Community plans appropriate response to erratic pastor
By Nick Meyer and Natasha Dado
Friday, 04.08.2011, 06:33am
Interfaith vigil on Thursday, press conference and community gathering on Friday
Organizers move their protest to Dearborn City Hall
DEARBORN – About 100 interfaith leaders, community leaders and center members came together at the Islamic Center of America (ICA) on Wednesday, April 6, to discuss a proper response to the planned visit by extremist pastor Terry Jones of Dove World Outreach Center in Gainesville, Florida to the city later this month.
Jones has said he will likely join a small group called “Order of the Dragon” from Port Huron in their protest planned for April 22 in front of City Hall. The city of Dearborn has not granted a permit to the group to demonstrate anywhere outside city-designated free speech zones.
The pastor backed down from burning a copy of the Qur’an last year but then went through with his plan on March 20. The incident has sparked ongoing protests in Afghanistan, killing two dozen people last week.
In an interview with The Arab American News this week, a spokesperson for the group distanced the group from Jones and said its members last week discussed canceling the protest because of the tension surrounding it.
“We never intended to create controversy,” said Nicole Fiorello, whose husband Frank is a leader in the group. Fiorello said the group has no association with Jones, and her husband communicated with him through email. Jones contacted the group asking to join the protest and was authorized to do so before he burned the Qur’an. Some members have refused to join the protest because of Jones’ decision to burn the holy book.
“We are not racist by any means,” Fiorello said. “We respect freedom of religion. That’s one of the great things about this country,” she told The Arab American News by telephone Tuesday. The protest, Fiorello said, is being held to voice the opinions of a few Americans who are concerned about the use of shari’a law in the United States. Fiorello said shari’a law was recently used by a Florida judge instead of state or federal statutes in a dispute at a mosque. (That incident occurred on March 22, after the protest was planned.) Dearborn was chosen as the site of the protest because it is the home of the Islamic Center of America, one of the largest Muslim facilities in the U.S.
Fiorello admitted that she had no idea if shari’a law was being applied in Dearborn. She claimed women are deprived of equal rights under shari’a law, and that’s her personal reason for speaking out against it. According to Fiorello, the protest will no longer take place at the ICA but in front of Dearborn City Hall, which has been declared a free speech zone by the city.
Fiorello told The Arab American News that she’s uncertain whether or not Muslims in Dearborn support shari’a law. When asked if she ever met a Muslim her response was, “I know some Arabs. I don’t know if they’re Muslim. That’s because it doesn’t matter.”
Nassib Fawaz, chairman of the ICA’s PR committee, talked about the congregation’s feelings on the topic.
“The word shari’a in Arabic does not mean a special law, it means ‘the Islamic law,'” he said. “But American Muslims here follow the U.S. Constitution, the law of the land. I invite the protesters to have an indoor dialogue with us, not on the sidewalk, so we can all sit down together and discuss and clarify these issues. Then we can all work together as a community to serve our great nation.” Fawaz added.
Leaders plan response at ICA
With the final details of Jones’ visit still in a state of flux, leaders at the ICA meeting stressed the importance of staying flexible with their plans, which tentatively include interfaith gatherings, press conferences, prayers and candlelight vigils. Several Christian leaders including Reverend Charles Williams II, Pastor Bill Wylie-Kellerman, and Father Edwin Rowe pledged that they would show support at a Friday interfaith event if needed according to Williams, even though it could conflict with Good Friday services, which are among the most important events on the Christian religious calendar.
Dearborn Mayor Jack O’Reilly spoke about the false perceptions of shari’a in Dearborn coming into play, saying he got more than 6,000 emails from a YouTube video filmed by two Christian missionaries at the Arab International Festival in the city in 2009 titled “Shari’a in the U.S.”
He said he responded to every one of them, explaining that the city follows the law of the U.S. Constitution and that there is no movement to change the system in any way. O’Reilly, along with others, suggested that the event could be seen as an opportunity to show the religious harmony and understanding on display in Dearborn.
“The response needs to be peaceful and instructive because the media is looking for (controversial) images and that wouldn’t be good for our community,” he said.
Others also expressed their hope that those who do show up to counter-demonstrate against Jones will keep things civil and focus on informing rather than letting their emotions take over.
Imam Hasan Al-Qazwini of the ICA shared his perspective on Jones’ protest.
“We see this not just as an insult against Muslims but also as an insult to Christians…Mr. Jones has burned a book which mentions Jesus, peace be upon him, 124 times and also has a chapter devoted to Jesus’ great mother Mary,” he said, emphasizing the need to speak in “one voice” against Jones’ actions, which he said were appalling for a religious leader.
O’Reilly said that various religious leaders in Dearborn, including numerous evangelical churches, all came together to condemn Jones’ acts recently.
He said that because Dearborn has been the site of numerous political demonstrations, “free speech zones” were created at City Hall and at the corner of Michigan Ave. and Greenfield and that Jones is not allowed to go on private property, which includes churches and mosques. Some community members expressed hope that Jones would not be arrested if he were to trespass on private property, however, because it would give him more attention than he deserves.
Ecumenical Interfaith Adviser of The Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Detroit, Father Jeffrey Day, spoke on behalf of the Archbishop of Detroit, Allen Vigneron.
“He is mortified that Terry Jones decided to take this (Easter) holiday (for the protest against) our Muslim neighbors with whom we have warm relations,” he said, adding that Vigneron would like to appear in support with the Muslim community at one of the events in response to Jones’ visit. “The Catholic community stands with you in solidarity,” he said, with numerous other Christian representatives offering similar sentiments during the meeting, including Father Bob Bruttell, chair of the Interfaith Leadership Council of Metropolitan Detroit. The IFLC represents members of various backgrounds including Hindus, Sikhs, Jews, Muslims, and Christians.
“The interfaith leadership should use this attention to educate on all the laws of God,” he said. “We need to link spirits and form a chain in the spirit of Allah and show that we will protect this mosque and to say that this will be the model for others on how it should be done.”
Council on American-Islamic Relations-Michigan Executive Director Dawud Walid noted the misconceptions of shari’a, pointing out that the term can refer to a set of personal guidelines within Islam, such as how to help and/or treat neighbors with love and respect and saying he would not back down from using it in such a way. He also noted that Michigan’s highly controversial Arizona style bill is another example that the battle against xenophobia could be ongoing and that the community should be ready to respond to continued public relations challenges including a possible anti-shari’a bill in Michigan like the one introduced in Oklahoma. Many view anti-shari’a bills as examples of political grandstanding and fear-mongering.
Most of those in attendance agreed that Jones’ extremist ideologies should not be given much attention, however. The theme of any demonstration should be unity, they agreed.
“I’ve been here for over 10 years and Dearborn is an example for other communities,” said Father Rani Abdulmasih of the Mother of the Savior Lutheran Church.
“We want to make sure we’re not giving him too much respect; his church members have left him…he is simply a radical and a lunatic really and I always say I don’t believe there are radical Christians or Muslims because they can’t be true Christians or Muslims.”
Osama Siblani, publisher of The Arab American News, said that Jones’ visit presents an opportunity to correct false negative images that have been spreading about Dearborn and its diverse community. “We need to respond with one voice, officials, community and interfaith leaders. We owe that to our community and to our country.”
The group tentatively scheduled an interfaith vigil on Thursday, April 21 at the ICA along with a morning press conference on Friday, April 22 and a community gathering afterward. A planning committee will also meet on Tuesday, April 12 to decide on further action.
The true meaning of shari’a and proposed laws against it
In a newsletter from the Islamic House of Wisdom this week, Imam Mohammed Elahi explained that shari’a literally means “path leading to the water (source of life).” He said different scholars have different definitions of shari’a based on their traditional backgrounds. It can be defined as a way of life, to include a foundation of faith, the rules related to spiritual obligations, and code of conduct. Muslims in America follow the shari’a in “ibadat” or religious rituals, but they follow the law of the land in “mu’amelat,” or issues related to man’s relationship to society, such as contracts, the penal code, etc.
And in an article on salon.com, writer Justin Elliott revealed that state legislators who introduce anti-shari’a bills usually can’t answer basic questions about shari’a or why they see it as a threat. And the reason why? “… many of the anti-shari’a bills being considered around the country are either based on or directly copied from model legislation created by an obscure far-right Arizona attorney and activist named David Yerushalmi,”
Elliott continued: ”…the Nebraska case is instructive. State Sen. Mark Christensen introduced a bill in January to bar the use of any foreign law in Nebraska courts. When I spoke to Christensen on Wednesday, he acknowledged he did not have a deep understanding of the issue, referring me back to his office when I asked him what cases involving sharia or foreign law were troubling to him.
“He summed up his reason for sponsoring the bill: ‘This is America. We use America’s law.’
“It turns out Christensen introduced the bill after his office was approached by the head of the local chapter of the anti-Muslim group ACT! for America, Christensen aide Dan Wiles told me. ACT! for America is a Florida-based group led by Brigitte Gabriel. In a profile last month, the New York Times detailed Gabriel’s strategy of selectively quoting the Qur’an to paint most or all Muslims as violent extremists.
“‘They came and talked to several different senators, and Sen. Christensen decided to introduce the bill,’ Wiles said, adding that he was presented with model legislation. ‘It pretty much was exactly what was drafted and introduced,’ he said. ‘Everything substantive was the same.’
“The model legislation in question originates with Yerushalmi, the Arizona lawyer who is associated with several organizations including the American Public Policy Alliance. The model anti-foreign law bill on the Public Policy Alliance’s website has been used in states including Florida, Oklahoma, Nebraska, Missouri and South Dakota. It is called ‘American Laws for American Courts.’
“Who is Yerushalmi? His background leaves little doubt that these anti-‘foreign law’ bills are designed to target shari’a.
“He has written, for example, that ‘The Muslim peoples, those committed to Islam as we know it today, are “our enemies.” A group he founded, the Society of Americans for National Existence (SANE), has reportedly advocated for a law making it a felony ‘punishable by 20 years in prison to knowingly act in furtherance of, or to support the adherence to, Islam.’ The Anti-Defamation League has also called out Yerushalmi for his ‘anti-black bigotry.'”