A Mosque in New York for a Christian Church in Mecca

Source: Pajamas Media

The principal mosque in Rome has a surface area of 30,000 square meters and can hold thousands of believers. The Christian church of Mecca has a surface area of zero square meters and can hold zero believers. In fact, there is no Christian church in Mecca. In other words, Rome is an open city and Mecca is a closed city.

There has never been opposition by Muslims to the exclusive character of Mecca. Their main sanctuary is located there, and it is forbidden for non-believers to cross the city limits. No other sanctuary of any world religion is closed to members of different creeds. The Western Wall in Jerusalem, the Jews’ holiest site, can be visited by anyone — Muslims, Christians, or Buddhists. The Basilica of Saint Peter in the Vatican, the center of the Roman Catholic religion, is open to any person that wishes to visit its splendor. Hindu and Buddhist temples welcome anyone who walks in, but not the Muslims’ main mosque.

Muslims claim that their religion contains the final message of God and that all other religions express falsehoods, lies, and distortions — which means that adherents to other religions cannot be accepted as equal human beings with the same rights. Churches are banned in Saudi Arabia. In “modern” Turkey, it is, in reality, impossible to renovate an old Christian church, let alone create one. In a traditional Islamic country, adherents of different religions who refuse to accept Muhammad as their prophet have to live a life with restrictions and special rules. They are the so-called “dhimmis” — people who believe in a single God but who should be treated with special restrictions because of their refusal to follow the prophet Muhammad.

In the Western world, Muslims claim the same rights as other believers. Although it is perfectly normal to them that their holiest site is forbidden to non-believers, they demand that nations in which other religions dominate grant them space and opportunity to build their mosques. The idea that this could be reciprocal is virtually unknown in Muslim communities since Islam is the superior creed and, by Allah’s word, should reign over the earth and over all the other religions.

Reciprocity would be like a denial of Allah’s word.

It speaks for itself that Muslims will try to build a mosque close to one of America’s most sacred sites, the area of the World Trade Center. They expect non-believers to step back and bow to their demands. The whole world should be open to Muslims, while in the Islamic world different religions should be restricted and controlled.

In The Jews of Islam, Bernard Lewis writes:

The claim to tolerance, now much heard from Muslim apologists and more especially from apologists for Islam, is also new and of alien origin. It is only very recently that some defenders of Islam have begun to assert that their society in the past accorded equal status to non-Muslims. No such claim is made by spokesmen for resurgent Islam, and historically there is no doubt that they are right. Traditional Islamic societies neither accorded such equality nor pretended that they were so doing. Indeed, in the old order, this would have been regarded not as a merit but as a dereliction of duty. How could one accord the same treatment to those who follow the true faith and those who willfully reject it? This would be a theological as well as a logical absurdity.

The people wishing to build a mosque close to where the World Trade Center towers fell, have called their organization the Cordoba Initiative. On its website, they state:

Cordoba Initiative (CI) aims to achieve a tipping point in Muslim-West relations within the next decade, steering the world back to the course of mutual recognition and respect and away from heightened tensions.

Cordoba refers to the Spanish town of Cordoba. In the 8th century, Muslims conquered the south of Spain and massacred many thousands of non-believers. Around 1100, the Muslim jurist Ibn Abdun formulated the following legal opinions:

No Jew or Christian may be allowed to wear the dress of an aristocrat, nor of a jurist, nor of a wealthy individual; on the contrary they must be detested and avoided. It is forbidden to [greet] them with the [expression], “Peace be upon you.” In effect, “Satan has gained possession of them, and caused them to forget God’s warning. They are the confederates of Satan’s party; Satan’s confederates will surely be the losers!” A distinctive sign must be imposed upon them in order that they may be recognized and this will be for them a form of disgrace.

In 1011, Muslims massacred the Jews of Cordoba. In 1066, in Granada, 4,000 Jews were killed in one day by Muslims. Despite the terrible bloodshed, there were periods of relative tolerance towards Christians and Jews in Al Andalus, but never based upon mutual recognition and respect but always under Muslim sovereignty.

However, the people behind the Cordoba Initiative can make a historic gesture. They should finance and build a multi-confessional center. In their building, they should create a church, a synagogue, Hindu and Buddhist temples, space for unbelievers, and a mosque, equal in size and importance, in order to honor the victims of 9/11. Only then do they show “mutual recognition and respect.”

But the most impressive gesture would be the creation of a church in Mecca. Muslims built a mosque in Rome, they have dozens of mosques in New York City, but they have cordoned off Mecca for non-Muslims. The Cordoba Initiative should build a church or a synagogue in Mecca. That is mutual recognition and respect with a lasting message. A mosque in New York for a church in Mecca.

Leon de Winter is a novelist and columnist for Elsevier Magazine in the Netherlands. His last novel, The Right of Return is a thriller set in Tel Aviv in 2024. He presently lives in Los Angeles.


  1. I’d be happy if they put back into the Ka’bah the icon of the Theotokos and Christ Child that Muslim tradition says was there, and the only thing that Muhammad left (covering it with his body, he reportedly said, “destroy everything else”).

    If they need a name for tolerance, they can use Palermo: it was open too, so much that it had Arabic as an official language and its ruler, like Roger II, were the “bapized sultan.” But in Palermo, the Christians were among the ruling class.

    Btw, Rush Limbaugh did a rather detailed segment on St. Nicholas, pointing out that it took a mosque for Democrats to recognize property rights, and the right to build a mosque where they wouldn’t allow a Wal-mart. He also pointed out that St. Nicholas is the only Church destroyed at ground zero, and that the city was the one who walked out of talks with the Church 2 years ago, puting restrictions of the design (no dome, for instance) and size. Haven’t heard of any restrictions on the high rise mosque.

    Raheel Raza did an excellent job of presenting the moderate muslim view on O’Reilly the other night (Bill was speechless), and on how bleeding hearts like Bloomberg are undermining the moderate Muslim community.

    • the city was the one who walked out of talks with the Church 2 years ago, puting restrictions of the design (no dome, for instance) and size. Haven’t heard of any restrictions on the high rise mosque.

      That’s because the church is located very close to where the memorial for the Ground Zero area is planned, and the Port Authority doesn’t want the church to be taller than the memorial.

      The Muslim center is not subject to the same restrictions because it’s much further away from the actual memorial site (4-5 blocks) and will have several tall buildings separating it from the memorial. So for the Muslim center, there’s not a question of the building’s height detracting from the appearance of the memorial, and therefore no question of the building’s height. (The Muslim center site is two blocks from the *opposite* corner of the WTC site from the memorial site, hence it’s “two blocks from Ground Zero”.)

      Furthermore, the entity imposing restrictions on the church is the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey. The Port Authority has no jurisdiction over the Muslim center or its proposed site, and therefore can’t tell the Muslim center to do jack squat.

  2. George Michalopulos :

    Isa, right on!

  3. Fr. David Hudson :

    It’s time to wake up! It’s not about how close to Ground Zero you can build a mosque; it’s about the fact that Islam has become our daily Prime Time news. Thirty years ago, Islam was not a blip on the radar of the average American. The Islamization of America has begun. The battle between liberal and conservative reactions is part of the whole game. Tolerance bolerance!

  4. The United States — and other Christian countries around the world as well — should use the fact that there is no Christian Church in Mecca as a bargaining tool for the construction of Muslim mosques. For example, the U.S. could decide that the Muslims can have a mosque in New York City near Ground Zero, provided that a Christian Church can be built in Mecca.

    The current situation is biased in favor of Muslims building mosques in all Christian nations, while Christians are forbidden to build churches in Mecca and even in some predominantly Islamic countries.

    It’s time for the United States — and other predominantly Christian nations — to “wake up and smell the coffee.!”

    • What if the Saudi government came up with a proposal that they would build a Christian church in Mecca, if Saudi women are allowed to visit Mount Athos?

  5. George Michalopulos :

    Geo, you are correct. this is long overdue. Let’s not forget that even in Islamic-majority countries where there are Christian churches, new ones are not allowed to be built and old ones can’t be remodeled.

    Again, I ask regarding the Ground Zero Mosque: where is the Phanar on this? Where is the Holy Eparchial Synod of the GOA on this? Why the stunning silence all this time?

  6. Helga, what if you drilled a hole into your knee cap and planted a tomato? What is your point?

    • My point in the first posting is that the Muslim center and the church are subject to different height restrictions because there are different locations involved. It wasn’t that they were being enforced against the church and relaxed for the mosque, as the poster I was replying to seemed to think.

      My point in the other posting is that Orthodox Christians have our own rules restricting sacred space to certain people, and that if we want to keep our sacred space according to our own rules, we should respect the right of a sovereign nation governed by a different religion to do the same with its own space.

      For keeping postings straight, it helps if you click “Reply” under the posting you’re replying to, instead of breaking the thread by replying at the bottom.

  7. Helga, you are mixing apples and oranges when you compare a Christian Church being built in Mecca, with Saudi women — or any women for that matter — being allowed to visit Mt. Athos.

    Building a church or a mosque is one thing; allowing women to visit Mt. Athos is something entirely different. In the latter, you are dealing with Orthodox Christian doctrine that has traditionally forbidden women from entering monasteries at Mt. Athos.

    On the other hand, building a church or a mosque does not involve any doctrine, dogma, or tradition, but is something that can easily be accomplished at will.

    See the difference now?

    • Building a church in Mecca implies that there will be Christians there to fill it; it’s basically about the proscription against non-Muslims entering the city of Mecca.

      Mecca has been the way it is for a very long time, just like Mount Athos. Some people involved in the European Parliament would very much like to force Mount Athos to permit women. It is totally unfair to argue that Orthodox can keep space according to their own rules but other religions can’t do the same.

      Why would any non-Muslim want to go to restricted Muslim holy sites, anyway? Why do you care who they let in or not? There’s pretty much nothing to do in Mecca unless you happen to be a Muslim on pilgrimage, and parts of Medina are open to all.

      A slightly better comparison might be “a mosque in New York for a church in Riyadh” instead (Riyadh being the capital of Saudi Arabia, open to non-Muslims and with Christians already present), but even that is a really terrible hypothetical trade-off. Let me put it this way: if Saudi Arabia were akin to the Orthodox Church, the Park Place Muslims would be Unitarian Universalists. How would you feel if an Orthodox priest was told to concelebrate with a pagan priestess in order to build an Episcopalian church somewhere else?!

      Not all Muslims are the same, not by a long shot.

  8. alexis banias :

    The idea of a mosque for a Christian church (and not even in Mecca) is a nice idea if we lived in a vacuum. Let’s say that both parties had agreed to this aforementioned deal. In a utopia, it would work; however, in this world, I’d have no doubt that this hypothetical Christian Church would be vandalized, if not burnt to the ground, and its members either killed or beaten.

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