Wednesday, November 24, 2010

The United States of Islam



A prosperous and fast-growing Muslim-American minority is making its voice heard. Some applaud this trend. Others worry that our traditional American Judeo-Christian culture is being undermined.

Mukit Hossain is living the Islamic American Dream in the heart of the Old South.

Born and raised in Bangladesh, educated at Duke University, the former telecommunications executive had tired of his posh, suburban lifestyle two years ago and decided to become a farmer.

So he uprooted his wife and two daughters and bought a 15-acre spread just outside of Fredricksburg, Va. There, just miles from one of the Civil War’s most famous battlefields, the 49-year-old Hossain has invested a good portion of his savings in a venture to raise goats for the region’s rapidly growing Muslim market.

His wife, raised in Kuwait, heads the PTA at their children’s elementary school. One daughter is president of the student council. Like many parents with conservative values, the Hossains opted for rural life to instill stronger values in their children.

And while controversy rages around the nation over a ground zero mosque, Shariah (strict Muslim religious law) finance and home-grown terrorists, Hossain is busy expanding his business selling “halal” (ritually slaughtered) goat meat to a thriving immigrant community with roots in more than two dozen Muslim nations.

“America is not just a country — it’s an ideal,” Hossain says. “It fulfills human aspirations. You aspire to be better than what you are today. You find new challenges.”

By one measure, Muslims are the new model minority — upwardly mobile, highly educated, entrepreneurial social conservatives who believe that strong families and hard work can open doors to success in America.

Yet by another gauge, they are a suspect class: a diverse collection of races, ethnicities, and nationalities that adhere to a religion many fear is anathema to American ideals. Some — a distinct but dangerous minority, experts agree — harbor allegiances to repressive regimes and terrorist groups that consider the United States the next battleground in the clash of civilizations.

The optimistic scenario sees Muslims such as Hossain joining Jews, Catholics, and Mormons as part of the American mosaic. The nightmare is a bleak tableau similar to what is being played out in Europe, where radicalized Muslims in growing, unassimilated enclaves launch terrorist attacks and push for the recognition of Shariah in family and financial matters.
The ongoing controversy over the so-called ground zero mosque — an Islamic community center with mysterious financial backing originally planned for a site just two blocks from the scene of the World Trade Center attacks — is only the best-known among recent controversies involving Muslims around the nation.

In cities and towns across America, clashes have resulted over proposed mosques or demands for recognition and special rights for Islamic communities.

More disturbing has been a series of incidents in which Shariah has been used to justify brutality against women, discrimination, treason, and murder:

• • In New Jersey, a family court judge rejected a woman’s request for a restraining order against her husband, who had raped her. The husband claimed that, under Islamic law, the wife must submit to him “and do anything I ask her to do.” An imam called as a witness backed up the husband. The ruling was overturned on appeal, but many were alarmed that such reasoning could take place in an American court.

• • In October 2009, Luqman Ameen Abdullah, an African-American Muslim, was killed in a shootout with FBI agents in Detroit. A weapons smuggler, he was a member of a little-known Islamist network dedicated to the establishment — through violence, if necessary — of an enclave on U.S. territory to be governed by Shariah.

• • In 2006, Somali Muslim taxi drivers revealed their decade-long practice of refusing to pick up passengers at the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport who were carrying alcohol or were accompanied by dogs, including guide dogs for blind customers, because doing so violated Shariah. After the boycott became public, the Metropolitan Airports Commission proposed special lights on their cabs indicating their adherence to the ban. The idea was rejected, but if it had been approved, it would have been the first time that a public agency had established Shariah law on public property in America.

• • Incidents of Islamic honor killings also are becoming more apparent around the nation. In early 2009, Muzammil Hassan, a 44-year-old immigrant from South Asia, was charged with second-degree murder in the killing and decapitation of his 37-year-old wife, Aasiya. The couple had been known as prominent leaders in the American-Muslim community who sought better understanding of liberal Islam through Bridges TV, a television station near Buffalo, N.Y. Months later, an Iraqi immigrant ran down and killed his daughter with a Jeep because she refused an arranged marriage.

• • This past summer, 14 suspects in Minnesota, Alabama, and California were charged with funneling money and fighters to Somali terrorists. Ten of the indicted were Minnesotans who had gone back to their native Somalia to fight.

• • Taken together, these incidents represent a troubling pattern to some experts who believe that fundamentalist Islam is taking root in America and encouraging a new generation of homegrown terrorists in a “stealth jihad.”

• They point to Faisal Shahzad’s attempted car bombing in Times Square; the Fort Hood massacre, in which American-born U.S. Army Maj. Nidal Hasan killed 13 people; and the emergence of al-Qaida cleric Anwar al-Awlaki, who allegedly influenced Hasan.

• All three are Muslims who strengthened their foreign allegiances to fundamentalist Islam despite years in the United States.

Even more disturbing is the seeming reluctance of many U.S. Islamic leaders to condemn such incidents and denounce groups or individuals espousing terrorism. Critics of Islam point to an apparent lack of will among American-Muslim leaders to challenge fundamentalism in their own mosques. The critics see this as one indication that the religion simply hasn’t evolved from its medieval roots the way that Christianity or Judaism has.

“There is no significant liberal traditional within Islam as a whole,” says Robert Spencer, director of the website Jihad Watch and author of several books and a blog that examine the Koran in exhaustive detail.

Spencer adds: “There’s no equivalent within Islam of Episcopalianism or Unitarianism or reform Judaism. It doesn’t exist. The literalistic, dogmatic view of Shariah — this is the dominant mainstream of Islam.

“Fundamentalist Islam is incompatible with numerous U.S. constitutional freedoms. Any knowledgeable, devout practitioner of it is not going to be assimilating or comfortable within a societal framework that advocates equality of rights for women, freedom of speech, or non-establishment of official religions.”

But American-Muslim scholars and other experts on Islam say this outlook misinterprets Islam and further misunderstands American Muslims, many of whom came to America precisely because they reject the more draconian forms of fundamentalist Islam.

Muslims such as Hossain and others see their faith as a collection of beliefs, prayers, and practices that forms a personal code for themselves, not a law to be imposed on others.

American Muslims “benefit from the American ideal of pulling yourself up from the boot straps,” says Ihsan Bagby, an associate professor at the University of Kentucky who sits on the board of the Council of American-Islamic Relations (CAIR). “I know they are very happy about the openness in the United States.”

Pollster John Zogby, who is an Arab-American Christian, has done extensive surveys of the American-Muslim community that reveal a deeply patriotic, quite conservative stream that he likens to other minority groups such as Hispanics, Catholics, or Jews.

“In terms of Shariah law, that’s not why Muslims came here, and for those [who] are second- and third-generation Americans, they have no concept of Shariah law,” Zogby tells Newsmax, referring to Islamic religious law. “The idea that there’s some effort to institute Shariah in the United States is fiction.

“Muslims are here in America and they’re here to stay — trying to attack them with concepts like Shariah is just going to backfire on politicians who attempt it.

“They’re growing in size and they’re maturing politically as well as organizationally. They also live in all 50 states — in a way that can easily tip very close elections.”

Who Are America’s Muslims?

As with any religious or ethnic group, generalizations only go so far. But polls by Zogby, Gallup, and Pew during the past decade reveal a picture that experts generally describe politically as “big government social conservatives” remarkably similar in some ways to the Hispanic population. Most are better educated and higher earning than the overall American population — partly because immigration rules have favored skilled, hi-tech professionals during the past few decades.

They tend to favor liberal government programs on healthcare, school funding, and the environment. But Muslim views on social issues such as abortion, the death penalty, tax cuts, forcing U.S. citizens to speak English, and (perhaps surprisingly to some) tougher laws to fight terrorism place them comfortably among America’s conservative grass roots. Politically, Muslims as a group have moved back and forth between parties.

In 2000, George W. Bush won roughly 45 percent of the Muslim vote, according to Zogby. But by 2004, because of the tensions over the invasion of Iraq, the terrorist-detention facility at Guantanamo, and growing allegations of racial profiling of Muslims, Bush won just 7 percent of the vote compared with Democratic Sen. John Kerry’s 76 percent.

“I’ve talked to Muslim conservatives who asked me if I’m leaving the Republican Party. Those conversations are being had all over Washington,” says Suhail A. Khan, a former Bush administration official who is on the board of directors of the American Conservative Union. “I’ve said no, but many are. The question now is whether the damage will only be for a cycle or two or whether the GOP has lost the growing Muslim vote for a generation or more.” A Colorado native, Khan entered politics as a young Reagan Republican involved in conservative outreach in the liberal bastion of the University of California at Berkeley.

He helped organize the campus’ college Republican organization into the largest conservative campus group in California. Being a Muslim was never an issue in his conservative work until after 9/11, Khan says. Even then, he insists, as Muslims complained of racial profiling at airports and heard their religion used almost as an expletive, he felt welcome in most GOP circles.

He likens the situation among Muslims now to the conditions California conservatives faced after Gov. Pete Wilson backed Proposition 187, a ballot initiative that sought to block illegal immigrants from accessing state healthcare, public education, and other social services. Like Muslims, Hispanics are deeply conservative on social issues but feel alienated because of the GOP push against immigration.

But both political parties are to blame for the present tensions, he says.

While many GOP leaders such as Newt Gingrich and Sarah Palin have taken positions against the Manhattan Islamic center near ground zero, President Barack Obama has waffled on backing America’s Islamic community, during his campaign and through his first two years in office.

Instead of asking what’s wrong with being a Muslim when his religious beliefs are called into question, Khan says, Obama and his advisers treat any report about his childhood upbringing in Indonesia as a “smear.” Khan says he takes heart in the conservatives who have supported Muslims rights during the ground zero controversy: New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, Rep. Ron Paul, R-Texas, and Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, among others.

“I’m a committed Reagan Republican,” Khan says. “I don’t think the vast majority of Americans are racist, or prejudiced against Muslims, even those involved in the ground zero controversy.

“It’s just incumbent upon Muslim conservatives to redouble their efforts to tell the story.

“Shariah finance, stealth jihad — these terms are reminiscent of what we used to hear about American Catholics, that they were a secret group trying to take over the American government, trying to extend papal control over America.

They would say that American Catholics couldn’t possibly be loyal to the American government and Constitution because of their ties to Rome.

“But no Muslim I know is trying to extend Taliban-like Shariah in the United States. If you look at the Muslims involved in the mosque controversy, they’re not running to Shariah. They’re running to the U.S. Constitution and the First Amendment. ”

Many Muslims ended up in America after fleeing repressive governments in Iran, Somalia, Sudan, and elsewhere that use fundamentalist interpretations of Shariah to crush political opponents and limit the freedoms of women and ethnic and religious minorities.

The recent controversy over the planned Islamic center near ground zero not only has revealed a yearning among many Muslims to be accepted as Americans, but also has brought to the fore the diversity of viewpoints within American Islam.

A number of American Muslims, for example, have been quite vocal in their opposition to the ground zero mosque. Shaimaa Aly, 29, who just earned her MBA from Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa, thinks organizers behind the Manhattan mosque should seriously rethink their plans before proceeding any further.

“If it is going to increase tension — even make it worse — there’s no need for it,” Aly says. She’s quite open about her appreciation of the “human rights” she has in the United States compared with her native Egypt.

She says she is also particularly thankful for America’s healthcare system, which she credits for the well-being of her 6-year-old son, who has a congenital medical condition.

Another prominent Muslim who was quite open in her criticism of the Manhattan Islamic project was Rima Fakih, a 25-year-old from Dearborn, Mich., who recently was crowned Miss USA. Fakih urges Muslim advocates to be sensitive to the feelings of victims of 9/11 and think more carefully about what is at stake for both communities.

“We should be more concerned with the [9/11] tragedy than religion,” she told reporters in August as the controversy was growing. Many Muslims like Fakih are quite aware they are living at a historic moment for the future of Islam in America. Their growing numbers and increasing prominence in areas such as business, politics, science, and academia put them under a microscope.

Though they bristle at what they perceive as racial profiling in airports and other places, many understand that they have a special responsibility both to their faith and their nation as it faces threats from the more radical elements within Islam.

Spiritual Tipping Point

The next few decades will likely determine whether Islam can truly become a reliable piece of the American mosaic.
“For spiritual growth, our faith needs modernization,” says Dr. Zuhdi Jasser, a retired U.S. naval officer and the son of Syrian political refugees.

He has treated U.S. Supreme Court Justices, senators, and congressmen and says he fully understands non-Muslim doubts about the status of Islam in the United States.

Jasser, who now practices internal medicine and nuclear cardiology in Phoenix, has started the American Islamic Forum for Democracy to fight against Muslim extremists. Moderate American Muslims can help reforms by making sure Shariah doesn’t become part of the American tradition, he says. “We must fight political Islam,” Jasser adds.

Yet extremist strains continue to trouble many mosques, charities, and other organizations that are considered mainstream to many in the Muslim community. Experts such as Spencer consider some of these institutions to be fronts for the Muslim Brotherhood, a group founded in Egypt in the 1920s that ostensibly renounced violence there but whose members have founded terrorist groups such as al-Qaida and Hamas, the group that controls the Gaza Strip and calls for the extermination of Israel. The imam behind the ground zero mosque is the most recent such example.

Though nearly every Muslim interviewed for this article described him a mainstream example of liberal, tolerant Islam, Feisal Abdul Rauf has made controversial statements over the years. He has shied from denouncing Hamas, has defended Iran’s fundamentalist clerics, and has criticized American foreign policy in false terms several times.

“We tend to forget, in the West, that the United States has more Muslim blood on its hands than al-Qaida has on its hands of innocent non-Muslims,” Rauf said in one 2005 talk that was captured on video. “You may remember that the U.S.-led sanction against Iraq led to the death of over half a million Iraqi children.”

But even liberal groups have said that statistic is exaggerated. A Columbia University study estimated that 106,000 to 227,000 children died during the imposed sanctions. Furthermore, The Nation magazine argued in 2001 that sanctions were not as much to blame for the deaths as Saddam Hussein’s corrupt handling of U.N. humanitarian aid.

Extremism recently entangled a Muslim charity in Texas linked to Hamas. Nearly two years ago, the Richardson-based Holy Land Foundation and five of its leaders were found guilty of illegally funneling $12 million to Hamas, even after the United States had declared it a terrorist group in 1995.

After a mistrial, federal prosecutors convinced jurors in a second trial that the foundation “cooperated with Hamas fundraising” even though the charity “knew it to be violent and engaged in criminal conduct,” says Peter Margulies, a Roger Williams University law professor who studies terrorism financing. The case is on appeal. As part of a massive indictment, U.S. prosecutors labeled about 300 Muslims and Muslim groups as “unindicted co-conspirators,” or “joint venturers,” including such well-known nonprofits as the Islamic Society of North America and CAIR.

Frank Gaffney, founder and president of the Center for Security Policy in Washington, D.C., along with Spencer and others who monitor Islamist groups, consider CAIR to be yet another major front for the Muslim Brotherhood operations in the United States.

Other fault lines for Islam in the United States cut through cultural grounds. Many Americans fear that groups such as CAIR, which describes itself as a civil rights organization, are pushing for special rights for Muslim communities that place them outside of American values.

The Ann Arbor, Mich.-based Thomas More Law Center has been at the forefront of legal actions to stop Shariah-based rights that groups around the nation are seeking. It unsuccessfully sued a California public school district to block its use of textbooks that taught Islamic prayers and practices to elementary students. An appeals court agreed with a judge that the text was not trying to evangelize but rather teach about Islam.

This past summer, the law firm fought charges against four Christians arrested for attempting to talk about their faith at a public Arab arts festival in Dearborn, Mich. Two of the arrested are converts from Islam — Muslims are forbidden from joining a new faith, according to Shariah.

The four “were not loud or boisterous yet the police came and arrested them,” says Richard Thompson, president and chief counsel of the Thomas More Law firm. A YouTube video showed police handcuffing the four and taking them away to jail, where they spent the night.

Evangelists were arrested in 2009 at the same festival, and this year’s participants say in a YouTube video that they purposely avoided conflict by talking only to festival-goers who approached them.

The city of Dearborn is denying discrimination, and a trial took place in September. Some, however, think the case shows the imbalance in the United States.

“What is happening is the government is taking the side of Muslims,” Thompson says. But many Muslims say some confuse normal, observant rituals of Islam with Shariah. Throughout the United States, comfortable accommodations are being made simply so that religious Muslims can fast, observe the call to prayer, or bury their loved ones in a traditional manner.

Beauty queen Fakih’s brother Rami plays wide receiver and running back on the football team at Fordson High in Dearborn. The school’s student body is 85 percent Arab-American, and the city recently approved a local mosque’s request that the daily call to prayer be played on loudspeakers, as it is done in many Islamic nations.

During the Ramadan holiday, the high school was among the few in the nation to allow the football team to practice from 11 p.m. to 4 a.m., as Muslim players were not supposed to eat or drink from dawn to sundown during the month-long religious holiday.

Rami says practicing at night could be confusing, and he would forget that he could drink water during practice.

“Then I remember, you know,” he says. “I look up. There’s no sun. I can drink. I can eat.”

Disquieting Presence

As the pace of mosque construction accelerates nationally, many communities find themselves at odds with the idea of a visible Islamic symbol in their midst.
Even though the FBI shows Muslims are seldom the victims of hate crimes, community activist Zainab Elberry in Nashville worries about violence. She has reason: Her community has contended with attacks against three Islamic worship centers.

First a small mosque was torched in 2008 in rural Tennessee about 40 miles from Nashville; the suspect was convicted and sentenced to 14 years in prison. The Al-Farooq Mosque in Nashville was vandalized this year with “Muslim Go Home” and other graffiti splashed on its walls.

Then in August, a mosque being built about 25 miles south of Nashville was vandalized. A suspicious fire damaged construction equipment. “It’s quite disconcerting,” Elberry says. “This thing is accelerating. People don’t understand what Islam is.”

Tennesseans are concerned about thousands of Muslim refugees brought to the Nashville area as part of a U.S. resettlement program, for Africans and thousands of Kurds from Iraq, Elberry says.

Then there are the cultural differences, such as the different way Muslims bury their deceased. Muslims believe in burying bodies in white cloths, not coffins. That has raised concerns about possible contamination of groundwater.

The issue also has been raised in eastern Connecticut where Muslims proposed a cemetery.

Groundwater isn’t affected, Elberry says, but longtime residents haven’t been persuaded.

Also stoking mosque fears, she says, is the furor over the Islamic center near ground zero. But Elberry says, “People should be able to build mosques wherever they want. Our people died innocently too [during the 9/11 attacks]. People died of all faiths.”

Although many Muslims praise Shariah for providing them with Islamic-based rules to live morally, Thompson believes the system “is the exact opposite of the U.S. Constitution and the Western way of life.”

“We have taken the lead in fighting what we think is the foremost threat to security of the United States and that is Shariah law,” Thompson says.

Often, Thompson says, local, state, and U.S. government agencies will quash free speech to appease Muslims.

Thompson’s firm sued Miami-Dade (Fla.) County — and won — when buses there refused to accept paid advertising that advised people where they could receive help if they wanted to leave Islam.

His firm also filed suit — and ultimately convinced New York — to run ads on buses from the same company that now is advertising its opposition to the mosque and community center near ground zero.

Critics consider the advertisers an anti-Muslim organization.

Many Muslim-Americans also are divided over Shariah.
Some say Muslim-Americans practicing their own personal Shariah is a night and day difference from that practiced in poorer, predominantly Muslim nations.

Michaela Corning, a 30-something Seattle businesswoman, who converted to Islam, says Shariah is not about “holy jihad” and stoning women. Rather, she says, it is a set of principles for Muslims to go by, “just like what is in the Talmud” that Orthodox Jews respect and follow.

“Shariah is actually positive,” Corning says.

Nevertheless, many other Muslim-Americans say they also don’t want Shariah institutionalized in America.

Pardis Afshar says her family came to the United States to escape Iran’s Shariah. When she visits Iran she says she notices how many Iranians rebel, such as taxi drivers refusing to pick up passengers dressed in religious garb. There is tension between the religious and those who just want to be left alone, she says.

“Honestly, I don’t think it is any way to run a country,” says Afshar who just graduated from college last spring and landed a job on a newspaper on Florida’s West Coast. “The laws do not make any sense. They might have made sense in the 1600s, but not now.

“I was not really raised knowing Islam,” she adds. “I went to a church and synagogue before a mosque.” Still, she says she considers herself a Muslim and she practices its moral tenets. So does Dr. Jasser. Both feel Islam has enriched them. But Jasser says, he doesn’t want an imam preaching politics. He has walked out of mosques where they did.

It’s too painful for him. His family was persecuted by a Syrian government that used Islam to hurt others. His mother and father fled to America. They cherish how Uncle Sam separates faith from state. “My parents immediately felt American,” he adds. “They believed in Western thought and freedom. So do I.”

That freedom, he believes, has helped make Muslim-Americans so successful. Where else, he asks, could a refugee boy become a doctor — and end up treating his adopted country’s top leaders?

1 comment:

  1. I wish; not only for the Muslims- but all of US catch the AMERICAN FEVER.

    Today, we have been blinded by the Politician/Clergy and others; who, with their interest in mind, Over-shadow our Country's GLORY.


    "With Liberty and justice for ALL"

    Let our FREEDOMS RING to all who cherish...


    Window Man