The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

Local News

September 10, 2005

Concerns over memorial grow

Somerset — Fundamentalist Christians aren’t alone in their concerns about an Islamic symbol being used in the design of the Flight 93 National Memorial.

Muslims would take affront as well, a professor of Middle Eastern studies at New York University said.

Named “Crescent of Embrace,” the design by Paul Murdoch Associates of Los Angeles centers around a semicircular pathway of red maples leading to the crash site. Forty innocent passengers and crew were killed when four Islamic hijackers crashed the plane into a reclaimed strip mine near Shanksville on Sept. 11, 2001.

“Given the political ramifications, it’s not an apt name,” Professor Bernard Haykel said Friday, a day after a Somerset County street preacher declared he is considering filing for an injunction to stop the design.

“I could see a Muslin taking offense to this by saying this could be a slight to Islam. It could cut both ways.”

The Rev. Ron McRae, self-proclaimed bishop of Bible Anabaptist Church near Jerome, is vowing to fight the design, contending a red crescent is a major Islamic symbol.

“I think it’s shameful,” McRae said. “These people were killed in the name of religion.”

In Islam, the crescent moon symbolizes the beginning and end of a calendar month. Crescents are prominent on mosques and are used on ambulances similar to red crosses in America.

“It is the symbol of ritual and religious life for Muslims,” Haykel said.

“The name (of the memorial) itself is not bad, but people can read into it all kinds of things.”

Murdoch has said the word is used generically in an architectural sense to describe the walkway around the bowl-shaped depression surrounding the plane’s point of impact. He maintains no religious implications were intended.

But even the second-stage jury that selected the design recommended changing its name to steer clear of religious overtones. Rather than crescent, the jury suggested using circle or arc of embrace instead.

“It shows how insulated Americans are about 9/11,” Haykel said. “They should think how Christian fundamentalists and Muslims are going to see this. This is not a neutral context.”

Fouad El Bayly of Somerset, leader of the Islamic Center of Johnstown, has said Muslims immediately would recognize the symbolism in the design.

The crescent is a symbol of Islamic faith, El Bayly said.

“You pick something to be identified with,” he said.

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