Five times per day, throughout this enigmatic city, the calls to prayer, or Ezan, ring out, initiating an exodus from homes, offices and even busy tourists shops and restaurants.
“Allahu Akbar” – God is most great.
It is Ramadan, the month of fasting and the mood alternates between the quiet introspection compelled by taking neither food nor water from sun-up to sun-down during some of the longest days of the year, and the burst of celebration (and relief) of breaking bread for iftar, the breaking of the fast . When the muezzin calls, Istanbullus answer by making their way to any one of nearly 3000 active mosques. Even with its secular government, established in 1923 by the real Young Turks, the Republic of Turkey boasts a 98% muslim population and more mosques per capita than anyplace in the world: 85,000 or 1 for every 350 citizens.
“Ash-hadu an la ilaha illa llah” I bear witness that there is but one God.
“Ash-hadu anna Muhammadan Rasulullah” – I bear witness Mohammed is a messenger of God.
“Hayya ‘ala-salat” – Make haste towards prayer.
From this vantage point, it is hard to comprehend the furor generated around the placement of just one mosque, that of the proposed Cordoba Mosque and Community Center in New York City’s lower Manhattan.
For the record, it is not on the World Trade Center site, it is near. Two blocks away. And for those of us that didn’t know, the fact of long-standing mosques, 4 and 12 blocks away, was illumined by the New York Times. Each stood peacefully in the shadow of the Twin Towers for decades. Both mosques overflow with ever-increasing numbers of believers during this holiest of months. One is conservative by Islamic standards, maintaining separate prayers spaces for men and women, the other, considered to be the most progressive in the nation, is led by a woman. It is the prayer leader of the latter, most progressive of mosques that was inspired to build the community center as a symbolic bridge of healing through mutual exchange. A better candidate couldn’t be found even abiding by our quasi-racist criteria.
Notwithstanding its overwhelming predominance of Muslims, Turkey lays claim to a history of religious tolerance that cannot be ignored. In 1492, as Columbus delivered claim over native lands to Spain, 200,000 Sephardic Jews were delivered into freedom from the Inquisition by Ottoman’s Sultan. Some 15,000 French Jews were saved during the Holocaust. Turkey still seats the Christian Orthodox Patriarch and on September 12, a referendum for a new constitution seeks to extend human rights and religious freedom while limiting the historically long arm of law in exchange for transparency and balance.
As the capital of empires for 800 years, this city has much to teach the economic capital of America’s Empire. The main point being this: all empires fall. In their wake, what they leave behind is a legacy. It can be a legacy that glorifies the past to be regaled in rubble and ruins, or it can be a legacy that sets the course for the future. An admirable post-empiric future is one that learns from the mistakes of arrogance past and matures into a principled elder state exhibiting universally moral characters of equanimity, restraint, temperance and unequivocally just.
“Hayya ‘alal-Falah – Make haste towards success.
Critics argue that the name Cordoba represents the triumph of Islam over Christianity as that of the grand mosque of the same name built in Spain on the site of a former Christian Church. What they fail to mention is the church site was purchased, not seized, and that it was Christians who turned the 500-year old mosque into a cathedral. It is more likely the beauty the “defied any description” that inspired the name.
Perhaps they should have chosen a different name. Perhaps they should have chosen a different location. Perhaps they should have cowered into a corner waiting for elections and the ensuing political straw-grabbing to pass. Maybe then they could have quietly found themselves a place in the pitiful America expounded by the Tea Party. Or perhaps they should just join Barack Obama in that small corner of Islamophobia that has been painted–and that he ran full speed into–and retract the mosque altogether.
But that would be a shame.
A shame upon them, the politicians that would trounce on the moral foundation America seeks to claim as its underpinning, not only for political gain, but to fuel their unyielding rage that a black man with a muslim name presides in their White House.
A shame upon every single one of the 68% of Americans purported to be against the mosque who love their own freedom but would withhold it from others under the guise of everything from security to sensitivity. Sensitivity to social, racial, cultural and religious minorities has never been our strong suit. As a nation built on stolen lands by people stolen from their lands, developing true moral character is our only hope for redemption.
But most of all it is a shame on us, the rest of the Americans who have not yet stood alongside New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg in his eloquent–and unshakable–defense of the right of the mosque to be built. Shame on all us for not responding with the vitriol reserved for when one’s very life and liberty depends upon it, because it does. Shame on any one of us that allows themselves to believe this is not their issue, that there are more important things, or worse, that have chosen to ignore the matter altogether.
If you take the time to divine the conscience of the moral universe, as Unitarian Theodore Parker did 160 years ago, you can bear witness to its trajectory. Time has proven there is right and wrong side of history. On wrong side were Axis and Central powers, the Nazis, the Confederates, the slaveholders, Jim Crow. Always on the wrong side are fascists, oppressionists, segregationists, fundamentalists, persecutionists, misogynists, racists and intolerants of every stripe. Time and time again, that moral arc named by Parker and memorialized by Dr. King, course corrects the petty side excursions we are witnessing today and bends, ever so powerfully, towards justice.
“Al-salatu khayru min an-nawm” – Prayer is better than sleep.
It is time for the left to learn to live firmly on the right.
How long will that take?
As King often reminded us, “Not long, because the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”
Let us bear witness to that.
As salaam alaikum. Ramadan Kareem.
—your in truth,aKw
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angel Kyodo williams is a maverick teacher, author, social visionary
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