A Badge of Muslim Courage: Raheel Raza

Canadian Muslim reformer discusses her confrontation with the Ground Zero mosque developers -- and the threat she received in return.

Frontpage Interview’s guest today is Raheel Raza, a leading Muslim reformer, award winning writer, professional speaker, diversity consultant, documentary film maker and interfaith advocate. A founding member of the Muslim Canadian Congress, she is the author of Their Jihad . . . Not My Jihad. Visit her site at RaheelRaza.com.

FP: Raheel Raza, welcome to Frontpage Interview.

I would like to talk to you today about the courageous battle you have been fighting, as a Muslim, on the frontlines of our battle against radical Islam. Your pronouncements against the Ground Zero Mosque and your collision with Tariq Ramadan are the recent examples of your noble stand for justice and freedom.

Let’s start with your battle against the Ground Zero mosque and also the threat you received from Ground Zero mosque developer Sharif El Gamal after your meeting with the organizers of the mosque in New York.

Raza: Thanks Jamie.

It’s been almost a month since my article was published in the Ottawa Citizen regarding the proposed mosque at Ground Zero, which was followed by my trip to New York to attend a meeting of the organizers of the mosque and then the follow up -- which has been good, bad and ugly.

I feel no need to give a defense of my actions as everyone has the right to pursue the truth. It’s been a turbulent two months with many ups and downs. However, I have written a report about my visit to New York, since I met the organizers, asked questions and was able to make an informed opinion. Events that followed have only confirmed my stance. Hence, I owe it to myself and to those following these events to give an accurate account of my visit. Let me share it with you Jamie and with Frontpage’s readers:

At 5:57 p.m. on Monday August 16, 2010, my cell phone rang. The man asked me: “Is this Raheel Raza?” I automatically said yes. He said “I am Sharif El Gamal – do you remember you dared jump into a meeting called by Daisy Khan for 9/11 victims in New York?” I was a bit shocked at the tone but I retorted “I was invited to that meeting.” He said curtly, “No, you were not.” I tried to explain that I went as a guest of a 9/11 widow. “You were not invited,” he said again, and then added: “I am an American and a Muslim and may Allah protect you.” These words sent chills down my back. It took only one minute for the veneer of ‘tolerance’ to be peeled away, and the reality of the agenda became crystal clear.

I had decided to go to New York on Tuesday, August 10, to attend a meeting hosted by the ASMA Society as a guest of Maureen Basnicki, who is the widow of a 9/11 victim.  I wanted to see and hear firsthand what the Ground Zero mosque was all about, to ask some important questions and to deliver a message that this is not a good idea.

When I arrived at the meeting, there were about 30 people in the room, most of them 9/11 survivors and their families. Some were carrying placards saying LOCATION which they respectfully kept under their chairs. The meeting was chaired by Gerry Bogacz, who is part of the 9/11 Community for Common Ground. There were no formal introductions of people around the table.

However, as soon as the organizers started speaking, I knew that this was not about sincere intentions but a con-job, a cover-up for a subversive agenda and all about the money. Ms. Daisy Khan spent 20 minutes telling us about her life and work. Eventually, she came to the mosque project and said that this monument (Ground Zero Mosque/Cordoba Institute/ Park 51) is to help shape Islam in America. She also said that the idea has garnered support not only in the U.S. but “would be replicated all over the world.”

She was joined by Mr. Sharif El Gamal, CEO of Soho Properties. The slick Mr. Gamal took another 15 minutes to tell his life story, explaining that he was a born American of mixed heritage and that he had feelings for the people in the room. He mentioned that he had been looking for a property in Manhattan since 2002 and that he had bought this building in 2005. Finally, they opened the meeting up for questions.  (Interesting note in retrospect that neither Mr. Gamal nor Ms. Khan addressed me the entire evening, although they know who I am).

This was the flavor of the Q & A:

Q: How do you not expect a backlash when Muslims killed nearly 3,000 people? Where is Imam Faisal and where is the funding going to come from?

Gamal: Those were not Muslims – they are not my brothers and sisters and this is not our belief system. We never have anticipated such a backlash to our project so this is a surprise.

Ms. Khan: It’s the start of the month of Ramadan in which Muslims fast from sunrise to sunset and in this time Imam Faisal is travelling to build bridges.

Q: Where will the funding come from?

Gamal: We have not raised funds yet but we will not accept any funds that compromise American values.

Q: What is the mission statement of the Cordoba Center?

Gamal: The project’s name is Park 51. It will be like a YMCA and promote tolerance and understanding between people.

Woman in the audience: The YMCA is a secular place.

Me: If you are a feeling, caring American how come you were not aware that this location might be problematic? And since you purchased the property in 2005, how have you spent the last 5 years in outreach, bridge-building, garnering community support and fund raising?

Gamal: I never thought the location would be such a sore point and no, we did not do any outreach until now. I honestly never thought I would be sitting here giving a defense. I can’t imagine what all the fuss is about.

Me: How naïve can you be not to be aware that this location is sensitive to Americans? Are you not concerned that a majority of Americans are against this project going ahead at this location?

Gamal: I honestly did not think the location would be a problem. We need the space.

Me: Are you going to get funds from outside the U.S.?  (I asked this 3 times)

Gamal: I can’t answer that question.

Q: Why not move to another location?

(No response)

Mike (a retired New York City Police officer):  You are very good at filibusters and you have not said anything right tonight.

Q: Historically mosques have been built in places of conquest and why have the larger Muslim communities not come out to support you?  Why do the Imams not condemn the terrorists?

Ms. Khan: There have been no new terrorist attacks because of our diligence as Muslims.

Man in the audience: It’s offensive of you to say this. There have been no new attacks because of our police system and the FBI.

Firemen # 1: I was at 9/11. This project is insensitive and insulting because we saw TV images of Muslims celebrating the 9/11 tragedy around the world. Now I’m supposed to embrace the idea of a mosque at that very spot? Can you build it somewhere else?

Fireman # 2: Building it where you are is pouring salt on my wounds and I resent that. You say you need a mosque. We need our twin towers back. Can you help rebuild those?

Fireman # 3: No construction worker, no fireman or police officer who wears a cap saying Never Again, will work on this project and I hope it fails. I hope you don’t get the funds to make this happen. I hope you discard this project.

After attending this meeting, I discovered was that there was no transparency, no honest answers and therefore no sincerity of intention. Mr. Gamal was like a used car salesman: contradicting himself, prevaricating and being evasive. He spoke about everything except the make and model of the car. Ms. Khan was described by one of the women as a “cult-type leader” because she answered every question with a lecture about Islam.

I suspect that the organizers already have a green light from the US State Department or the White House. Otherwise they would not have been so arrogant as to ignore the cries of the victims and their friends and families. They did not care for the opinions of the community, when clearly the majority of those present were against the project.

Ms. Basnicki who was with me, has this to say:

“I went to this meeting with mixed feelings. I was eager to assert that as a Canadian I found it easy to accept religious tolerance. However I left the meeting with even more confusion. Simple questions such as where is the funding coming from for this $100 million center, renamed Park51 were not answered.  This was not a bridge building meeting……..it caused greater unease and a much larger gulf.”

FP: Did Gamal or anyone of his people get in touch with you again?

Raza: There were no subsequent phone calls. The threat does not worry me because it’s an act of cowardice by people who have subversive agendas. What concerns me is the complete denial by El Gamal that the call was ever made from his office. But I saved the number on my cell and it matches that of Mr. Gamal’s Soho Properties offices in New York.

A lie is the first and last indicator of a person trying to hide something. For me, that says it all

FP: What do you think Imam Rauf, Daisy Khan and Sharif El Gamal are really up to on building this mosque? What do you think about that as a Muslim?

Raza: I think it’s all about real estate, greed and money. They really don't care about the sentiments of Americans and this has shown through by my meeting with Daisy Khan and Mr. El Gamal with the 9/11 survivors and their families.

I am more than 99% sure that part of the funding is going to come from sources that danced on the streets when the murder of humanity and destruction of the twin towers took place.

As a Muslim I want to make it clear to fellow Muslims and your readers that we have to draw a clear line between the heinous agenda of political Islamists and people who wish to practice our faith in its spiritual sincerity and follow its non-violent message.

Unfortunately those supporting the ongoing building of the Mosque are more enamored with Michael Moore's anti-American stance than they are with pure Qur’anic teachings which tell us to be sensitive and compassionate when interacting with those who are not part of our faith, and the example of the Prophet who did not allow building of a mosque at a place which would be contentious.

FP: Raheel Raza, we’ve run out of time, thank you for joining us. I would like to follow up with you on your recent collision with Tariq Ramadan. Frontpage readers stay tuned.