In the Name of God, the Kind, the Beautiful
It seems that there is a noticeable and palpable rise in opposition to the building of mosques across the country say Muslim scholars and civil rights advocates. Professor Akbar Ahmed, the Ibn Khaldun Chair of Islamic Studies at American University’s School of International Service, has conducted research on mosques across the country and said, “Everywhere there’s a mosque, there’s a tension now.”
“Mosques used to face opposition in the past, but it was usually couched in terms of opposition to parking or traffic,” says Ibrahim Hooper, spokesman for the Council on American Islamic Relations. “But you know, it’s only recently, I think, that people feel comfortable expressing their bigotry so openly.”
Jim Zogby, head of the Arab American Institute, has also said: “There is very little counter-thrust in the public debate, and the result is, I think, Muslims are becoming increasingly concerned about their security in the country. This is a worrisome environment. Something’s got to give.”
Now, opposition to the building of mosques is nothing new. As long as I can remember, people have tried to stop mosques from being built in their communities. Many mosques in the Chicago area have faced objections based on zoning issues, or parking concerns, or traffic concerns. In fact, a Muslim group in the Chicago area is suing the Dupage County Board alleging discrimination. But now, it seems that the objections are not just about parking or traffic, but about Islam itself. Many people seem to be expressing their desire not to have Muslims in their midst.
In Tennessee, a Republican candidate for Congress, Lou Ann Zelenik, released a statement in response to plans for a mosque being built there. It said: “Until the American Muslim Community find it in their hearts to separate themselves from their evil, radical counterparts, to condemn those who want to destroy our civilization and will fight against them, we are not obligated to open our society to any of them.” One man told a CNN affiliate: “In Islam, a mosque means ‘We have conquered this country. And where are they? They’re in the center of Tennessee. They’re going to say, ‘We have conquered Tennessee.'”
In California, some local residents of the Temecula Valley fear the mosque will become “a haven for Islamic extremists.” A local pastor, Bill Rench, told the LA Times: “The Islamic foothold is not strong here, and we really don’t want to see their influence spread. There is a concern with all the rumors you hear about sleeper cells and all that. Are we supposed to be complacent just because these people say it’s a religion of peace? Many others have said the same thing.”
Perhaps the most prominent anti-mosque protest is the one currently raging against the Muslim cultural center, which is proposed to be built a few blocks from Ground Zero. This campaign has even brought out the likes of Newt Gingrich and Sarah Palin. Gov. Palin has asked for Muslims to “refudiate” the building of a mosque near Ground Zero, and Newt Gingrich has cited the lack of freedom in Saudi Arabia as pretext for extending a lack of religious freedom here in the United States:
There should be no mosque near Ground Zero in New York so long as there are no churches or synagogues in Saudi Arabia.
This is truly amazing. We pride ourselves as being a beacon of freedom shining throughout the world. Now, the Former House Speaker is calling on America to be more like Saudi Arabia.
It seems that much of this anti-mosque hysteria is fear of Muslims. Many people believe that, when these mosques are built, they will be centers of Islamic radicalism. This is based on ignorance on what Islam is and who Muslims are. In fact, a recent study of the content of Friday sermons was released by the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding, an American Muslim think tank. In the conclusion portion of the study, it says:
This research discussed the relative absence of politics from khutbas and how that when this subject does appear, it is coupled with moral conduct as opposed to governance or politics per se. In addition, the rest of the Muslim ummah does not usually get more than a wish-you-well ritualistic mention. Lastly, gender issues, considered by some to be a wedge issue among Muslims in the West, were invoked during khutbas, but only infrequently. Furthermore, how they were treated differed significantly depending upon the audience’s social class and the khatib’s personal qualities, including how he deals with Islamic texts. Overall, the khutbas mainly focus on the Muslims’ practical life as it unfolds in the United States, seeking religious guidance toward refined conduct.
No radicalization of the Muslim congregation; no recruitment for “Islamic terror”; no calls for the destruction of America. The fact of the matter is, American mosques are part of the religious landscape of the country, and they should be as welcome to the community as a church, synagogue, temple, or any other house of worship. The calls on the part of some Americans to stop the building of mosques, based on false pretenses, ignorance, and fear, is not only unbecoming of what it means to be a good neighbor, but is unbecoming of what it means to be an American.