to be carried out in the temporal as well as supernatural sphere.

The rise of the Muslim faith in the seventh century and its interaction with Christendom, nonetheless points the way forward. The Muslim faith intended to ultimately supplant Christianity, but its primary and immediate mission was to combat the polytheism of the day. In affirming that there is only one God, Islam spread the central monotheistic message of the Jews and the Christians across the Middle East and beyond. In combating polytheism, Christians and Muslims forged a remarkable partnership. One case in point is the Christian King Negus of Habasha, in modern day Ethiopia, who provided shelter for the early Muslims while they were being persecuted by their polytheistic enemies. In addition, for centuries thereafter, the acceptance and spread of monotheism was at the root of the greatest scientific and cultural advances mankind had hitherto seen—and was especially vital in shedding the darkness of idolatry and superstition which would make way for the scientific revolution. Both the Christian and Muslim heritages, in their respective areas of domination, shattered the previous era of ignorance and made way for a more rational, progressive view of the universe.

In the 21st century, in the short term battle for the hearts and souls of mankind, Christians and Muslims share a similar goal: a God-centered world rooted in transcendental values and respect for human life and family values. This is preferred by both camps to the secular paradigm of atheism, sexual permissiveness and rampant individualism.

Christians and Muslims are the most widespread religions in the world and have the largest numbers of adherents: there are approximately 2.1 billion Christians worldwide (one third of the earth’s population) and between 1.3 to 1.8 billion Muslims (one fifth of the earth’s population), the latter being the fastest growing religion in the world. Both creeds have a unique mission and responsibility.

Hence, rather than targeting one another, Christians and Muslims ought to remember that they are the world’s guardians of monotheism. In light of this controversy and our shared history, the center to be built near ground zero ought to be a monument to the One God Tradition—a center that would recall the shared monotheistic heritage, be acceptable to the families of 9/11 victims and serve as a reminder that the primary antithesis of both Jesus and Mohammad is a godless, not god-ful society.

-Dr. Grace Vuoto is the Executive Director of the Edmund Burke Institute for American Renewal.