A Mosque? In San Martin?

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.

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2 Responses to A Mosque? In San Martin?

  1. Jan says:

    I would like more information about the plans for this Islamic center and Mosque. What is the source of funding? What version of Islam will be featured?

    Places such as this have been used to foment terrorism and recruit terrorists. Considering that Christian and other houses of worship are not permitted in Muslim countries such as Saudi Arabia and radical Islam is at war with the US and western civilization, I think sceptical, even negative reactions are pretty reasonable.

    Even peaceful Muslims have sought to inflict Sharia Law, forms of dress and other customs not customary in the culture at large, whether in Britain, France, Michigan or Australia – or California!

    My suggestion would be that people from other countries and cultures NOT immigrate to the USA unless they are prepared to accept other customs. Few countries are as tolerant of differences as the US.

    I have heard of no Sikhs trying to enforse turbans on others, nor Orthodox Jews inflicting skullcaps or other types of dress on others. The Muslim faith is the only one that I’m aware of that requires observant Muslims kill apostates. This is the “religion of peace”? Mohammed forced conversion at the point of a sword. I don’t think he or his religion belongs in the same category as Jesus and Christianity, Hinduism, Judaism or others.

    I think self preservation is a pretty reasonable concern.

  2. revdak says:

    Jan-
    Are you a neighbor in the area who is genuinely concerned about knowing more? Visit, meet the people, establish real relationships. Lumping any diverse group of people under the same label without knowing anything about them is stereotyping and prejudicial.

    What examples do you have of Muslims “imposing Sharia Law”? Do you mean the desire to wear hijab? Simply because someone wants to wear clothing that is “not customary in the culture at large” does not mean that they are seeking to impose Sharia on the community.

    I have heard of no Muslims trying to enforce hijab on non-Muslims. They only ask that others respect their choice. If “Few countries are as tolerant of different as the U.S.,” then what’s the problem with allowing Muslims their chosen observances?

    Your summation of Islam is a common one and full of misunderstanding and misinterpretations. Rather than tell Muslims what their tradition demands, why not talk with a Muslim and find out what they really believe?

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