‘Mosque’ co-founder makes pitch for dialogue

    A co-founder of the so-called “Ground Zero mosque” stopped in Philadelphia Sunday to discuss the negative effects Islamic extremism has had on the project and the Muslim community at large.

    Standing before a packed house inside the Arch Street Presbyterian Church, Daisy Khan said the actions of a violent minority derailed the proposed Park 51 project in Lower Manhattan. A project ironically, she said, that was intended to condemn extremism.

    “A project that would honor those that were harmed on September 11, a project that would proclaim our commitment to this country. A project that would celebrate America’s core values of religious tolerance,” said Khan during an annual event celebrating Martin Luther King Jr. that was spearheaded by the Neighborhood Interfaith Movement.

    The national frenzy that followed the Twin Tower attacks warped people’s perceptions of the Muslim community, she said. Almost overnight, extremism became the face of a multi-million member religion.

    Khan said that skewed perception has been difficult to overcome and has ultimately slowed Islam’s acceptance into American culture.

    But she doesn’t think things are hopeless.

    Khan said unity and dialogue are key to promoting the positives of Islam and separating the religion from its violent faction. She said it’s particularly important that folks from across all faiths join hands in this fight to change minds and souls.

    “Our solution lies in the merger of our rich traditions, our cultures, our philosophical commonalities and our combined faiths,” said Khan.

    Khan said that work won’t be easy, but she’s confident that if done sincerely, Islam can separate itself from the violent headlines that pervade people’s thoughts.

    “A day will come when the word Islam is de-linked from the word terrorism. A day will come when somebody whose name is Mohammed doesn’t have to change it to Moe. A day will come when a woman in a scarf and a man in a beard will not strike fear in somebody’s heart,” said Khan.

    Khan said while Islamic extremism is perhaps the most pronounced, it’s important that the practice be rooted out in all religions.

    “We have to call out people within our traditions that are not living up the ideals of our own faiths,” said Khan.

    She said that work is critical if America wants to maintain its reputation as a “bastion of religious freedom.”

    Khan, along with her husband Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, will be stepping back from the stalled Park 51 project to work towards enacting that change.

    “We decided that it’s important for us to get out into grassroots communities and listen to people,” Khan told reporters afterwards. “The request just keep pouring in.”

    The two will travel around the country through June 2011.

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