How a Ground Zero “prayer space” comes with different cultural controversies than a mosque

Over at the Cordoba Initiative’s blog, I had a comment underneath a post that tried to differentiate the prayer space, now AKA “a meditation room,” at their proposed Islamic Cultural Center from a mosque, as suggested by the phrase “the Ground Zero mosque.” The Cordoba people wrote:

Prayer space does not signify a mosque.  Certain aspects of Cordoba House disqualifies it as a mosque, including space for musical performance or a restaurant, which are not allowed to be in a mosque.  However, additional prayer is necessary as the existing nearby mosques are no longer able to tend to the need for prayer space.

Furthermore, Cordoba House’s vision is bigger than being a mosque.  It is about creating a community center that serves all New Yorkers.  A prime example of this fact is the planned meditation room, where people of any faith can pray or meditate.  For all these reasons we believe it is imperative to have prayer space in the Cordoba House.

My comment was approved, I think, and then deleted. It was only a few questions actually, that I did not ask in bad faith. I figured a Cordoba representative might have good answers for them. Here was the comment verbatim:

Is there more than one meditation room?

What if one group of men and women want to pray/meditate separately? Will there be one room with a divider and one room without one?

What if one group wants to pray to what Islam would recognize as an idol, in the same room as Muslims? Will there be one room for Muslims and one room for others?

These questions became looming issues, and still are, for my former university — particularly since women were prompted to pray behind the men whenever the Muslim Student Association signed out use of ballroom for afternoon prayers.

If Americans want to support moderation in Islam, would some of us, Muslims and non-Muslims, refuse to patronize an Islamic Cultural Center that segregated men and women, maybe going so far as to designate an inferior placement for women? (Peter Beinart might have to, since his recent support for the Woman of the Wall and their tactics are part of his critique of mainstream Zionism … )

Who are we supposed to support if a self-declared group of “progressive Muslims” demands the right of a women to sit with the men or a woman to lead the prayers of men and women? If an individual woman tries to pray with the men, do we support her act of civil disobedience? Do we, in this battle for a more moderate Islam, support the Islamic status quo on this issue in order not to inflame the majority of moderates using Cordoba?

I don’t know the answer to the above questions. I know that without two prayer spaces, there is going to be some stressful “interfaith dialogue,” since Muslims will not be able to pray alongside most other faiths. Would Muslims feel more accepted in America when such conflicts arise?

If the segregation of women became a public issue, would jihadist publicity point to Park51 as an example of Western disrespect for Islam and Western attempts to pollute the faith? Yes, I think so, but this is not part of an argument against building the mosque. It’s an argument against defining down “moderation” and devaluing liberalism based on our fearful sense of the amount of extremism that’s out there and its powers of persuasion.

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