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Guest Opinion: The Ground Zero Mosque and Religious Freedom

By David Jones
September 14th, 2010
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

David Jones, a former Muslim and Iraq veteran, weighs in on the teachings of Islam and the need for dialogue: 'I must publicly speak out in recognition of the Truth I have lived - and to Whom I owe everything. Christ blows our hearts wide open to all of reality.  I believe that as Catholics in America we should support the building of this Islamic Center and mosque. The truth, beauty and goodness of the Catholic faith should not make us afraid. It should make us bold.' 

ST. JOSEPH, MO. (Catholic Online) - I feel it's time to have a serious dialogue about Islam and religious freedom in the U.S. It is my hope that my Catholic brethren and anyone else who reads this article will finds my position a reasonable one to hold. 

If anyone on this planet understands the concerns of those who are against the building the Ground Zero Mosque, I do.  This includes not building the proposed Islamic Center near Ground Zero out of respect for all those who lost their lives there on September 11, 2001. 

However, I am absolutely convinced that most Americans don't have a clue about Islam. Many are completely ignorant as to what it really teaches and the threat it poses to both Europe and the U.S.  Islam by its nature is an ideology, which is inherently political. In many regards, Islam is a closed system, which is not open to reality.  It does not organically develop as Catholicism has done throughout its history. 

Islam considers itself to be a completed (and total) system to be imposed on the rest of the non-Muslim world by any and all means necessary, both through peaceful and non-peaceful means. Therefore, Islam struggles with this concept of religious freedom. 

If your system or ideology is closed, how can you really be free? Many good Muslims are attempting to answer this question though and many others related to it.  We should be open to dialogue with them.  We should offer our friendship.

At this juncture, I think it would be helpful to give a little historical background on myself. After studying Islam for several years during college in the early 1990s, I converted to Islam in my senior year in college.  I was a practicing Muslim during that year.  In fact I was able to attend the convention of the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA) the year when it was held in Kansas City.

It was at that convention that I met face-to-face with advocates and recruiters for Khalif'ornia Publication, a play on the word because they were based in California. They were a radical and militant group of Muslims who promoted the formation of Khalifas, Islamic nation-states, here in America, in Europe, and throughout the world. 

I studied their material and listened to their audios.  I became convinced that to be a true Muslim I had to follow their ideology, so I had a decision to make.  If I wanted to remain an American who believed deeply in the right of religious freedom, I needed to leave Islam, and that's exactly what I did.  Eventually, I became an Eastern Rite Catholic.

Fast-forwarding several years...

Recently I returned from a deployment to Iraq.  In fact, my unit was replaced by the unit you have seen all over the news as the last combat unit to leave Iraq.  It was there that I saw the devastating results of this radical and militant version of Islam. 

Once you have smelled burning flesh you will never forget it.  Once you have had to write home to the spouses and parents of soldiers who have been killed in action, you will never forget it. Everyday innocent Iraqi civilians, including women and children, were being targeted by insurgents and brutally killed because of a perceived, real or not, support for the Iraqi government, military or police. 

Most were simply trying to live their lives and just survive. For a year, the valiant soldiers of my unit worked day and night to bring freedom to the Iraqi people, as did so many before them and as others will do after them.  Let us not forget our brethren who have served and are serving so courageously in Afghanistan as well.

As an Eastern Catholic, a Melkite Greek Byzantine Catholic, my heart goes out to the Chaldeans in Iraq, to the Copts in Egypt, and to the Christians throughout the Holy Land and Turkey who have been persecuted for their Christian faith. 

In many countries in the Middle East, religious freedom does not apply to the lives of the common man as it does for us here in America.  What is so desperately needed there must never be forgotten by us here in the U.S.  In many ways it is what sets us apart as a beacon for others to follow.

I do not wish to add to the already hyper-sensitized rhetoric of the mainstream media and of those with political ideologies trying to exploit this issue to advance their own agendas.  The Ground Zero Mosque controversy, though, is something that has weighed heavily on me these days. 

Frankly, the answer I have come to even surprises me in many ways, but I feel I must publicly speak out in recognition of the Truth I have lived - and to Whom I owe everything. This is not something I take lightly for it goes to the core of who I am as a person and who we all are as humans. 

Christ blows our hearts wide open to all of reality.  He gives us an infinite desire to know Him in this world in which He inhabits - if only we have the eyes to see Him. I believe that as Catholics in America we should support the building of this Islamic Center and mosque. The truth, beauty and goodness of the Catholic faith should not make us afraid.  It should make us bold. 

We must be open to dialogue with those who we don't agree with or with those who we don't fully understand.  We must give them the freedom to follow their own religious sense. 

I believe this is what it means to be most fully Catholic - and to be most fully American. Let us continue to honor all those that have fallen in foreign lands to bring freedom to our fellow human beings and to those that lost their lives on 9-11.  I leave everything in the hands of Our Lady.

Disclaimer - The opinions expressed in this article are those solely of the author and not those of the U.S. Army.

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David Jones holds a Masters in Theological Studies from the Institute of Religious and Pastoral Studies, University of Dallas.  While at UD he studied under Douglas Bushman, Fr. Mitch Pacwa, Marcellino D'Ambrosio, Ed Peters, and many other outstanding Catholic scholars. He is a member of theFraternity of Communion and Liberation, a Pontifically recognized and approved eccelsial movement.  He has spoken internationally in Italy at the Rimini Meeting and at the Assembly of International Responsibles in La Thuile in addition to speaking throughout much of the United States. 

This article first appeared on September 11, 2010 in the publication ilsussidiaro.net and is used with the kind permission of that publication and the author. His writings have been published in TRACES, God-Spy, Traditional Catholic Reflections and Reports, Catholic Online, The American Catholic, and Il Sussidiario.  He also runs a popular blog entitled La Nouvelle Theologie His conversion story is published in the Italian book entitled Sotto Il Cielo D'America (Under the American Sky) written by Marco Bardazzi.  The introduction of this book has been translated into English and is available on-line here 

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