A Further Perspective

What’s in a Word?

"Dawa" may be unfamiliar to you. It shouldn't be.

By 8.31.10

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"Dawa" may be an unfamiliar word to you. It is to most Americans, but we had better learn to understand it for it is almost certainly the motivation behind the drive to build the "Ground Zero" mosque in Manhattan.

It is an Arabic word. As Andrew McCarthy, the former U.S. prosecutor who put the "blind sheik" and his allies in prison for their part in the 1983 World Trade Center garage bombing, puts it this way: "Dawa, whether done from the rubble of the World Trade Center or elsewhere, is the missionary work by which Islam is spread...The purpose of dawa, like the purpose of jihad, is to implement, spread and defend sharia." 

The leader of the movement to build the 13-story mosque and "community center" 600 feet from the hole in the ground where the twin towers stood, is Feisal Abdul Rauf, imam of one of New York City's 100 or so other mosques. The site where he wants to build it is owned by Sharif el-Gamal, who, until a few years ago, was waiting tables in New York restaurants. He now owns several expensive properties. The sources of his wealth are unclear as are the sources of the $100 million that must be raised to build the structure. 

Imam Rauf, now on a U.S. State Department-sponsored "good will" tour of Muslim countries, is widely considered to be an example of "moderate" Islam; however, among his more memorable quotations are these:

United States policies were an accessory to the crime (9/11) that occurred.

…the United States has more Muslim blood on its hands than al Qaida has on its hands of innocent non-Muslims. You may remember that the US-led sanctions against Iraq led to the death of over half a million Iraqi children.

While Rauf does not endorse violence, he professes to understand its roots; that it is the reaction of oppressed people to authoritarian regimes supported by the U.S. He has declined to describe Hamas as a terrorist organization.

Rauf has been heading the Cordoba Initiative which professes to create "an atmosphere of interfaith tolerance and respect." That should appeal to many Americans, but they should note also that the name of the proposed mosque-community center is Cordoba House, is derived from the Cordoba, Spain mosque built on the ruins of a Catholic church after the Muslim conquest of Spain in the 8th Century. The Christians reconquered Spain in 1492 and Islam lost "al Andalus."

This is one of the "humiliations" that ardent Muslims want to avenge. Thus, the name "Cordoba House" stands for "conquest" and the siting of it is an example of dawa in action: Islamist triumphalism.

Large number of Muslims, in America an elsewhere, practice their faith, but temper it by willingly living under secular governments. Muslim purists, however, believe that every aspect of life is prescribed in the Koran and the hadith (the writings of and about Mohammed) which makes secular government superfluous. Militants such as al Qaida and its allies seek to eliminate these "infidel" institutions by violence. Other determined Muslims, such as the Muslim Brotherhood (founded in Egypt in 1928) choose to accomplish it by dawa -- stealth.

Rauf (and others like him) hopes and works for a world that has fully adopted Islam and sharia, but wants to do so without violence. Dawa is a one-step-at-a-time process. Rauf's State Department trip is dawa in action as is the fact the FBI hired him after 9/11 to conduct sensitivity-training sessions for its personnel. Two years ago, Rauf praised the Archbishop of Canterbury for advocating that Muslim enclaves within the United Kingdom be allowed to assert sharia law for their members. Had the U.K. government agreed, it would have a great success for dawa.

Their is no Muslim constituency in lower Manhattan. Mayor Bloomberg and President Obama missed the point of Cordoba House entirely. It is not a matter of religious freedom or property rights. It is a matter of appropriateness. If it is allowed to be built virtually next door to Ground Zero, it will be dawa's greatest triumph in the United States to date.

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About the Author
Peter Hannaford was closely associated with the late President Reagan for a number of years. He is a member of the board of the Committee on the Present Danger. His latest book is “Presidential Retreats.”