Local leaders, scholars respond to American anti-Islam sentiments
By Nick Meyer
Both locally and across the Middle East and various other parts of the globe where the world’s estimated 1.5 billion Muslims reside, the beginning of Ramadan has brought the spirit of giving and good faith to the forefront.
But in other parts of the United States, controversy and in some cases verbal and other symbolic attacks have broken out against the faith of Islam in response to the approval of the Cordoba House mosque and interfaith community center, a 13-story building that is expected to be built about 600 feet from Ground Zero in New York City where the September 11, 2001 attacks took place.
In both the cities of Temecula, California and Murfreesboro, Tennessee, protestors have come out against the construction of new Islamic centers, although they have been met by large groups of counter protestors.
In Gainesville, Florida, the Dove World Outreach Center, a self-described new testament church, made media headlines when it announced the planning of a “Burn the Qu’ran Day” on September 11.
Ron Stockton, a professor of political science at the University of Michigan-Dearborn and author of the book “Citizenship and Crisis: Arab Detroit After 9/11,” said that he believed the Florida church’s sentiments are cause for concern but added that the alliances some politicians are making with anti-Islam groups are a bigger problem.
He pointed out that the National Association of Evangelicals, the nation’s largest evangelical umbrella group, decried the Qur’an burning event as evidence that such extremism is relatively isolated and generally not accepted but urged caution regarding political “demagogues” as he called them, a phrase describing those who prey upon the fears or hostilities of one element of the population for another element in order to gain something in return from them.
“This 9/11 mosque issue is very disturbing because it seems to have become a partisan issue,” Stockton said. “You’ve got (former New York Mayor and former U.S. Presidential candidate) Rudy Giuliani and (former U.S. Speaker of the House) Newt Gingrich using this as a partisan issue and this is very dangerous and not healthy at all, I’m very worried about it.”
Gingrich recently came out against the Cordoba Center, reportedly telling The New York Daily News that “America is experiencing an Islamist cultural-political offensive designed to undermine and destroy our civilization.”
Dawud Walid, head of the Council on American-Islamic Relations’ (CAIR) Michigan branch, took issue with Gingrich’s comments.
“These are politics of fear, they know that American Muslims constitute approximately 2% of the population,” he said.
“First of all, this attitude falsely projects the notion that Muslims want to take over America and compel others to be Muslims and this is not the case. It’s also fantastically preposterous to think that this population, which is suffering the most overt surveillance and civil rights abuses by the government, would somehow have the political capital and wherewithal to take over the government.”
Walid said he was disappointed that backlashes against the Cordoba Center and the project’s coordinator, Imam Faisal Abdul Rauf, have continued despite the center’s stated purpose of being a place for interfaith understanding and tolerance and Abdul Rauf’s history of working towards that goal.
“The imam of this project and his spouse promote themselves as being moderate Muslims, and this goes to show that even the so-called good Muslims still get attacked by anti-Muslim bigots and those people who seek to marginalize the sociopolitical voice of American Muslims,” he said.
Walid said that his group and members of the Masjid Wali Muhammad in Detroit at which he serves as an assistant imam will continue their outreach programs to non-Muslims, especially during Ramadan, as many within the faith believe that such programs are among the best ways of dispelling myths held by the general public.
Imam Mohammad Ali Elahi of the Islamic House of Wisdom in Dearborn Heights also stressed the importance of reaching out to others about the peaceful intentions of Islam, highlighting the mosque’s nightly English lectures open to the general public at 10:15 every night during Ramadan for questions about the faith.
Elahi echoed Stockton’s sentiments about the trend of politicians using anti-Islam sentiment for political gain.
“Some politicians actually make a business out of this and they do it because they don’t have anything else to say; sometimes they use this media scam to confuse people and create a job for themselves and a business for themselves. It’s a very unfair situation and you’d hope that sooner or later, people would realize that.”
Elahi related the theme of the book “A World Without Islam” by Graham Fuller to the issue, in which former vice chairman of the National Intelligence Council of the CIA suggests that many current tensions between the East and West have geopolitical origins as opposed to religious origins and that those tensions would have come about in a world without Islam.
“It is either out of politics or ignorance that we see opposition to construction of mosques,” Elahi said.
“That should make our outreach even more serious and heavier, that means we actually need to reach out not only to interfaith members but to the whole society to say that the nature of Islam is a that it is a religion of knowledge and understanding that promotes peace and looks for unity and morality.”