Declaring Independence From Islamophobia
By Doug Sandlin
Editor, Clarifying Islam
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness.”
~Declaration of Independence, 1776
Thankfully, almost all overt forms of prejudice have been largely eradicated in the United States. Sadly, though, anti-Muslim prejudice, aka Islamophobia, is currently a significant issue, among certain non-Muslim Americans. As with all prejudice, anti-Muslim prejudice is based in error.
Especially in the United States, there is no factual reason to dislike or fear Muslims, generally. Millions of our fellow Americans worship as Muslims, and virtually without exception, they are peaceful, reasonable, mainstream, law-abiding citizens.
Considering this, how is Islamophobia even possible, then?
There are two key factors which allow prejudice against Muslims to take place:
The concerted effort by a small, dedicated group, some of them professional anti-Muslims, to disseminate anti-Muslim propaganda in various ways.
The fact that most Americans don’t know any Muslims personally, and don’t know much about Islam.
These two factors dovetail in ways that would not be possible with any other relatively large group of Americans.
Simply Put: if you have any general sense of distrust, dislike or fear concerning Muslims, you have believed some untrue statements about Muslims or Islam that anti-Muslims want you to believe. If you are prejudiced against Muslims, you’ve been manipulated, and you can prove this to yourself, to your own satisfaction, very easily, if you really want to know the truth.
I know this is true, because it’s what I did.
I’m often asked why I spend so much time, on Islam-related threads on Huffington Post, standing up for my fellow Americans who worship as Muslims. The answer is very simple: I know that anti-Muslim arguments are incorrect. How did I determine this? It was both easy and simple to do. I can read, I know how to use Google, and most importantly, I was, and am, willing to see the truth.
A Tale Of Two Community Centers
Last year, when a project to create a Muslim community center (like a YMCA, or Jewish Community Center) in lower Manhattan was initiated by Muslims was ominously re-cast as a “Mega-Mosque at Ground Zero”, thanks to anti-Muslim blogger Pamela Geller, I wasn’t too sure about the project, myself. Who were these Muslims? Why did they want to put their center so close to Ground Zero? Then I read a single word which made all the difference for me: “Sufi”. Sufi Muslims are peaceful, tolerant, and motivated by compassion and goodwill. The famous poet Rumi was a Sufi Muslim. All of a sudden, the description of a “Mega-Mosque at Ground Zero” made no sense whatsoever, and my research began.
I learned that the project’s founder, Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, is a respected inter-faith leader in New York City; both he and his project enjoy the respect and support of many religious and community leaders in New York City and elsewhere. Many families of the victims of the 9/11 attacks respect and support Imam Feisal, and his project, as well. So does New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg. Imam Feisal is the author of books such as What’s Right With Islam, which are designed to help non-Muslims and Muslims understand one another, and, thus, to get along well. Imam Feisal is an American Citizen (he has lived here since age thirteen) and he has traveled on behalf of the U.S. State Department, under both the Bush and Obama Administrations, to facilitate friendship between the U.S. and Muslims around the world. This year, he was invited by the University of North Carolina to deliver the Weil Lecture on American Citizenship.
Imam Feisal’s vision is to create a community center that everyone in the area can enjoy, like a YMCA or JCC (Jewish Community Center). It is not a mosque, it is not at Ground Zero (it is two blocks away and around a corner), and the project’s founder is a peaceful American Sufi who is liked and respected, locally, nationally and internationally. Imam Feisal supports Karen Armstrong’s Charter For Compassion, and delivered the eloquent talk “Lose Your Ego, Find Your Compassion” at the prestigious TED Conference, in 2009. He also delivered the eulogy for Jewish journalist Daniel Pearl, who had been murdered by Muslim extremists in Pakistan, and he delivered it at the B’nai Jeshurun synagogue in New York City, where he referred to himself as a Jew, and a Christian, as well as a Muslim.
In short, essentially everything negative about Imam Feisal, generally, and his community center project, specifically, was made up wholesale by anti-Muslims.
When people are strongly against something or someone, the tendency to fabricate seems to become almost irresistible (see: Birthers). This is because their priority is getting you to agree with them, and facts are of a secondary importance, if they are considered at all.
The Law in Dearborn, Michigan
Dearborn, Michigan is another example. Dearborn was said to be “under Sharia law”, because it had been “taken over by Muslims”, according to anti-Muslims who claimed to know. I was informed by someone at Thanksgiving Dinner last year that this was indeed the case; it’s not. “Sharia law” is the totalitarian system of Islamic law which doesn’t actually exist except in the vivid imaginations of anti-Muslims. What it lacks in actuality, it more than makes up for in its ability to get otherwise sane people to behave in amazingly irrational ways.
Shariah, on the other hand, is an Arabic term meaning “the path to the source”. Shariah refers to the structure by which Muslims live their lives, in a similar manner to how the term law is used in Judaism. Shariah provides the set of principles governing guidelines for religious practice, and, in certain Muslim-majority countries, various facets of civic life, as well. “Sharia law” is a misnomer; Shariah refers to the underlying principles by with the specific laws (fiqh) and punishments (hudud) are created.
The six principles of Shariah as given in the Quran are: the right to the protection of Life, Family, Education, Religion, Property (access to resources) and Human Dignity.
As with all legal systems, both good and bad law had been created under the auspices of Shariah. The very worst iterations of law and punishment, practiced by the most extreme of extremist Muslims (i.e. the Taliban) and the most extremely-conservative Muslim-majority governments (i.e. Saudi Arabia, Iran), combined with certain fabricated and exaggerated items, have been codified, erroneously, in the minds of anti-Muslims as “Sharia law”.
And so, back to Dearborn, and last year, when the “Sharia law” fiction-meme had spread so widely as to be articulated by former Senate candidate, Sharron Angle. The Mayor of Dearborn, John O’Reilly, took exception to her incorrect assertion that Dearborn was “under Sharia law”, and he appeared on CNN with Anderson Cooper, to discuss the reality of Dearborn, Michigan in a national interview.
Quite a few non-Muslims, including Terry Jones of Quran-burning notoriety, didn’t watch CNN that day, it seems. And so, Terry Jones traveled to Dearborn early this year, to protest across at the Islamic Center of America, the largest mosque in North America, and the just-possible reason that Dearborn has been singled out as a problematic location by anti-Muslims.
Now, anti-Muslims may “know” that Dearborn, Michigan has been “taken over” by Sharia-wielding Extremist Muslims intent on turning all non-Muslims into subservient chattel, and they may really want the rest of us to “know” this, too, but do the Muslims of Dearborn “know” this?
Imam Sayyid Hassan al-Qazwini, the Imam at the Islamic Center of America, said of Terry Jones’ planned protest:
“As Muslims, this does not bother us. We have no problem with him coming to the Islamic Center of America to protest whatever he believes. We all in live in a free country.”
Despite the Imam’s ultra-tolerant statement, the City of Dearborn, decided that there was too much likelihood of trouble, and required that Jones’ protest take place in front of City Hall. Much ado was made, in certain circles, as to how Jones’ rights to free speech had been violated, ostensibly due to the power of “Sharia law” in Dearborn. However, per this shared interview involving both Terry Jones and Imam Sayyid Hassan al-Qazwini, on the Detroit-area TV show Let It Rip, this appears not to be the case, even a little bit.
Beyond these types of fabrications, anti-Muslims like to paint the Quran itself as violent, when only 5% of its content is violent or cruel. They suggest that because extremists act on violent interpretations of certain Quranic verses, that this tells us about Islam, or Muslims, when it simply tells us a little about extremists, and how they try to motivate people, and try to justify their crimes. The real reason for terrorism by Muslim extremists is not directly connected with religion, but with their views of certain geo-political realities.
There are 1.6 Billion Muslims in the world; every fourth to fifth person on the planet is a Muslim. In any group that large, most of the people in it are always going to be regular people, not extremists, and not violent. Extremists comprise something like 1% of 1% of all Muslims, yet anti-Muslims suggest that all, or most, Muslims think like extremists do.
This is both staggeringly incorrect, as well as the very definition of bigotry.
What You Can Do
And so, this Fourth of July holiday, when we celebrate our Independence, please consider also declaring your independence from the untrue ideas of people who want you to dislike Islam and Muslims as much as they dislike Islam and Muslims.
And please remember: you don’t have to take my word for it; if you can read, and if you know how to use Google, you have all the tools you need to prove the truth of what I’m saying in this article, to yourself.
Please seriously consider standing with those of us, Muslim and non-Muslim alike, who know that America is ready to be free from error-based prejudice.
There are, of course, serious problems in Muslim populations around the world, which affect Muslims and non-Muslims, alike. The problems include extremism on the part of a very small percentage of the population; abusively ultra-conservative interpretations of law and religion on the part of a small percentage, as well, and some truly dysfunctional governments among the world’s sixty-plus Muslim-majority nations.
These realities affect all of us, and we can all work together to resolve them, because most of us, Muslim or non-Muslim are natural allies, and inherently on the same side – the side of peace, reason and cooperation for the common good, and the uplifting of all.
The anti-Muslim narrative described in this article distorts reality in ways that don’t benefit anyone, because that narrative is based in fabrication and conjecture.
If we are willing to see clearly, we’ll see that Muslims, specifically American Muslims, are our fellow Americans; friends, neighbors, colleagues, and our natural allies in the shared endeavor to create a nation and a world where we can all celebrate true independence and fulfillment.
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