Ground Zero and the beauty of mosques

Cover of Orhan Pamuk´s The Museum of Innocence

This whole controversy about the plans to build a mosque near Ground Zero, namely, the original site of the twin towers in New York, got me thinking about Mosques. The fact that I am currently reading Orhan Pamuk‘s the Museum of Innocence was also very conducive to this line of thought.

The Turkish writer’s book’s cover features a the Mosque-lined skies of Istanbul that I have seen so many times sailing into the dreamlike city, but that is not really why the novel got me thinking of Mosques. There is a retelling in the book of the story of ABRAHAM, and how God asked him to kill his own son. As Pamuk is talking about Muslims in Istanbul, when people say God here, it means Allah, and they are not referring to stories from the Bible, but the KORAN.

The fact that Abraham´s story is present in the Koran, exactly the same way as in the Bible, which by the way I have never read in full (something that is kind of shameful for a once English literature teacher), made me think about how there could be so much hate between Christians and Muslims, enough to cause many wars over millenia, when all of those people were virtually praying to the same God. The novel, in a way, has made me very curious to read the Koran.

A view of Ground Zero
A view of Ground Zero

Now, back to Mosques, as someone who has visited Istanbul several times, everyone would assume that I have been to all of those Mosques that appear on Pamuk´s books, but that is not the case. While in Istanbul, I guess there was so much that I wanted to see and experience, that I never really had the time to go into a Mosque.

The one Mosque that I have been inside must be one of the quietest Mosques on the planet. It sits on a rock in Gibraltar, far from town, facing the tip of the African continent. At the time, I was impressed by the beauty of the Mosque interior, but also by the silence and the solitude: there was nobody in sight. As someone who is not religious, there are moments when I will enter a beautiful place of worship and I will understand why those painted ceilings and the gleaming stained glass windows can make people think of God. Something like this happened to me in Gibraltar. Many years later, when I wrote a series of poems during the war in Iraq, I would be taken back to the moment, when I read of a Mosque being bombed in Baghdad, and I would write a poem entitled INSIDE THE MOSQUE.

Here is a video of Istanbul with my mosque poem THE MUSIC OF THE MOSQUE:

A couple of days ago, when I read about people complaining in New York, because they wanted to forbid the building of a Mosque near Ground Zero, the place where thousands of people were killed “by Muslims,” as people not given to analyze the deep causes and effects of political and historical events would put it.

On hearing this and reading the angry diatribes of right-wing journalists and politicians, all I could think of was the feeling of being inside a Mosque, and I thought that something must be fundamentally wrong in our Western culture, if we think that building a place of worship can be deemed an act of war or revenge.

These are violent times, but the violence in the story is not in the plans of the builders of the Ground Zero Mosque, but in the forbidding of the construction of a place of worship which only very narrow-minded people would associate at any length with the attack on the twin towers.

Although plans to build the Mosque near Ground Zero have been greenlit, I do not trust we have seen the last of that pointless controversy. When I see what gets printed on the front páges of the New York Times and such sometimes, I feel glad that I can retreat to my safe corner in The Museum of Innocence.Thank God for good novelists, whatever his name is…

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4 comments on “Ground Zero and the beauty of mosques

  1. Liberal thinking may work in your corner of the world but in the U.S. we have soldiers dying to preserve the Great lifestyle you seem to have. There are over 200 Mosques in the Manhattan area. I guess you were not there the day we all saw people diving to their deaths out of the towers. You mean to tell me there isn’t another location in NYC to build a mosque. By the way have we ever found who the secret peoplle who are funding this ? I think your part of the world needs to wake up and get involved.

  2. I lived in NYC for three wonderful years in the 80s. What I loved about the city was its acceptance and its ability to juggle life from many different places, economic backgrounds and levels of thought. The mosque controversy makes me sad in many ways. Here is something that is so utterly NYC – the mingling of different cultures and religions, the desire to educate and to work together, the realization that we are all one on the planet – being mangled by people who truly don’t understand NY or who represent the worst that the great city has to offer.
    The response of a mosque near to the World Trade Center site is a brilliant response. A correct response. It symbolizes the answer to at least part of the cause of 9/11 – we don’t understand each other, we don’t accept each other’s differences, and we certainly don’t respect each other’s religions and/or cultures.
    Mindless loss of life brought on by ignorance is the most devastating and common thing in this world.
    Thank you for the great blog.

  3. Your message really touched me.
    I met New York after 9/11, so I guess I have a sense of nostalgia for that beautiful past I never got the chance to know.
    Thanks for stopping by!

  4. To Jim Dunn…
    I am a New Yorker and have been for 16 years. I also live 2 blocks from the WTC site. NYC is certainly one of the few places in the world where so many races do mingle, mostly with respect for each other, but I find this mosque to be very selfish. It is an opportunity for Muslims to say, OK, we are a part of your community so we will take into account your feelings as well rather than pushing a sensitive project forward. If they just moved it a little farther away, we could all be happy.

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