The Ground Zero Mosque: Focusing The Discussion

In my last few posts I have made mention of the construction of the mosque hoping to be built a couple of blocks from Ground Zero in New York. By now, most all of us in America have caught wind of this story in some form or another. I have not had the opportunity to read other bloggers' thoughts on it--though, I wish that I'd have had the time--but I do know that some have been posting their two cents.

As one whose interest is first and foremost exegesis of the Bible, I thought I'd put my thoughts out there with the hopes of focusing the discussion a bit more. I want to keep this post brief, so, I will simply state my case and be done.

Basically, within the Scriptures themselves, "place" and "space" are central issues. In the Old Testament, especially in texts like Deuteronomy, "the land" is very significant. Further, I have noticed that the phrase "the land" is actually ciphered by the phrase "the place" all throughout Deuteronomy. In some real way, the Old Testament without "land" or "place" as a focus would be like the New Testament without Jesus.

All throughout Israel's history, mountains, arks, temples and other places marked "sacred space." In short, as we read throughout the Hebrew Scriptures, we see sacralization of place happening again and again. Wherever YHWH entered or dwelt, that place became sacred. Just as well, places also became sacred because of the ways that people treated them and the things they did in them. For example, worship took place in a sanctuary where appropriate dress, diet, words, thoughts, etc. accompanied them. Here, things happened differently than elsewhere and thus, contributed to sacralizing the place. This is why it was so troubling when the temple was desecrated and violated! It was not just symbolic, it was a statement about the loss of power and status in real, every day life!

As we move through the New Testament and especially beyond, we see places like Golgotha or the Garden where the tomb was, sacralized by Christians. One only needs to take a tour of Turkey or Greece today to realize that the tourist traps, which the guides try with all of their might to tie back to biblical figures, have become sacralized. Of course, Muslims do the same thing. Their Dome of the Rock, their praying toward Mecca, etc. all denote "sacred spaces" in their theology.

In my view, the issue about the mosque near Ground Zero is not really at all about American rights or it "being too soon" or Islamophobia or other such ideas. At the heart of the matter is really sacred space. To be even more particular, I think the main thing that needs to be addressed is sacralization. Until persons tackle this matter head-on, I believe that frustration will only continue to mount and that threats, veiled or not, and stigmatizing will prevail. The question that needs to be dealt with is: Who should get to sacralize this space and why?

At the most basic level, I see this tension more clearly than any other! This is the heart of the issue because whoever gets to make this space and place sacred will essentially get to imbue it with meaning. Such meaning will certainly flow into issues of social status, religious power and ethical influence. Regardless of all the other nuances that persons draw out of this argument, I truly believe that this is a fundamental matter to which attention MUST be devoted. It may even lead to the conclusion that at this "place" and at this "time" no religious group should be able to claim sacralization on this place because it will only cause more conflict.

To be sure, the issue isn't over nationalism, racism, ethnocetnricsm or any of that, again, the core of the problem is found in the notion of sacralism. It would do all of us well to begin fleshing out our theologies of "place" and "space" so that we can make an educated contribution to the ongoing debates and discussions. This, I submit, would get us much farther along than the empty-headed fellow taunting the sign at the top of this post for whom the matter of "building churches in Saudi Arabia" has more to do with making a point than understanding the depths of "sacred space" and "sacred place."

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