Salaam alaykum. Peace be unto you. Good evening.
Before we begin our discussion, I want to offer some good news.
The day before the 2012 presidential election there were 11 members of Congress routinely making use of anti-Muslim themes. (The full report on the electoral fate of the anti-Muslim caucus can be seen here.)
Four of them will not be returning to Congress in January.
Florida’s Allen West, who claims Islam is not a religion and asserts that Muslims are a “fifth column,” lost his race. Be assured that Muslims played a role in bringing about that electoral defeat.
Similarly, Illinois’s Joe Walsh, who cast suspicion on all Muslims, and Minnesota’s Chip Cravaack, who asserted that a mainstream Muslim organization was a terrorist group, lost their races.
Finally, Rep. Sue Myrick of North Carolina retired. A few years ago she held a press conference where she alleged that Muslim interns on Capitol Hill were spies. You may also recall her 2003 warning about a previously unnoticed security threat because, "You know, look at who runs all the convenience stores across the country. Every little town you go into, you know?”
I have one other item of good news. Islam’s favorability rating, last time it was polled in 2010, stood at 30 percent according to Pew Research Center.
As of August, 2012 Congress’s favorability rating is 10 percent.
We are still more popular than Congress.
Upholding the Constitution
We here tonight are among those who are on the front lines of protecting the Constitution from people who, selling anti-Muslim stereotypes and fear, seek to return America to a legal system that treats one group of Americans as different from others.
Worse, if you pay attention to Islamophobes like Pamela Geller or David Yerushalmi, there are those who appear to seek the rebirth of South African apartheid with religion as its new targeted class.
Indulge me, please, while I offer proof of what I just said.
First, we will look at efforts to legislate government-sanctioned discrimination against Muslims.
In 2011 and 2012, 78 bills or amendments aimed at interfering with Islamic religious practices were considered in 31 states and the U.S. Congress.
Sixty-two of these bills contained language that was extracted from Islamophobe David Yerushalmi’s American Laws for American Courts (ALAC) model legislation.
(As an aside: An internet search of “David Yerushalmi” returns results demonstrating his call for a “WAR AGAINST ISLAM and all the Muslim faithful.” You will also see his anti-woman, anti-black and similarly biased comments on the first results page. It is reasonable to be alarmed that a man so central to that anti-Islam hate movement in the United States is able to have real impact on legislators.)
73 of these bills were introduced solely by Republicans. Not just fringe legislators, but in too many cases this included state-level GOP party leadership.
Bills were signed into law in Arizona, Kansas, South Dakota, Tennessee, Oklahoma and Louisiana.
I want you to be clear that this anti-Sharia movement is really a cover for Islamophobic sentiment.
In Tennessee, the original bill’s definition of “Sharia” was, in practical terms, the entire religious tradition of Islam. It stated that “Sharia” encompasses all content derived from “any of the authoritative schools of Islamic jurisprudence of Hanafi, Maliki, Shafi’i, Hanbali, Ja’afariya, or Salafi.”
They wanted to make being a Muslim illegal in Tennessee.
South Dakota anti-Islam bill sponsor Phil Jensen (R-District 33) told an audience, “It is alarming how many of our sisters and daughters who attend American universities are now marrying Muslim men.”
In Pennsylvania, the bill itself included no mention of Islam. However, in a memo to all House members urging them to co-sponsor the bill, Rep. Rosemarie Swanger (R-District 102) falsely claimed that Sharia is "inherently hostile to our constitutional liberties."
Later, Swanger claimed she “had no idea how [the memo] was going to be written” and that it was never circulated. Swanger also claimed that it was leaked by “someone who is not my friend.”(iv)
Her claim strains credibility, given that the memo, with Swanger’s signature, was easily found on the Pennsylvania state legislature’s website.
As you may have already concluded, these legislators frequently have no idea what they are talking about.
The Star Assistant in Alabama reported, “But no one—not even Sen. Gerald Allen, who sponsored the bill—can point to examples of Muslims trying to have Islamic law recognized in Alabama courts.”(viii)
That inability to point to actual examples is a pattern by the way.
Allen could not even define Sharia. When asked he said, “I don’t have my file in front of me.”
When pressed about why the Alabama bill’s definition of sharia matched one found in Wikipedia, Allen’s legislative staff “confirmed that the definition was in fact pulled from Wikipedia.”
Now college students that I know tell me that Wikipedia is not a valid citation in their papers. I find it intriguing that it is, however, a valid source for things that may become the law of the land.
Texas legislator Leo Berman said his bill was necessary because he had heard, but apparently had not actually tried to confirm, that one American town was allowing judges to use sharia. “I heard it on a radio station here on my way into the Capitol one day. I don’t know Dearborn, Michigan but I heard it [Sharia law is accepted there] on the radio. Isn’t that true?”
The Kansas City Star’s Jason Noble reported that anti-Islam bill sponsors, “Missouri Reps. Paul Curtman and Don Wells agree there’s no evidence that state courts are judging cases based on Islamic principles of foreign laws.” Challenged again a month later, Curtman still could not provide an example.
Missouri Speaker of the House Stephen Tilley also “could not provide an example of foreign law trumping domestic law in Missouri courts,” reported Politicalmo.com. The article noted that Tilley’s office later issued a statement outlining one case in New Jersey, but that poor ruling--which in fact received no support from Muslim groups because it involved a man claiming it was his religious right to rape his wife--was rightfully overturned by a higher court.
The news here is fairly straightforward: Yes, they have passed anti-Islam laws in six states. Yes, they will try again in 2013. But by upholding the Constitution, we can preserve everyone’s liberty.
CAIR is in the forefront of asserting this principle of free religious exercise. The Constitution is the law of the land and we like it that way. We agree with people of the Jewish and Catholic faiths, who already have an established tradition of using religious mediation, that, within the law, we are free to make choices in accordance with our faith.
In accordance with Islam, my marriage contract required me to pay a mahr to my wife. Why anyone would be upset with a woman getting money up front that is hers to invest as she sees fit I have no clue.
In accordance with Islam, my home financing involves no interest. Similarly, my financial investment strategy avoids putting money into gambling, pornography and weapons manufacturing. I have no idea why anyone would think such things are a threat to American democracy.
So let’s turn back to the anti-Islam legislation.
CAIR’s lawsuit against Oklahoma’s anti-Islam constitutional amendment asserts that the law would violate the First Amendment, which says no law can be passed that promotes or vilifies a particular religion, and the Supremacy clause, which says the Constitution is and will remain the highest law of the land. Interestingly, CAIR gets accused of trying to subvert the Constitution while we are making these arguments this constitutionally-subversive legislation.
So far, four federal judges have ruled in our favor and that law is on hold.
An appeals court ruling on the legal challenge concluded in part that arguments, “that the proposed state amendment expressly condemns [the plaintiff’s] religion and exposes him and other Muslims in Oklahoma to disfavored treatment -- suffices to establish the kind of direct injury-in-fact necessary to create Establishment Clause standing.” The ruling also notes, "Appellants [those representing the state of Oklahoma] do not identify any actual problem the challenged amendment seeks to solve. Indeed, they admitted at the preliminary injunction hearing that they did not know of even a single instance where an Oklahoma court had applied Sharia law or used the legal precepts of other nations or cultures..."
In Minnesota, the legislator who was going to introduce an anti-Islam bill pulled the idea within hours of a CAIR-led press conference.
Similarly, in New Jersey a law maker withdrew an anti-Islam bill and met with Muslim community leaders following CAIR’s intervention. In other states including Pennsylvania, Florida, and Michigan, CAIR played a crucial role in efforts that succeeded in ending proposed limits on American religious freedom.
Recently, a hearing on an anti-Islam bill in Pennsylvania was cancelled after CAIR, along with Christian and Jewish partner groups, began to raise concerns about it.
Mainstream Candidates Willing to Subject Muslims to Unequal Treatment
As a second example that Muslims need to defend our faith in order to uphold the Constitution let’s look at the recent presidential election.
Herman Cain was for a while the frontrunner for the GOP’s presidential nomination.
Speaking to Christianity Today on March 11, 2011, Cain said that followers of the “Muslim religion” have “an objective to convert all infidels or kill them.”
Cain also said that Muslims who wanted to serve in his administration would have to take loyalty oaths. He explained to Fox News host Glenn Beck that he would not require similar oaths from Mormons or Catholics, “Because there is a greater dangerous part of the Muslim faith than there is in these other religions.”
Article VI of the U.S. Constitution says there is no “religious test” for public office.
So, here we have a man, a frontrunner, committing to undermining the Constitution. Did he get tossed from the stage?
He got applause.
Rick Santorum, also a frontrunner for a time, endorsed religious profiling during one of the GOP presidential debates, saying, "Obviously, Muslims would be someone you'd look at." In January, 2012 journalists brought attention to a lengthy Islamophobic rant Santorum gave in 2007 at David Horowitz’s “Second Annual Academic Freedom Conference.” Santorum asserted that in order to “win” against a vaguely-defined Muslim enemy Americans must “…educate, engage, evangelize and eradicate."
A former Speaker of the U.S. House, Newt Gingrich, yet another onetime frontrunner for the GOP presidential nomination, told an audience that he feared that by the time his grandchildren reach his age “they will be in a secular atheist country, potentially one dominated by radical Islamists and with no understanding of what it once meant to be an American.”According to Gingrich sharia is a "mortal threat to the survival of freedom in the United States."
The good news here? Even the Republican-party nominating process, which as we have heard in the news lately, pushes candidates too far right to win a mainstream presidential election ultimately rejected this kind of extremism. That’s good, but each man was in turn the frontrunner.
Other Attempts to Strip Muslims of Equal Treatment Under the Law
Public groups also seek to strip Muslims of equal protection under the Constitution.
According to Brian Fischer of the Islamophobic American Family Association the First Amendment does not apply to Muslims. “Islam has no fundamental First Amendment claims, for the simple reason that it was not written to protect the religion of Islam,” Fisher wrote in a blog post.
Similar to Fischer, a lawyer opposing a mosque expansion in Murfreesboro, Tenn. argued in court that Islam is not a religion and is therefore not protected by the First Amendment. Lawyers representing the Federal government submitted a brief to the judge in that case arguing that yes, Islam actually is a religion. We appreciated that, but reasonable people find that it was even needed to be somewhat surreal.
The Oak Initiative, a group whose name pops up more than once in association with anti-Islam legislation, says through its mouthpiece retired Lieutenant General William G. "Jerry" Boykin, that "[Islam] should not be protected under the First Amendment" and that there should be "no mosques in America."
The Family Leader, an Iowa-based Christian conservative group, asked GOP presidential candidates to sign a “marriage vow” pledge that proclaimed their opposition to “Sharia Islam and all other anti-woman, anti-human-rights forms of totalitarian control.”
In its original form, the pledge also contained troubling language regarding Africa-Americans: ‘Slavery had a disastrous impact on African-American families, yet sadly a child born into slavery in 1860 was more likely to be raised by his mother and father in a two-parent household than was an African-American baby born after the election of the USA's first African-American President.”
Michelle Bachman, Rick Santorum and Rick Perry signed the pledge.
Rep. Peter King’s Anti-Muslim Hearings
As a final example, I will point to a use of one of our nation’s highest public forums--the halls of the U.S. Congress--as a place to justify different treatment of Muslims.
Rep. Peter King (R-NY) held a series of five anti-Muslim hearings in Congress in 2011 and 2012.
For seven years prior to the first hearing, King had maintained that “80%, 85% of the mosques in this country are controlled by Islamic fundamentalists" and that average Muslims "are loyal," but "don't come forward, they don't tell the police what they know. They won't turn in their own.”
Throughout the hearings, CAIR was among those in the forefront of exposing King’s record of anti-Muslim statements and false allegations against our community.
King spent a lot of the first hearing attacking CAIR, which tells me we were doing a good job. They do not attack you when you are not relevant.
Afterward, CAIR produced the only comprehensive study of the first four hearings and exposed the truth: after eight years, four hearings and 18 witnesses, King failed to produce the promised evidence to support his stigmatization of America’s Muslims.
Not a single witness attempted to factually validate the allegation of a Muslim community run by extremists. Five of the six law enforcement representatives who testified did not support King’s assertion that Muslims do not cooperate with law enforcement. Instead, these witnesses described “strong relationships” with Somali Muslims, “strong bonds” with the American Muslim community and “outreach and engagement with Muslim communities.”
The Targeting of Islamic Places of Worship
Sadly, in a move that mirrors past efforts targeting African-American churches with acts of intimidation, our places of worship have become targets of hate.
Ramadan 2012—which started on Friday, July 20 and ended at sun down on Saturday, August 18—saw one of the worst spikes of anti-Muslim incidents in over a decade.
In the first seven months of 2012, there were 10 incidents in which Muslim places of worship were targeted. In thirteen days in August, the days immediately after theshocking murders of Sikh worshippers in Wisconsin, there were 8 incidents inwhich Muslim places of worship were targeted.
Incidents in Illinois included shots fired at a mosque in Morton Grove and an acid bomb thrown at an Islamic school in Lombard. In other states, a mosque was burned to the ground in Joplin, Mo., vandals sprayed an Oklahoma mosque with paintballs, pigs legs were thrown at a mosque-site in California, and a firebomb was thrown at a Muslim family's home in Panama City, Fla.
In August, a CAIR team went on a national tour to support communities targeted by hatred and bigotry. First, they traveled to Joplin to meet with law enforcement officials and community leaders about the fire that destroyed the mosque. Then they were in Murfreesboro, Tenn., for the opening of a mosque that has been targeted for years by a campaign of Islamophobia. Finally, CAIR staffers went to Wisconsin to meet with Muslim community leaders and to pay a condolence visit to the Milwaukee-area Sikh temple that was targeted in a white supremacist's killing spree.
Optimism Can Reign Supreme
Threats to equal treatment are not new to America.
In fact, the Constitution as originally enacted treated black people as three-fifths of a human being and left them as property. Women were denied the seemingly basic equal treatment of getting to cast a vote in a presidential election until 1920. Those insults to humanitarian principle were rectified.
Even after slavery was ended, African-Americans were subjected to horrible treatment and discriminatory laws.
They did not hide.
Rev. Martin Luther King was wire-tapped by federal authorities. In an FBI memo, he was called the “most dangerous and effective negro leader in America.” J. Edgar Hoover called him a “degenerate.”
Today, they get King’s birthday off as a Federal Holiday.
I look to Japanese Americans as a prime inspiration and source of hope. Like Muslims, as a group they were blamed for an attack on this country. They were placed in internment camps. We likely have them to thank as the reason we were not similarly treated. They were vocal. They organized and after forty years of their hard work, the government acknowledged that what was done to them was wrong.
In fact, we inherit a rich tradition of standing up for an America that is based on a level playing field. Catholics were discriminated against. Jews were discriminated against. Mormons have been discriminated against. Each in turn has pushed back.
Today, it is our turn to push back.
I guarantee you that bias and efforts to treat someone as an enemy other will shift. We must push back to honor those before us and to ensure that the next targeted group does not say, “The Muslims failed us.”
A final thought. Before he became a prophet, Muhammad (peace be upon him) was known as Al-Ameen, the Trustworthy. He did not lie. He kept his word.
We as Muslims must consider this. Most Americans were introduced to our faith on 9/11 watching an airplanes slam into buildings. That was followed by repeated media images of crazy men in caves threatening Americans with a violent, brutal death.
We in this room know that such monstrosities are heretical. They are incompatible with any understanding of Islam. We know Islam compels us to be trustworthy.
But I wonder how many of our neighbors retain that image of planes and crazy in their deeper emotional places and are unsure if we are trustworthy. They may harbor, even unwanted, a concern that maybe the bigots who claim Muslims are an existential threat to America are right.
We must, each as an individual and in partnership with institutions like CAIR, strive to become known in America as the Trustworthy. We do that by upholding the Constitution for everyone. We do that by being a benefit to them and preventing harm from coming to them.
I know you are committed to this idea. I pray you will join us putting faith into action.