Some residents of San Martin seem to have been surprised to discover that there are actually Muslims living in their community. The South Valley Islamic Center has been meeting in South County for many years. The members are local residents and part of the community- neighbors, if not yet friends.
People became aware of the group when they began to develop a proposal for a Muslim community center that would include not only a mosque (masjid), but a social hall, a youth center, a school and library, auditorium, senior convalescent center, mortuary, and open space. They propose to name it the “Cordoba Center,” for the capital of Moorish Spain, where Muslims, Christians, and Jews lived together in peace and which witnessed a flowering of the arts and learning unparalleled during the Middle Ages.
An ambitious project, to be sure (you can see an overview of the proposal on the SVIC website; link below). And there are many bases on which such a proposal needs to be evaluated– environmental impact, parking, traffic, noise levels, etc. However, some individuals in the community want to reject it simply because it is Muslim.
Although the Gilroy Dispatch published an editorial advocating a fair consideration of the proposal and a highly favorable Op-Ed piece by columnist Dina Campeau, letters to the editor and a guest column by Scott Thompson, a resident of San Martin have declared that Islam is inherently violent, “peacefulness” on the part of Muslims is just a tactic, and that even if local Muslims are peaceable, the violent minority will ultimately take over.
Several points strike me as I read– people who are not Muslim, do not read Arabic, and are unfamiliar with the role of Hadith and tradition in interpreting Qur’an are ready to tell us all what the Qur’an really says (despite what actual Muslims may say). These same interpreters must have a field day with certain passages in the Bible (see the Ten Commandments for Interreligious Dialogue: #5 Participants Define Themselves).
Secondly, the idea that “peacefulness” is nothing more than a tactic to get us to let our guard down. Muslims, according to this view, all have an “ulterior motive” in coming to the US (unlike the rest of our immigrant ancestors who came for a better life, economic opportunity, or to escape the draft). This is sheer paranoia. Where do you begin to trust, in order to build relationships of respect and mutual support? What drives people into hostility is isolation, not integration. If you assume hostility on the part of another, you are likely to breed the very hostility you expect. (See Ten Commandments for Interreligious Dialogue: #8: Dialogue Requires Trust).
Several writers challenge us to “learn the lessons of history”- one points to Nazi Germany as an example of how a violent minority can subvert a culture and come to dominate an otherwise “peaceful” culture. As one who has studied the Holocaust and the rise of the Nazi movement in Germany, I can simply see no parallel between what is happening in Islam today and what happened in Germany in the 20’s and 30’s. The far stronger parallel is to the stereotyping and prejudice that the opponents of the Cordoba Center have evidenced in their resistance to the Muslim community.
The history we need to learn from is the history of Cordoba itself- how to live together in peace as members of different religious traditions.
- Cordoba Community Center Overview
South Bay Islamic Center website (pdf)
- Fair Shake for Islamic Center
Editorial, Gilroy Dispatch, May 31, 2007
- Embrace the Islamic House of Worship in San Martin
Dina Campeau, Gilroy Dispatch, May 31, 2007
- Letters to the Editor, Gilroy Dispatch
- Let’s Not Be Naive About the Real Threat
of Muslims in the United States
Nancy Murphy, June 2, 2007
- Islam Quiet While Building Strength,
But Then It’s a ‘Yield or Die’ Message
James Fennell, June 7, 2007
- Lessons of history or else …
Nancy Murphy, June 12, 2007
- South Valley Mosque Proposal & Treatment
Bart Charlow, director, Silicon Valley Conference for Community and Justice (SVCCJ)
- Bin Laden has no place in mosque debate
Scott Herhold, San Jose Mercury News