In a recent article, I argued that the Ground Zero mosque is counterproductive to Islam. The following day, on August 5, the Egyptian newspaper Al Masry Al Youm reported that none other than Al Azhar — one of Sunni Islam's most authoritative institutions — agrees. My translation of the relevant excerpt follows:
A number of Al Azhar ulema expressed their opposition to building a mosque near [where] the events of September 11 [occurred], convinced that it is "a conspiracy to confirm a clear connection between the strikes of September  and Islam." Dr. 'Abd al-Mu'ti Bayumi, a member of the Islamic Research Academy [of Al Azhar] told Al Masry Al Youm that he rejects the building of any mosque in this area [Ground Zero], because the "devious mentality" desires to connect these events [of 9/11] with Islam, though he maintains that Islam is innocent of this accusation. Instead, it is a "Zionist conspiracy," which many are making use of to harm the religion. Likewise, Dr. Amna Nazir, professor of doctrine and philosophy at Al Azhar, expressed her rejection that a mosque be built near the World Trade Center, saying: "Building a mosque on this rubble indicates bad intention — even if we wished to shut our eyes, close our minds, and insist on good will. I hope it is a sincere step, and not a new conspiracy against Islam and Muslims."
Aside from the hackneyed "Zionist conspiracy" charge, Al Azhar has it right: from negative media attention to subliminal associations with the 9/11 strikes, the "9/11 mosque" has great potential to backfire on Islam. Many other Muslims agree. That Al Azhar has labeled it a "Zionist conspiracy"— an appellation usually reserved for especially heinous charges attributed to fellow Muslims, such as the strikes of 9/11 — is indicative of how absurd the mosque project must appear to them.
Lest Al Azhar be accused of feigning disapproval, bear in mind that its reaction is not a product of sensitivity to, or the desire to peacefully coexist with, the United States (which would be suspect). Indeed, Dr. Bayumi is an open advocate of suicidal jihad: "I say in all honesty that we recruit the people of Islam, and instill in them the spirit of the true Jihad, which is death for the sake of Allah, for the sake of our faith, and of the Al-Aqsa Mosque."
Now, here's the question: if Al Azhar scholars are fully aware of how detrimental the erection of a 9/11 mosque can be, why are American Muslims (such as of the Cordoba Initiative) still relentlessly pursuing it?
Much of this, I believe, has to do with the differing mentalities of Western, as opposed to Middle Eastern, or "indigenous," Muslims. The latter, who have had little experience of the West, simply cannot believe that Muslims would be so foolhardy as to pursue such an obvious affront to their host nation; put differently, they cannot believe a non-Muslim nation would tolerate such effrontery. Used to seeing, and treating, "infidels" as second-class citizens, it is only natural that the indigenous Muslim mentality expects reciprocity when on infidel soil.
Westernized Muslims, on the other hand, have learned that they can get away with almost anything — so long as they slap the words "tolerance," "pluralism," "dialogue," or "bridge-building" to their endeavors, as the 9/11 mosque supporters do regularly. In short, a correlation exists between how well or how little a Muslim knows the West, and how aggressive or passive their Islamism becomes.
Moreover, religious buildings are seen as symbols of supremacy by many Muslims; hence the reason mosques are ubiquitous to the Muslim world whereas churches are all but — and in some Muslim nations totally — banned. It is precisely because of this ingrained view regarding the significance of religious buildings that Al Azhar is convinced that no sane Muslim would adamantly pursue the construction of a 9/11 mosque, which must instead be "a new conspiracy against Islam and Muslims."
Incidentally, how does one interpret President Barrack Hussein Obama's recent support for the 9/11 mosque? He certainly spent enough time growing up in the Muslim world to have a better understanding of the Muslim mindset — including its take on religious buildings as symbols of supremacy — than the average American. Far from approving it, then, he of all presidents should appreciate the triumphalist overtones a mega-mosque so near to Ground Zero conveys to Islamists.
Either way, especially now that Obama has gotten himself into the mix — even if he did try to backpedal — the potential for the 9/11 mosque project to backfire on Islam continues to grow. At a time when nearly 70 percent of Americans already oppose the mosque plan, continued media attention and 9/11 rallies may well help realize Al Azhar's worst fears: that the 9/11 mosque will serve as a permanent reminder of "a clear connection between the strikes of September  and Islam." (That Muslims will be seen celebrating this coming September 11 as part of Eid al-Fatr probably won't help either.)
In closing, should the mosque be built, it will be an Islamist triumph. However, at the rate things are going — this issue is set to be a hot topic for upcoming elections — time may well reveal that the victory of erecting a mega-mosque near Ground Zero was as much symbolic as it was pyrrhic, not just for Islamists, but their political supporters as well.
Raymond Ibrahim is associate director of the Middle East Forum, author of The Al Qaeda Reader, and guest lecturer at the National Defense Intelligence College.