"Saint Sophia" Mosque in Istanbul formerly known as "Constantinople". This former Cathedral was to the Church of the East what St. Peter's Basilica is to the Church of the West. When the Muslims invaded Turkey and conquered it, they suppressed Christianity, they took over this Byzantine, Orthodox Cathedral and turned it into a mosque. It would be like the Muslims taking over Rome and changing St. Peter's into a mosque--an act that would create centuries of hostility between the two religions. Would it be an act of ecumenical significance for the Muslims to return Saint Sophia to the Patriarch of Constantinople (Istanbul) so that it might be restored as the center of Orthodoxy once again? What a grand gesture that would be. But don't hold your breath!
The Blue Mosque in Turkey
I won't rehash the politics concerning the building of a mosque near the site of the rebuilding of the World Trade Center and a monument to all those killed there on 9/11. From a legal point of view, Muslims have a right to build this mosque. It is not overlooking the site of 9/11, not on government property and the site cannot be seen from where the Muslims intend to build the mosque. It is about three blocks away. Certainly, once the high rise is in place, one could see the new building from the mosque.
The greater issue is one of sensitivity on the part of the Muslims building this Islamic center. Families and friends of those killed find the building of the mosque in the vicinity of the 9/11 monument grossly insensitive. The nerves of many in New York and elsewhere are frayed when it comes to radical extremists in the Muslim community. For the most part, moderate Muslims have done a very poor job of distancing themselves from the more radical elements of some of their members, especially "clergy." In many Muslim countries, Catholics, other Christians and Jews can't even wear images of their religion in public, let alone build a Church or synagogue. There is no outcry against this sort of religious triumphalism and contempt for other religion from moderates in the Muslim community.
Should President Obama have entered into the fray and controversy about this? I personally think he should have moderated his comments and simply said, Muslims in New York should show sensitivity and other religious sectors of the same city should be concerned about the religious freedom our country protects as a constitutional right.
How would Catholics feel, in light of the clerical sexual abuse scandal, if politicians and other religions began to dictate where a Catholic Church and rectory could be built and couldn't be built? Is a public school too close? A child care center? What if the President of the United States entered into the fray?
Oh, President Bush did in 2002. He recommended, and I quote very loosely, that Pope John Paul II and the Catholic Church attend to the issues surrounding the scandal. He had no doubt that the issues of the scandal would be addressed. He didn't go any further and I don't think any Catholics actually took any offense. I don't think it was a politically motivated statement and the President was wise not to get into too many details concerning the scandal.
We do have to be cautious about not painting all Muslims and their worship centers with the broad stroke of radical fundamentalism. That would be like painting the Catholic Church as terroristic because mainly Catholics formed the Irish Republican Army.
Would we do the same with other Christian denominations because mostly Protestants belong to the KKK?