There is a growing sentiment in America that the religion of Islam is a fundamental threat to this nation’s existence.
A September Washington Post/ABC poll found that 49 percent of Americans disapprove of the Muslim religion. Some even believe that there is a complex plot by Muslims to somehow take over the free world.
Several prominent figures have repeatedly suggested such a conspiracy. “To make us feel better and allow us to ‘get on with our lives,’ we make believe the jihadists are a tiny minority and not ‘mainstream Islam,’” suggested Cal Thomas, a conservative syndicated columnist whose work appears in more than 550 publications. “But what if they are mainstream – part of an elaborate conspiracy designed to dupe the West while the infiltration of Britain, America and all of Europe continues unabated?”
Imam Mikal Saahir of the Nur-Allah Islamic Center in Indianapolis thinks this belief is misguided, as many Muslims view members of other religions in a friendly way. “We believe that God made all people,” he explains. “The Quran tells us to come together with other ‘people of the book’ to find what we have in common and build on that. Jews, Christians and Muslims are all from the seed of Abraham. We have kinship with them.”
Nonetheless, several recent incidents indicate an anti-Muslim sentiment is taking physical form. One example is that of Michael Enright, a 21-year-old film student from New York City who allegedly proclaimed himself a patriot after being arrested for the stabbing of a Muslim cab driver. This is just one of several anti-Muslim incidents of arson, vandalism and violence that the Justice Department is currently investigating.
A proposed Muslim Cultural Center near ground zero in New York City has sparked death threats to the family of founder Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, despite the fact that he has repeatedly stressed the importance of peace and understanding between religions. Both an off-track betting site and a strip club are closer to the plaza and face little opposition.
Then there is the situation with Terry Jones, the Florida pastor who threatened to start “International Burn a Quran Day” on Sept. 11. It took the pleas of Gen. David Petraeus, President Obama and even the pope to prevent Jones, who authored Islam Is of the Devil, and his church from burning hundreds of copies of the Muslim holy book by pointing out that it would likely endanger American soldiers overseas.
Examples of this sentiment are not confined to individual citizens. In some cases, legislators are joining in. A prime example is that of Rex Duncan, a Republican state representative from Oklahoma. He has proposed a referendum banning all state courts from using Sharia (Muslim) law in their decisions. “Sharia law has come to Great Britain,” he said recently on the “Sean Hannity Show.” “I have described it as a cancer.”
Critics maintain that, given Oklahoma is less than 1 percent Muslim, the adoption of Sharia law is extremely unlikely. Others say the referendum is unnecessary, as using Sharia (or any other religious) law in an American courtroom is already prohibited by the First Amendment.
It is clear, however, that Duncan’s motivation is not the separation of church and state. He has voted yes on bills requiring the Ten Commandments be posted at the entrance to the state Capitol and that allow students to organize religious clubs in public schools.
If the prevention of terrorism motivates Duncan, he is being very selective. Ironically, his state is the site of the second largest act of terror in American history, the Oklahoma City bombing. A key reason that Timothy McVeigh, a former NRA member, decided to commit the act was restrictions on gun rights. However, according to rexduncan.com, Duncan is “a life member of the NRA and the primary author of NRA-endorsed legislation.”
Critics would argue that viewing the actions of a disgruntled NRA member as an isolated incident while writing legislation casting a negative light on Muslims, who number over a billion people worldwide, is an extreme double standard.
Saahir finds this referendum quite troubling. “First of all, Mohammed asked us to respect the laws and customs of the land we are in,” he explains. “Any Muslim following Mohammed the prophet has no plans to bring Sharia law to America. Secondly, even in Muslim countries, Sharia law varies. When I went to Sudan, the laws were different than when I went to Saudi Arabia, and both of those were different than what I saw in Jordan. There is no universal law. This causes irrational fear.”
However, Saahir believes anti-Muslim crime, speech and legislation can be overcome by compassion and understanding. “The more we hear about ‘Islamophobia,’ the more we hear from other people that support the way we live,” he says. “We do a lot of interfaith work. I recently got an e-mail from a local church saying that the actions of pastor Jones are not Christianity. They asked us to come read the Quran at their church. If we can have the courage to step outside of our comfort zone and look at things from a different perspective, we would recognize that we can peacefully coexist.”