A Case Study in Denial: the Example of Rabbi Gary M. Bretton-Granatoor

A Case Study in Denial: the Example of Rabbi Gary M. Bretton-Granatoor

Rabbi Bretton-Granatoor, of the World Union for Progressive Judaism, has written a reflection for 9/11 entitled “How many lies are contained in the phrase “A mosque at ground zero”?
The rabbi excoriates those who are opposed to the construction of the Park51 project, also known as the “Ground Zero Mosque.”  Such people, he says, are bigots, intolerant, narrow-minded, xenophobic, haters, ignorant, right-wing and purveyors of ‘idiotic stories’.  This is not a nice way to speak about people who object to the proposed Islamic Center. Not all of these people are fringe-dwelling crazy uneducated bores with no ability to think.

Rabbi Betton Granatoor declares that:

 “… the root of most bigotry and discrimination is found in ignorance.  Education is the only antidote to bigotry … ignorance is exactly what is being perpetuated in this roiling debate.  Simple facts are distorted and lies are told so frequently that they take on the weight of truth.”  

Since Rabbi Bretton-Granatoor has already decided that the mosque-opposers are bigots, he deduces from this that they must be therefore also be ignorant.

But has the rabbi not made his own contributions to ignorance?  Here are just a few points:
1. Rabbi Bretton-Granatoor says that Imam Feisal Rauf is a Sufi, and “… the Sufis are the most open, welcoming and peace-loving community in the Islamic world.”
In fact, Sufism is a mystical practice, not an alternative to militancy.  The great Muslim scholar Al-Ghazali (d. 1111) was a Sufi, but his opinions on the jihad were  as militant as any Al Qaida operative’s are today.  (See Andrew Bostom’s Sufism without Camouflage for a discussion of Al-Ghazali and other famous Sufis from the past).
2. Rabbi Bretton-Granatoor reports that Imam Feisal Rauf has said “I am a Jew”:
And it was in 2003 that Imam Rauf stood on the bima of a synagogue and eulogized Daniel Pearl, the journalist who was murdered by Islamist terrorists in Pakistan – concluding his remarks, with “If to be a Jew means to say with all one’s heart, mind and soul, ‘Shma Yisrael, Adonai Eloheinu, Adonai Echad – Hear O Israel, the Lord is our God, The Lord is One’ not only today, I am a Jew, I have always been one.”
What the rabbi ignores is that Islam regards itself as the root and source of Judaism, indeed as the true Judaism.  The point was well-explained in a letter written by Author Shamim A. Siddiqi of Flushing, New York  to Daniel Pipes (Letter to the editor, Commentary, February 2002):

Abraham, Moses, Jesus, and Muhammad were all prophets of Islam. Islam is the common heritage of the Judeo-Christian-Muslim community of America, and establishing the Kingdom of God is the joint responsibility of all three Abrahamic faiths. Islam was the din (faith, way of life) of both Jews and Christians, who later lost it through human innovations. Now the Muslims want to remind their Jewish and Christian brothers and sisters of their original din. These are the facts of history.

To which passage I wrote the following explanation in my book Revelation? (p.51):

This historical negationism – appearing to affirm Christianity and Judaism whilst in fact rejecting and supplanting them – is a linchpin of Muslim apologetics. What is being affirmed is in fact neither Christianity nor Judaism, but Jesus as a prophet of Islam, Abraham as a Muslim, Moses as a Muslim etc. This is intended to lead to ‘reversion’ of Christians and Jews to Islam, which is what Siddiqi refers to when he speaks of ‘the joint responsibility’ of Jews and Christians to establish ‘the Kingdom of God’. By this he is asserting that American Christians and Jews should embrace Islam and work together to establish sharia law and the dominance of Islam in the United States.

The problem with Imam Feisal’s  “I am a Jew” statement is that it is ambiguous in a really unhelpful way.  On the one hand it could be read as an unqualified expression of empathy for Judaism. On the other hand, it could be an affirmation of  Islam as the original faith of Jews.  Imam Feisal declared that he has ‘always’ been a Jew, which fits this explanation:  he regards his Islamic faith as the true Judaism.  This is the most reasonable – and in fact an Islamicly orthodox – interpretation of Imam Feisal’s “I am a Jew” statement.  The Imam does appear to have given his Jewish audience a misleading impression.

3. Rabbi Bretton-Granatoor further opines:

Right wing pundits and others have circulated idiotic stories that in Islam, it is the tradition to build mosques on the sites of victories for Islam.  What rubbish – but it makes great copy on the evening news and on placards held up at demonstrations. This is a pure distortion of the facts: the Dome on the Rock which was built to commemorate a military victory is NOT a mosque.  The Al Aksa mosque built much later was built at the edge of the Temple Mount to distance itself from a war memorial, as a mosque should be a place of peace, prayer and study.

Whether it is or is not an Islamic tradition to build mosques on sites of victory is not my concern here.  What is completely false in the rabbi’s statement are his claims about the Dome of the Rock.  In Arabic this structure is commonly referred to as Masjid Qubbat As-Sakhrah ‘Mosque of the Dome of the Rock’. As for its origins, the Muslim scholar al-Wasiti gave this account of the building of the Dome of the Rock:

When Abd al-Malik intended to construct the Dome of the Rock, he came from Damascus to Jerusalem. He wrote, “Abd al-Malik intends to build a dome (qubba) over the Rock to house the Muslims from cold and heat, and to construct the masjid [mosque]. But before he starts he wants to know his subjects’ opinion.” With their approval, the deputies wrote back, “May Allah permit the completion of this enterprise, and may He count the building of the dome and the masjid a good deed for Abd al-Malik and his predecessors.” He then gathered craftsmen from all his dominions and asked them to provide him with the description and form of the planned dome before he engaged in its construction. So, it was marked for him in the sahn [courtyard] of the masjid.

(The ‘rock’ which the ‘dome’ covers is in fact the ‘Foundation Stone‘, the site of the holiest of holies of the Jewish temple.) Al-Wasiti’s account makes clear that the Dome and the associated mosque were constructed at the same time, and as part of the same complex.  (The mosque itself was later rebuilt). Furthermore, Prof. Shlomo Dov Goitein has explained that the dome was built to demonstrate the superiority of Islam:

In a well-known passage of his Book of Geography, al-Maqdisi tells us how his uncle excused Abd al-Malik and Al-Walid I for spending so much good Muslims’ money on buildings: They intended to remove the fitna, the ‘annoyance,’ constituted by the existence of the many fine buildings of worship of other religions. The very form of a rotunda, given to the Qubbat as-Sakhra, although it was foreign to Islam, was destined to rival the many Christians domes. The inscriptions decorating the interior clearly display a spirit of polemic against Christianity, while stressing at the same time the Koranic doctrine that Jesus Christ was a true prophet. The formula la sharika lahu ‘god has no companion’ is repeated five times, the verses from sura Maryam 16:34-37, which strongly deny Jesus’ sonship to God, are quoted … (The Historical background of the erection of the Dome of the Rock, Journal of American Oriental Society, Vol. 70, No. 2, 1950).

The Dome of the Rock was no “war memorial”, but an exercise in spiritual one-upmanship. Built upon the site of the Holy of Holies, and through its inscriptions denouncing a core Christian belief, it was contrived to trump both Judaism and Christianity at the same time.

Before presuming to call the conclusions of others ‘idiotic’ and ‘rubbish’, Rabbi Bretton-Granatoor could get his own facts straight.  He might also consider the possibility that dispelling ignorance about a religion does not necessarily increase positive regard for it. He might entertain the possibility that  his own wishful thinking about Islam could itself be cocooned in a web of misinformation and prejudice.

Rabbi Bretton-Granatoor would have us believe that building an Islamic Center close to Ground Zero “would enable our Muslim fellow citizens to distance themselves from the evil that was done in their name”.  This argument  patronizes Muslims of good will, who are already well-able to distance themselves from Al Qaida, without needing to build a triumphalistic Islamic Center so close to the site of the Twin Towers atrocity. 

Mark Durie is the founding director of the Institute for Spiritual Awareness, a Fellow at the Middle East Forum, and a Senior Research Fellow of the Arthur Jeffery Centre for the Study of Islam at the Melbourne School of Theology.

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