Chicago Tribune: Leave mosque debate out of politics, Muslims urge Quinn

Outraged by the vocal opposition to a proposed Islamic center blocks from ground zero, Muslims and other religious leaders on Friday called on Gov. Pat Quinn to leave the mosque debate out of electoral politics.

Dr. Zaher Sahloul, chairman of the Council of Islamic Organizations of Greater Chicago, expressed concern about the governor’s suggestion that Muslims should “rethink” a mosque close to ground zero in New York. Sahloul said it could invite “bigotry against the Muslim minority” by implying all Muslims — not just extremists — were responsible for the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001.

“The 9/11 attacks were caused by terrorists. Terrorists shouldn’t build a mosque in proximity to ground zero, or America for that matter,” said Ahmed Rehab, executive director of Chicago’s Council on American-Islamic Relations.

Earlier this week, Quinn likened the site of the World Trade Center attacks to Pearl Harbor and Auschwitz. Republican governor candidate Sen. Bill Brady called the location of the planned Islamic center “insensitive.”

“I do believe that there are special places on Earth that should have a zone of solemnity around them,” Quinn told reporters when asked about the issue. “I would strongly urge those who are thinking of putting a mosque within that zone to rethink their position.”

After Friday’s criticism, Quinn dismissed the idea that he was linking all Muslims to terrorism, saying he doesn’t believe in “guilt by association.” Quinn also said he was following his conscience and was not motivated by potential fallout in the governor’s contest.

Objections to the Manhattan mosque are not isolated, said Mohamad Nasir, executive director of Sahloul’s group. He pointed to the debate about another proposed mosque in DuPage County.

Quinn said he doesn’t deny Muslims the right to build a mosque near ground zero. He just wants them to think twice before building it. He refused to answer directly if he would have a problem with a church in the same spot.

“I just think we need to be, all of us, sensitive to those of other faiths,” Quinn said. “I think given the circumstances that is the best way to promote harmony and interfaith understanding.”