Elie Elhadj

Ph.D., Author/ Banker

An individual or a group of individuals in all and every country should be able to enjoy the freedom to follow whatever system of belief they might wish to follow. The state, any and every state, should respect and protect all citizens and residents regardless of religion or sect.

Western Countries should welcome new mosques and other places of worship and countries in the East should welcome new churches and other places of worship.

In the particular case of the Ground Zero Mosque, I support its construction based on the soundness of the legal right of its promoters and owners to build it.

New York’s mayor Michael Bloomberg declared on August 3, 2010 correctly, eloquently, and forcefully that: “There is nothing in the law that would prevent the owners from opening a mosque within the existing building.” The Mayor said further: “The government has no right whatsoever to deny that right – and if it were tried, the courts would almost certainly strike it down as a violation of the U.S. Constitution”.

A few days later, President Obama stated fittingly at the iftar dinner at the White House on August 13, 2010: “As a citizen, and as President, I believe that Muslims have the same right to practice their religion as everyone else in this country. And that includes the right to build a place of worship and a community center on private property in Lower Manhattan, in accordance with local laws and ordinances.”

Notwithstanding that the construction of the Ground Zero Mosque is legal and supported by the highest offices of the American government, the wisdom of building the project, however, ought to be examined carefully, critically, and objectively by concerned Muslims and Muslim leaders. At issue here is whether the benefits to the United States, to Islam, and to Muslims everywhere arising from the building of the mosque and its Islamic centre at this specific location would justify the likely long-term negative consequences which the project could engender among a sizeable proportion of Americans towards Islam and Muslims. According to a TIME poll reported on August 19, 2010, 61% of respondents oppose the construction of the project, compared with 26% who support it. More than 70% concur with the premise that proceeding with the plan would be an insult to the victims of the attacks on the World Trade Centre. The survey revealed that many Americans harbour lingering animosity toward Muslims.

One might wonder whether or not it would be fair for a host country to place constraints on the location or the size of a proposed place of worship, whether such constraints might be agreed upon uniformly among all nations, or indeed, whether the sermons, preaching, and teachings imparted by religious clerics should conform to the local culture, values and laws of the host countries.

In answer, unless the place worship becomes offensive to the generally accepted mores, values, and taste of the host country, restrictions would not serve a useful purpose.

Further, while reciprocity is a valid concept, it is practically impossible to be agreed internationally. Religions have cross border followings. Which city in the Muslim world should reciprocate the construction, for example, of a Ground Zero Mosque? Should it be Mecca, Damascus, Qom, or Karachi? Would the construction of a mosque in a less sensitive American location mean the construction of a church in a less important Muslim city? How and who would rank the “religious index” of world’s cities?

Regarding conformity of sermons, preaching, and teachings to local culture and laws of the host country, there is not the slightest of doubt that worship centers must obey not only the word of the law of the host country but also the spirit of the law as well as be sensitive and respectful to the cultures, sensibilities, and values of host countries.

For the new Ground Zero Mosque to avert widening the already serious divide that exists between Muslims and non-Muslims in America, the mosques’ preachers and teachers must deal with some very tough issues that go to the very heart of the Islamic creed. For the Ground Zero Mosque to become a catalyst for good, shari’a law and teaching will have to be brought into harmony with the laws of the United States. Otherwise, the sacredness of the Ground Zero location to Americans will inspire further widening of today’s division between Islam and the American people.

In this connection, I would like to send to Imam Faisal Abdul Rauf, promoter of the new mosque and Islamic center, the following open letter regarding what the mission of his Ground Zero Mosque and cultural centre ought to be:

An Open Letter to Imam Faisal Abdul Rauf, Promoter of the New York’s Ground Zero Mosque

Dear Imam Abdul Rauf:

Congratulations on attaining your aim to build an Islamic community centre and mosque in the shadow of Ground Zero.

Allowing the construction of this complex close to where the former World Trade Center stood on the morning of September 11, 2001 is a tribute to American’s sense of justice and strength, self-confidence and tolerance, respect to the rule of law and secularism.

Imam Abdul Rauf, your big challenge has just begun. To fulfil your interest in reconciling religions and countering the backlash against Muslims you need to deal with very serious and sensitive issues. With respect, sir, I would like to outline six issues.

First, until you are able to pacify the intolerant and violent Quranic verses against non-Muslims in general, Christians and Jews in particular, please refrain from proclaiming Islam a religion of peace. Although the Quran contains tolerant peaceful verses like 2:62, 2:136, 2:256, 29:46, it also contains intolerant violent verses like 2:65, 2:120, 2:191, 2:193, 2:216, 2:217, 5:14, 5:51, 5:59, 5:60, 5:78, 8:60, 9:05, 9:29.

Will you teach that today’s Christians and Jews are to be condemned the way the Quran condemns their seventh century ancestors? Will you take issue with men like Abd Al-Rahman Al-Sudais, the leading cleric of Islam’s holiest mosque in Mecca, who told his congregation in 2004: “Read history and you will understand that the Jews of yesterday are the evil forefathers of the even more evil Jews of today . . . the scum of the human race, accursed by Allah, who turned them into apes and pigs.”

Second, there is the shari’a treatment of women—four wives simultaneously to one Muslim man, divorce at his will without giving cause, a woman’s inheritance and testimony in a court of law being equal to one half of those of a man. Will you be teaching that such rules should apply to your followers in America? Would you sanction the misyar marriage contract (for Sunnis) and the mut’a marriage contract (for Shi’ites)?

Also, Sahih Al-Bukhari attributed to the Prophet saying that most of those who are in hell are women, that women’s “lack of intelligence” is the reason why a woman’s testimony in an Islamic court of law is equal to half that of the testimony of the Muslim male, and that the reason why women are prohibited from praying and fasting during menstruation is due to them being “deficient in religious belief.” Sunan Al-Nasai attributed to the Prophet saying: “People who entrust the management of their affairs to a woman will fail.” Will you be bringing such ahadith into the discussion and propounding such ideas?

Imam Abdul Rauf, may I respectfully suggest that you benefit us with your thoughts on the contradiction between shari’a treatment of women as compared with the treatment accorded by the Prophet Muhammad to his first wife Khadija? We are told that Khadija was the best born in Quraish, a successful businesswoman and the richest. We are also told that Khadija employed young Muhammad in her business, that she proposed marriage to Him when He was about 25 years old, and that she was about 15 years His senior and twice a widow. We are told that for the 25 years of the Prophet’s marriage to Khadija, until her death in 620, He remained monogamous to her, that she was the one person to whom He turned for advice and comfort, and that Khadija was the first convert to Islam. Such an image makes Khadija an emancipated, commanding woman of high standing in Meccan pre-Islamic society and in the eyes of her husband par excellence, and that the Prophet treated her with faithfulness and devotion. Will you be explaining how and why the contradiction between the Prophet’s treatment of Khadija and the treatment of women that emerged under shari’a Law evolved? Will you be urging the faithful to follow the Prophet’s example, shari’a rules, or American law?

Will you be teaching and preaching that disobedient woman (wives) should be hit or beaten up in order to accord with Quran’s 4:34?

Will you be explaining why it is that Muslim non-Arab Bangladesh, Indonesia, Pakistan, and Turkey interpret Sharia Law in such a way as to allow women to become presidents and prime ministers.

Do you support the suckling of the adult fatwa, which has recently become the subject of considerable debate in Arab media? If the answer is no, will you explain Sahih Muslim’s dedication of a special section titled: “Suckling the grown-up man” as well as Sunan Abi Dawood’s dedication of a similar section to the same subject.

Third, will you be teaching that the punishment for apostasy from Islam (and blasphemy) is death, that for false accusation and drinking alcohol the punishment is flogging (though in 47:15 the Quran promises rivers of wine in paradise for the faithful to enjoy)? Will you be preaching that the penalty for theft is amputation of hand (5:38) and foot (if the theft is repeated), and for theft with homicide is execution by the sword followed by crucifixion, and that the punishment for adultery (when the offenders are mature, married Muslims) is stoning to death? On the penalty for adultery, the Quran imposes 100 lashes to each adulterer (24:2). However, attributions to the Prophet by five Hadith collectors changed the punishment for adultery from 100 lashes to stoning the adulteress and the adulterer until death. Which penalty will you be advocating?

Fourth, will the new centre sponsor academic research on its own or in conjunction with prime universities in the East and the West into the historicity of the Quran and the Hadith scientifically?

Fifth, will you be teaching that Shi’ites, Islamilis, Druzes, Alawites, let alone non-Muslims are heretics?

Sixth, how will you teach verse 9:29: “Fight those who believe not in God nor the Last Day… even if they are of the People of the Book, until they pay the protective tax (jizya) with willing submission, and feel themselves subdued.” While verses like 2:120, 5:14, 5:51, and 5:78 criticize Christian and Jews and urge Muslims not to befriend them, 9:29 goes beyond criticism, friendship, and retaliation–it orders Muslims to fight Christian and Jews even if these people do not attack Muslims.

On an individual level, it is hoped that your teaching and preaching will inspire Islamists to experience moments of remorse for what their jihadist brethren had done to the neighbourhood that now hosts and protects your centre. Hopefully, your preaching will inspire Islamists everywhere to compare their hatred with the understanding that America affords you and their violence with the security that N.Y. now accords you. Hopefully, you will inspire in jihadists the world over that feeling of genuine gratitude and true respect to, if not love of, America and what America’s ideals really mean.

Hopefully, the new centre will prompt those Islamic countries that discriminate against their own non-Muslim citizens and residents to appreciate, possibly emulate, America’s religious tolerance and freedom.

Hopefully, the new centre won’t be hijacked by Wahhabi money and be reduced to a Pakistan/Taliban madrassah type. Hopefully, New York authorities will ensure that that will not happen and that the directors and officers of the new centre would be held accountable for their deeds.

Hopefully, you would succeed in establishing branches of your centre in Macca, Madina, Braida, Eniza and the rest of the Wahhabi hot bed towns and villages of the Qaseem region and the lands controlled by their Taliban disciples in Pakistan and Afghanistan so that religions may be reconciled and the backlash against Muslims may be countered.


Elie Elhadj

Elie is a banker with 30 years of experience in New York, Philadelphia, London and Riyadh; where for most of the 1990’s he was chief executive officer of Arab National Bank. At age 54, he joined London University’s School of Oriental and African Studies as a student to attain an M.A. in History and Ph.D. His doctoral dissertation was published in a book titled Experiments in Achieving Water and Food Self-Sufficiency in The Middle East: The Consequences of Contrasting Endowments, Ideologies, and Investment Policies in Saudi Arabia and Syria. Elie is the author of the The Islamic Shield: Arab Resistance to Democratic and Religious Reforms.

“You can bring in money and water and you can make the desert green until either the water runs out or the money”
Quoted in the New York Times, Mideast Facing Choice Between Crops and Water, July 21 2008