A Tale of Two Imams

The president of the Islamic Society of Central Florida, Imam Muhammad Musri, has taken a very different and unexpected approach in addressing the proposed Koran inferno in Florida. He did not admonish Pastor Jones' group as idiotic or archaic Christian fanatics, as did many of our politicians, and he did not threaten bloodshed, as did many Muslims around the world. Musri told Pastor Jones of the Dove World Outreach that he understands American apprehension and the perceived offensive symbolism in the Cordoba Initiative's insistence on building the grand mosque at Ground Zero, and that he would seek to have the location moved in exchange for the cancellation of the planned burning of Islamic holy books. Rather than threatening him or belittling him, Imam Musri has sought peace through the prospect of equal discourse and compromise with Pastor Jones. 

How novel! And all sarcasm aside, how incredibly admirable.

Pastor Jones has called off the book-burning, but chances of Musri's success in negotiating a new location for the mosque are slim. Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf of the Cordoba Initiative has stated that will not entertain such notions. In fact, he's preemptively warned against such an action by delivering shrouded threats. 

During a recent CNN interview, he showed less-than-convincing malaise and shock at the initial negative American reaction to the mosque. It was as if to say that he sympathizes with Americans, but he could have had no idea that the decision would be so hurtful to American sensibilities, and if he knew how they would react, he would have chosen a different site. I, for one, do not believe that he is as stupid as he wants us to believe, as the uneasy reaction by Americans would likely have been foreseen by anyone. When most Americans heard that a foreign entity was building a mosque atop the site where self-proclaimed soldiers of Allah murdered over three thousand Americans, the common reaction was expectedly, "They're doing what?"

But immediately after Rauf's unimpressive testimony of compassion and innocence, he resolves that he will not, under any circumstances, negotiate the location of the mosque. He then goes on to warn of a threat. If they move the site of the mosque, he says, it will show that the "radicals" in America have won, and that Islamic world will perceive any such action as an attack upon Islam. Even he, an advocate of the notion of peaceful Islam, just naturally assumes that wide-ranging elements of Islam will commit violence if America does not allow this mosque to be built at Ground Zero. As if violence is the Islamic world's only alternative to complete appeasement. As if the concepts of negotiation and truce are beyond their ability and scope.

If this is what he truly meant, thank God that Imam Musri thinks more of Rauf than Rauf does of his Muslim brethren in the Islamic world, whom he apparently sees as brainless automatons that either get what they want or kill whatever is in their way. Musri is at least giving Rauf the benefit of the doubt that he can be a rational man.

Perhaps Rauf really does believe that the Islamic world is incapable of compromise, but that has nothing to do with why he mentions it in this interview. His references to the violent Islamic world in this interview are meant to be a threat, in the same way that a loan shark may take two huge, intimidating guys named Moose and Knuckles to collect from a borrower. Essentially, Rauf is saying, "Listen, just do what I say and you won't have any problems with these guys, got it?"

So while Imam Musri is vying for a peaceful methods and mutual concessions to resolve the Ground Zero mosque issue, Rauf is making terrorist threats to intimidate others into giving in to his demands. Sure, Rauf's smooth talk may sound a little more soft and friendly than those guys burning flags and shouting "Death to America" overseas, but ultimately, they both work to generate the fear of violence in order to get what they want. 

For the good of everyone, we can all only hope that Rauf will become less rigid and be open to compromise. If Rauf will not talk about shifting the location for the mosque, perhaps he will consider the inclusion of other religious worshipers to the site. If he wants to promote Islam and build a bridge between a faith that he claims is misunderstood and the American people, creating a community center promoting religious diversity is perhaps a way to do it.  

And most importantly, we should thank Imam Musri for his part in creating an environment where peaceful negotiations are even a remote possibility between two such polar figures as Imam Rauf and Pastor Jones.

William Sullivan blogs at politicalpalaverblog.blogspot.com.