Are the blocks around "Ground Zero" Sacred Ground?

September 9, 2010

September 9, 2010

This week in REL 1003 "Sacred Experiences in World Religions" we've been discussing the religious belief that Ultimate Reality (i.e. the sacred) can and does reveal itself, or manifest itself, (i.e. thru a hierophany) in particular locations on the planet. In class discussions people spoke of places such as Jerusalem, Mecca, Lourdes, the Ganges River, churches, synagogues, etc. as "sacred spaces." Well the question has recently arisen - Is Ground Zero in New York City a sacred space?

Last night on Larry King Live, Soledad O'Brien interviewed Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf (founder of the Cordoba Initiative). During the interview O'Brien questioned the sensitivity of building the proposed Islamic Cultural Center some two blocks from the site of the former World Trade Center, and so close to what "people here in New York and around the country would say is sacred land." As Stephen Prothero points out in his recent article titled "My Take: Iman Rauf is Not a Moderate," "As O’Brien pressed him to admit the sacredness of the site, Imam Rauf spoke up forcefully, more forcefully than he did in the rest of the interview. And this time he spoke not of peace but of justice. And while he addressed O'Brien personally, he also challenged his viewers:

'We've got to be fair. You can't say a place that has strip joints is sacred ground. We've got to be just. We've got to speak the truth. We've got to have justice for everybody. We're a country of justice for all, not justice for non-Muslims only or some groups and not for others. This is what America's all about, Soledad'." Rauf was speaking to the fact that the blocks around Ground Zero contain within them delis and businesses, but also strip clubs and sex shops.

Whether you agree or disagree with Rauf's vision for a New York Islamic Cultural Center at its proposed address I think he opens-up a fair set of questions. What makes a place "sacred?" Is Ground Zero sacred? Would an Islamic Cultural Center make that area somehow less sacred? What of the strip clubs? Whose sense of the sacred are we discussing?

Watch for yourself, the following segment from O'Brien's interview with Rauf, and then leave us a comment to tell us what you think. (The exchange in question really occurs between 12:25 and 14:14 of the following clip.)

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