Age of Jahiliyah

A blog of wide and varied interest, including Islam, Muslims, Poetry, Art and much more.

Archive for the day “May 31, 2011”

Getting it Right about Islam and American Muslims

From Huffington Post

John L. Esposito

Founding Director, Prince Alwaleed bin Talal Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding

American Muslims deserve a break. There are as many as 6 million to 8 million Muslims living in the United States and contributing to the country as doctors, engineers, artists, actors and professionals, but for a decade many have found themselves and their religion wrongly equated with the acts of terrorists like Osama bin Laden. Many have been the victims of fear, suspicion, prejudice, Muslim-bashing, unlawful surveillance, illegal search, arrest and imprisonment.

Efforts to build Islamic centers and mosques in New York, Wisconsin, Kentucky and Tennessee have been equated with building monuments to terrorism. Prominent American public figures and politicians — including Bill O’Reilly, Sarah Palin, Rep. Peter King and Newt Gingrich — openly spoke against Muslims and encouraged unfounded social suspicion of them. The net result is an increase in anti-Islam and anti-Muslim bashing, witnessed in the hysteria that has led to a movement across some 20 states in America to ban sharia.

Today’s historic changes, the death of Osama bin Laden and the Arab Spring offer an opportunity to redress anti-Islam and anti-Muslim bias (Islamophobia) and to reaffirm that American Muslims, like other mainstream Americans, desire a secure and democratic America. Despite the fact that American Muslims years have had to explain that neither they — nor their religion — sanction terrorism.

Major polls have consistently shown American public opinion of Islam plunging. The furor over the proposed Islamic center (Park 51) in New York City resurfaced hostility toward Islam and Muslims. According to the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life, large minorities said they could not think of anything positive to say about Islam. In one study, 38 percent of Americans have an unfavorable view of Islam, compared to 30 percent who reported a positive view. Another study conducted by The Washington Post found Islam’s unfavorable image creeping up to 49 percent among Americans.

This fear and hostility has been reinforced by the American public’s basic ignorance and misunderstanding of Islam: The Pew Forum’s September 2010 survey of religion literacy found that only about half of Americans know that the Quran is the holy book of Islam. It also found that less than a third know that most people in Indonesia — the world’s most populous Muslim nation — are, in fact, Muslim. What many did know and fear were stereotypes based on misinformation.

Mainstream American Muslims have too often been equated inaccurately with terrorists and people who reject democracy. Muslim Americans cherish the freedoms guaranteed by the American Constitution as much as others and, as the Gallup World Poll of 35 Muslim countries reported, like all Americans, majorities of Muslims globally desire democracy and freedom and fear and reject religious extremism and terrorism.

Failure to recognize and appreciate these facts continues to feed a growing Islamophobia in America that threatens the safety, security and civil liberties of many American Muslims despite the fact that, as Gallup and Pew polls have shown, they are as educationally, economically and politically integrated as other Americans. It is time to remember and act on the words of President George W. Bush in calling upon all American to distinguish between the religion of Islam and the acts of a fraction of Muslims who commit acts of terrorism and President Barack Obama’s words reminding Americans that: “the United States is not — and never will be — at war with Islam. … Bin Laden was not a Muslim leader; he was a mass murderer of Muslims. Indeed, al Qaeda has slaughtered scores of Muslims in many countries, including our own.”

It’s time to turn a deaf ear to our preachers and politicians of hate and get it right with our American Muslim fellow citizens.

John L. Esposito, the author of ‘The Future of Islam,’ is the founding director of the Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding at Georgetown University. Sheila B. Lalwani is a research fellow at the center.

Is Fear of Sharia the New Red Scare?

From The Mark

by Hamed Aleaziz Journalist.

A proposed Tennessee law could criminalize religious gatherings of two or more Muslims.

In the aftermath of the death of Osama bin Laden, an outpouring of hope and relief swept across the United States. After 10 years, the U.S. had finally found the man responsible for 9-11, and, naturally, people were in a celebratory mood. For American Muslims, bin Laden’s death marked an opportunity for people to move past the suspicious, often xenophobic attitudes toward Islam in the U.S. One American Muslim, a college student named Umar Issa, told The Associated Press, “His death brings an opportunity for understanding between Americans and Muslims. I’m happy about that. The discrimination I’ve faced, my friends have faced – it’s time for that to come to an end.”

Unfortunately for Issa and other American Muslims, the election in 2012 could make the coming year an even worse time to be a Muslim in the U.S. A select group of politicians and media outlets are dividing Americans, painting Muslims in the U.S. as a “threatening” group. This type of suspicion and prejudice threatens the American ideal, which relies on its diverse citizenship working together, rather than against one another.

The media, always eager to stir up sensationalist drama, are particularly keen on controversy during election seasons. If the events of the past year are any indication, Sharia law and its “threat” to Americans could become another fringe issue that receives undue media attention. (Remember the situation with Rev. Jeremiah Wright?) The presumed threat is that Sharia law, or Islamic jurisprudence, could somehow be implemented in the U.S., leading to a Taliban-like takeover of the American justice system. This ludicrous idea has members of the GOP increasingly concerned about “radical” Muslims and their supposed potential to violently shift U.S. politics. What’s lost in the debate is that the American Constitution already guards against the implementation of religious law in any form.

On May 10, Politico reported that “invoking Sharia and casting it as a growing danger at odds with American principles has become a rallying cry for conservatives.” Candidates like Newt Gingrich, Herman Cain, Michele Bachman, and Rick Santorum have already singled out “creeping” Sharia as a serious threat to the U.S. The media have been quick to join the conversation, making the “fear” seem more real and widespread than it actually is. Unfortunately, the supposed fear is being manipulated to pave the way for draconian laws that pose significant consequences for American Muslims’ civil liberties.

Even members of Congress, like Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.), have held congressional investigations into the threat posed by “radicalized” Muslims in the U.S. Such debates perpetuate xenophobia. In March, two Muslim men on their way to a conference on Islamophobia were kicked off of a Delta Air Lines flight because the pilot was uncomfortable with them being onboard. In the same week, a Muslim woman was kicked off of a Southwest Airlines flight in a similar manner. A dozen American states have proposed legislation to “curb the influence” of Sharia law. In the case of Oklahoma, such legislation has passed – though a judge temporarily prevented the state from enforcing the law.

Tennessee recently passed a law in both chambers of its legislature that would make practising Islam in groups of two or more a “Sharia organization.” The proposed law would render such a practice illegal, with a punishment of up to a 15-year prison term. While it still needs to jump through additional hoops in order to become law, the proposition of such legislation in the first place suggests the ease with which American Muslims’ civil liberties could be infringed upon given the current climate. With the country’s current high unemployment rate, the conspiratorial hallucinations of the Republican candidates may win the attention of frustrated, unemployed Americans.

In the Netherlands, Geert Wilder’s anti-Islam party used similar tactics to gain seats in the Dutch parliament in 2010. If the GOP follows suit, the debate could set the U.S. back to the 1950s, when the “Red Scare” enveloped the U.S. in a debate over presumed “threats” to American ideals.

Such debates are leaving American Muslims feeling the scorn of an enflamed sector of American society. But, like in the Netherlands, xenophobic legislation and rhetoric will do nothing to alleviate the economic pains plaguing the country. Given the real challenges facing the U.S., fringe-level, bigoted discussions about irrational fears seem particularly out of place. When will the U.S. return its focus to the things that matter?

Jewish Groups in US Backing Sharia Law

From the Jewish Chronicle Online

By Ellen Tumposky, May 26, 2011
Schwartz: “Jews and Muslims want to protect religious freedom”
Schwartz: “Jews and Muslims want to protect religious freedom”

American Jewish groups are fighting a proposed ban of Sharia law in the state of Oklahoma.

A coalition of organisations that include the Council on American-Islamic Relations and the American Jewish Committee (AJC) are backing a legal appeal against a measure that would prevent Islamic law from being used in the state’s courts.

The AJC filed a brief last week with the US Court of Appeals arguing that the ban is an attack on religious freedom.

The AJC said the provision – called the “Save our State law” by its supporters and adopted after a referendum which delivered a 70 per cent “yes” vote last November – is unconstitutional, violating a clause in the First Amendment which bars a state preference for one religion over another.

“In a nation that treasures religious freedom and whose constitution forbids government to have favoured or disfavoured faiths, the Oklahoma provision cannot stand,” wrote AJC Associate General counsel Marc Stern.

The Anti-Defamation League and the Union of Reform Judaism supported the brief, as did the Centre for Islamic Pluralism and the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty.

A judge issued an injunction in November putting the law on hold while the challenge is being heard.

Stephen Schwartz, who converted to Islam as an adult and is the executive director of the Centre for Islamic Pluralism, said both Jews and moderate Muslims are interested in protecting religious freedom. “This is not American, to pass a law in any state that’s against the practising of a religion,” he said.

He said American Jewish groups often work with mainstream Islamic organisations. “The AJC has organised three trips for moderate Muslims to visit Israel,” Mr Schwartz said.

In the original lawsuit against the Oklahoma measure, Muneer Awad of the Council on American Islamic Relations said the law would infringe the rights of Oklahomans to wear religious head scarves, choose Islamic marriage contracts or to be buried according to Islamic practices.

He said the purpose of the law was made clear by Oklahoma Representative Rex Duncan, who said on television that “America was founded on Judeo-Christian principles”.

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