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The Mosque and Community Center in Manhattan:
A Historical Perspective

By Syed R Mahmood

It is astonishing and at the same time amusing to see the circus of the Republican national leaders and former Presidential candidates regarding the issue of a mosque and community center in lower Manhattan near the former World Trade Center site.

People like Sara Palin, Newt Gingrich, Mitt Romney and Mike Huckabee should demonstrate more maturity in their approach to issuing their statements. Unfortunately the Republican leadership and some Democrats are using this opportunity to gain political mileage. Bashing President Obama and American Muslims is not going to help their standing with the American public. Their racially motivated statements are likely to create more hatred in our society.

The tragedy of 9/11 was an unspeakable crime against humanity. People from more than eighty nationalities were killed. A good number of Muslims were also listed among the deceased.  However, Islam itself is labeled as the culprit.

Should we blame the entire Christianity because the Serbian Christians killed more than 250,000 Muslims during their ethnic cleansing in Bosnia during the years of 1992 – 1995?  Are we going to keep the wars of the Christian Crusade alive? Do we have the desire to promote peace and tranquility on this planet?

Let me assure my readers, that the people of this great nation, the United States, are the only community of mankind, who has the resources to lead. Do we also have the desire and will? We are living in a Global village. Anything that goes wrong in Afghanistan or in the Khyber Pass area in tribal Pakistan is going to alter the life of ordinary Americans. For this mess, we are all responsible.

The Founding Fathers of the United States were people of Humanist ideals and they were Enlightenment thinkers. The American ideals are not based on religious faith. It is a known fact that the Founding Fathers -- Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, James Madison and Benjamin Franklin were born Christians but they never proclaimed to be practicing Christians of any denomination. These Founding Fathers were Deists.

Mike Huckabee called American Muslims “Foreigners.” Even Newt Gingrich, a professor of History, apparently does not know that Muslims in America are not foreigners on their own land. It is sad to see that our political leaders are not up to date in the knowledge of International Affairs, nor have they have bothered to study the history of American Muslims.

Many of our readers will be surprised to learn that American Muslims also have given their blood and sweat to build this Country. Muslims were on American soil long before the Revolutionary War. The Muslim Slaves from Africa were also the hard working members of American Society; they were forced to change their names and faith by their masters. During the Revolutionary War around the period of 1776 there were more than 400,000 African slaves in the thirteen colonies and considerable numbers of them were Muslims. Even today the millions of indigenous Muslims are working hard to make United States a prosperous country.

These Muslim slaves have made their masters rich and powerful due to their hard work. Harsh punishments and inhuman treatment was their reward. Historical documents support that Muslims also fought in the Revolutionary War along with the Patriots. During the wars of 1812, Civil War, World War I and II Muslim soldiers have sacrificed their life to protect American freedom and honor. As a sample, these are some of the Muslim names. These names were taken from the War documents by some researchers.

From 1774 – 1783, Yousuf Ben Ali, aka Joseph (Benenhab) Benhaley, fought with General Sumter in South Carolina. Bempett Muhamed, a Corporal. Francis Saba, a sergeant and Joseph Saba were in the Continental Troops from 1775 to 1783. Muslims were also present on American soils during the period of 1538 and in 1550’s. There continues to be American Muslims of many ethnic backgrounds engaged in the U.S. Military Service to this day. American Muslim soldiers have fought and are still fighting in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Thomas Jefferson fought for religious freedom in Virginia; he demanded recognition of religious freedom for the Jews, Pagans and the “Mahamdan,” (the Muslims).

Jefferson’s friend and ally, Richard Henry Lee, made a motion in Congress on June 7, 1776 that the American colonies declare their independence. “True Freedom,” Asserted Lee, is to “embrace the Mahomitan (Muslims) and Gentoo (Hindu) as well Christian religion.”

On one occasion, President Washington declared that he would welcome “Mohometans” (Muslims) to Mount Vernon if they were “good workmen.” It shows that in the colonies there were a good number of Muslims present. Source: The founding Fathers and Islam, by James H. Hutson, Chief of Manuscript Division, Library of Congress.

According to my experience and observation, I have found Mr. Newt Gingrich to be Anti Islam, uninformed and he has a prejudicial attitude towards the Muslim world. In my opinion he also has a very narrow vision in respect to International Affairs.

During the time when Newt Gingrich was a minority whip in the U.S. Congress, he visited the California Republican Party convention in Southern California. In one of the caucus', in the presence of around seventy to eighty high profile Republicans he was trying to motivate Republicans how to achieve success for the Republican Party. He turned his focus on to the Islamic world and its relationship to the USA. He spoke against Islam and was ill informed about his perception of the Muslim World. When I challenged him, he was shocked. I told him that his remarks are insulting to five million American Muslims. He was un-apologetic. He also said, “I did not know that there are that many Muslims live in this county.”

During one break, a Congressman from California came to me and said, “Syed, I told Gingrich not to say things like this”. I gave Mr. Gingrich my business card and he said to me, I will hear from him. I am still waiting to hear from him. The possible leadership of the United States in the hands of people like Gingrich would bring a bigger disaster than during the era of President George W. Bush.

We need to follow the vision of our Founding Fathers and promote the true spirit of the Declaration of Independence, that “all men are created equal.” Some opportunists are misleading the American public and they are spreading hatred among Americans of different faiths. We need to build bridges between communities. American Muslims can play a very important role in bringing two civilizations closer to each other.

A Muslim country Morocco was the first state to recognize the independent United States of America. After the independence in 1776 the United States was badly in need to conduct business around the World. European powers, Britain and France were constantly creating hurdles for the US.

One of the super power of that time, Ottoman Empire, a Muslim power provided an opportunity for America to have the access of a huge market of the Arab world and

the gates of the Asian market were also open for the American goods.  Finally in 1830 President Andrew Jackson was able to formalize a very crucial treaty with Ottoman Empire a,” Treaty of Navigation and Commerce.” It was a major foreign policy achievement for President Jackson. Britain and France were lobbying against America.

The suggestions of Governor Paterson and former Mayor Rudy Giuliani and Karen Hughes, a former counselor to President Bush to move the location of this Islamic center,

could be another alternative solution.  In other way the opponents of this project near the Ground Zero are saying that the American Muslims in a way are second grade citizens of this country. Opponents are also implicating that American Muslims are also part of this

criminal act of 9/11. Fox News is doing a great job in promoting hate in America and Mr.

Hannity is leading his viewers towards a distorted view of Islam and Muslims.

Syed R. Mahmood is the founder and President of American Institute of International Studies and a former Republican Congressional Candidate from district 13 in the 2002 election.