This Fourth of July, American Muslims across the country will be celebrating the birth of our nation and its political freedoms. I will personally be hosting a traditional halal barbeque with my friends and neighbors that will be capped off with some festive fireworks – a benefit of living in the great Commonwealth of Virginia.
Inshallah (Arabic for “God-willing”), this will be the first Fourth of July cookout that my four-year-old son will remember as he gets to eat glazed honey smoked ribs, chicken tandoori, and red, white and blue layered flag cake* with sparklers atop. This year we will make sure to have the National Symphony Orchestra’s Independence Day Concert playing on the background. On this day I am usually found listening to the Boston Pops in a small coastal town just south of Boston at my mother’s house, but wanted to spare my family from Interstate 95’s holiday traffic.
What my son won’t see behind everyone’s smiles and laughter is the anxiety and fear that many American Muslims have on their minds – worry over reports of increasing anti-Muslim violence; hate crimes; acts of vandalism and arson against our houses of worship; bullying of our children in school and discrimination as they enter the workforce; anti-Muslim hate rallies across the country; government sanction discrimination like President Trump’s Muslim Ban, to be decided by the Supreme Court in October; religious questioning of American Muslim travelers by CBP; a return to the FBI placing Muslims that travel abroad on the No-Fly List, effectively exiling Muslim citizens; anti-Muslim hate groups training sheriff departments across the country; and, local city councils and zoning boards denying Muslim communities permission to build new mosques, schools and community centers.
Having to surmount these social and legal challenges that threaten our nation’s shared principles, values and constitutional rights, American Muslims and their many allies take refuge in the very foundational document that gave birth to our nation, the United States Declaration of Independence.
Published on July 4, 1776, its preamble declares in part “that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” It is an inclusive ideal that has not always been lived up to and every generation of our nation has uniquely struggled to work towards.
Every Fourth of July – as we celebrate our national independence – we get a chance to recommit ourselves to supporting these certain unalienable rights regardless of race, religion or creed. Like our founders, “We mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes, and our sacred Honor.”
This Fourth of July, many Muslims will be celebrating the holiday with the understanding that whatever threat exists to our rights and liberties, or looms over other communities, it will be overcome by our nation redeclaring its commitment to what makes America great, that everyone from shore to shore is welcomed and provided the guarantee of equality before the law.
U.S. Muslims like all other Americans really do have a lot to celebrate this Fourth of July.
*The Red, White and Blue Layered Flag Cake recipe can be found here. I hope that I get it right.
The FBI under the Trump Administration has apparently revived extra-judicial exile, a tactic that prevents American citizens from returning to the United States without any judicial process. This practice is at odds with U.S. law that requires the government to allow citizens to enter the country.
In June 2017, Imam Yussuf Awadir Abdi, an American citizen and imam (Muslim religious leader) of Madina Masjid in Salt Lake City, Utah, traveled to Kenya to accompany his wife and children on their return to the United States. All members of his family are either United States citizens or have permission to enter and reside in this country. While he was abroad, Imam Abdi was added to the No-fly List and subsequently prevented from boarding his flight home.
On June 16th CAIR filed an emergency lawsuit on Abdi’s behalf in the United States District Court for the District of Utah. The government was not able to produce a credible reason as to why Imam Abdi was being barred from returning home to the U.S.
The FBI has never acknowledged the existence of extra-judicial exile as an agency tactic, policy or program. However, after several years of intense public pressure and lawsuits filed by CAIR, ACLU, and the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC); mounting congressional inquiries to the FBI’s liaison office; and, increasing reports in the media – the practice appeared to be abandoned in 2013.
Then came Imam Abdi. Thankfully, CAIR’s emergency lawsuit compelled the United States to allow Imam Abdi to board a flight and return to his family and congregation in Utah.
Without intervention, Imam Abdi would have been unable to return home in time for the last 10 nights of the holy month of Ramadan -- the most important nights of the month – where he is now leading prayers each night at his mosque. The last 10 nights of Ramadan began on the evening of June 15.
The FBI’s resurrection of its extra-judicial exile program may in part be a response to the Trump Administration continued public support for its unconstitutional and discriminatory “Muslim Ban” – an unlawful set of executive orders that have been halted in several federal circuit courts. If the Trump Administration publicly supports banning entire nations of Muslims, then it is extremely likely the FBI feels free to return to banning individual American Muslims.
How Extrajudicial Exile Works
As CAIR has noted previously, “Many of these U.S. citizens pose no security risk and are victims of unwarranted or incorrect placement on the government’s no-fly list or other federal watchlists. Most often, when attempting to return home while abroad, these U.S. citizens are informed at the airport that they have been barred from flying or placed on the no-fly list, often by the FBI. They are often coerced into submitting to interviews with FBI agents or foreign law enforcement while being denied legal counsel.”
In all cases these American citizens at the time of their ordeal faced no criminal charges in their destination country, no criminal charges in the U.S. or outstanding allegations of wrongdoing. In all cases these Americans could return to the U.S. only after intense public appeals, media coverage, and legal challenges. In many cases they presumably remain on the no-fly list.
How Congress Can End Extra-Judicial Exile
CAIR believes that the government is depriving these citizens one of the most basic rights of American citizenship: The right to be in the U.S. The Fourteenth Amendment’s citizenship guarantees prohibit the government from any action that curtails or restricts the citizenship rights of Americans. This protection extends to citizens residing in the U.S. and returning home after traveling abroad.
Last year Republican legislators, backed by groups including CAIR, the American Civil Liberties Union, and the National Riﬂe Association, opposed “No Fly, No Buy” legislation because it violated the due process rights of those placed on the watch lists. Many in congress already understand that federal watch list system has high error rates and listed individuals are unable to adequately challenge their designation.
Congress should act now by immediately requesting the Justice Department’s Office of the Inspector General to investigate the FBI’s practice of placing Americans on the no-fly list while they are traveling abroad.
It should be determined how many cases of extrajudicial exile the FBI has engaged in; how many of these citizens were able to return home; how many remain abroad; and, what follow-up the FBI effected in such cases.
Congress should also work to ensure that national security and law enforcement agencies (such as the NCTC, TSC, FBI, DHS, CBP, ICE, and TSA) only place American citizens on the no-fly list if they pose an imminent or violent criminal threat to aviation security.
Finally, Congress should take steps to ensure that Americans who have been charged with no crime can board a flight back to the United States.
By Nihad Awad
A Christian professor at an Illinois college is now facing being fired by that academic institution because she sought to show solidarity with American Muslim women by wearing an Islamic headscarf, or hijab. Perhaps her greater “sin” in the eyes of college officials was the professor’s repetition of a quote by Pope Francis saying that Christians and Muslims worship the same God.
By: Hannah Sharim, Age 17
A phobia is defined as an extreme or irrational fear of someone or something. Most people are afraid of spiders, small spaces, heights, or the dark. But phobia takes a new form when it comes to American Muslims.
It’s 6:45 AM. I wake up at the sound of my alarm, which I snoozed for the fourth time today. I brush my teeth, pin my hijab in place, and rush downstairs to go to school. Almost out the door, my parents wished me goodbye with what has become the norm: “be careful of your surroundings.” I stopped getting the “have a good day sweetie” a while ago. Now I just have to be careful, because I could be attacked. Because I could be the target of hate-speech. Because anti-Muslim bigotry is my reality.
BREAKING NEWS: Republican presidential candidate and party front-runner Donald Trump is calling for a complete and total shutdown on all Muslims from entering the United States. This was the breaking point. I always felt that prejudice existed towards Muslims in America. As a young woman who wears the hijab, how could I avoid it? I feel the insolent stares I get in the streets. I feel the snarky remarks made under strangers’ breaths. I feel the isolation. But I would have never projected such intolerance to reach this extent. I never expected this feeling to overcome me. So I decided to investigate where it came from.
By Nihad Awad
President John F. Kennedy once said: "As we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words, but to live by them."
Another president, Abraham Lincoln, wrote, "Honor to the soldier and sailor everywhere, who bravely bears his country's cause. Honor, also, to the citizen who cares for his brother in the field and serves, as he best can, the same cause."
We can best honor our nation's veterans through deeds, not mere words.
There are more than 20 million American veterans, many of whom are suffering or in need of assistance.
By Jonathan Herrera
When considering what internships to apply for as I seek a master’s degree in public policy, I focused on programs that would allow me to contribute to the protection of religious rights in America.
I am most concerned with the decline in religious tolerance toward followers of the Abrahamic faiths.
As a Christian, I see Muslims and Jews as my brothers and sisters under the same God. Seeing how the American Muslim community is struggling for equally, I felt compelled to assist in some way to ensure that the religious rights of Muslims in America are protected.
I applied for a number of internships, but only the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) Government Affairs Department Fellowship Program allowed me to gain an in-depth perspective on government affairs at the nation’s capital, while simultaneously using this knowledge to achieve my goal of protecting religious rights.
Last month, the United States Supreme Court affirmed the standard used to determine the right to a religious accommodation in the workplace. In Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) v. Abercrombie & Fitch Stores, Inc., the Court held that an “employer may not make an applicant’s religious practice, confirmed or otherwise, a factor in employment decisions.” The Court’s 8-1 decision reinforced the fundamental principles underlying Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits discrimination in employment, by ensuring that all individuals who outwardly manifest their faith are provided an equal opportunity to participate in the job market.
Under Title VII, it is unlawful for an employer to refuse to hire an applicant because of the applicant’s religion. In addition, the law imposes an affirmative obligation on employers to reasonably accommodate the religious practice of an individual, unless the employer demonstrates that such an accommodation would cause “undue hardship” on its business. An “accommodation” is an exception to a general workplace policy or rule, which allows an employee to do something the rules ordinarily prohibit because it is part of his or her religious practice.
In 2008, clothing retailer Abercrombie & Fitch refused to hire Samantha Elauf, a Muslim who wears a headscarf in accordance with her religious beliefs, because her headscarf conflicted with the company’s employee “look policy.” After CAIR’s Oklahoma chapter assisted Ms. Elauf in filing an employment discrimination complaint with the EEOC, the EEOC brought suit alleging that the company’s refusal to hire Ms. Elauf constituted religious discrimination and violated the failure to accommodate provisions of Title VII.
By Nihad Awad
This Fourth of July weekend, friends and families around the country will gather together to celebrate the freedoms we cherish as Americans, those for which countless generations have struggled and sacrificed so much.
We celebrate our freedom from oppression, freedom to practice our religion, representation in our government, and self-determination.
Yet as recent events targeting African-Americans have made abundantly clear, we still have a long way to go to achieve full equality under the flag we will fly high this weekend.
The terror attack on an African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, S.C., the abuse of African-American teens by a police officer in McKinney, Texas, and police-involved shootings and mistreatment of men, women, and children of color across our nation point to the lingering structural racism in our society. These troubling incidents must be honestly addressed before we can truly be the nation President Abraham Lincoln described as "conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal."
By Nihad Awad
On March 7, 1965, Americans marching in Alabama for their right to vote were met with violence. It was on "Bloody Sunday" that state troopers attacked the peaceful civil rights march from Selma to Montgomery led by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
That attack on marchers at the Edmund Pettus Bridge and the national upheaval that followed led to passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, one of our nation's most important pieces of legislation.
In 1965, the first march on Selma began with African-Americans demanding the right to vote, but today the legacy of that movement encompasses all challenges to bigotry, racial prejudice, religious profiling, and unwarranted surveillance of Americans.
Sadly, nearly 50 years later the right to vote again came under attack. In January 2013, in Shelby County v Holder, a simple majority of the Supreme Court held that the coverage formula in Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act was unconstitutional, meaning that states could change their election laws without advance federal approval unless Congress enacted a new coverage formula (which they have not).
By: Ibrahim Hooper
The Associated Press (AP) added the term "Islamist" to its influential Stylebook in 2012. That entry read:
"Islamist -- Supporter of government in accord with the laws of Islam. Those who view the Quran as a political model encompass a wide range of Muslims, from mainstream politicians to militants known as jihadi."
That same year, the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) approached AP about modifying the reference, suggesting that AP change its Stylebook to incorporate language similar to that used in the reference to "fundamentalist," which states that the label should not be used unless a group applies the term to itself.
CAIR urged media outlets to drop the term because it has become journalistic shorthand for "Muslims we don't like" and because it is used in an almost exclusively pejorative context and is often coupled with the term "extremist," giving it an even more negative slant.
According a U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) report released today on the “FBI’s Use of Section 215 Orders for Business Records in 2006,” the United States Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISA Court) twice refused to authorize Section 215 requests by the FBI “based on concerns that the investigation was premised on protected First Amendment activity, and the FBI subsequently issued [National Security Letters] NSLs to obtain information” about American citizens built on the same premise rejected by the Court.
Under Section 215 of the U.S. Patriot Act, the FBI is authorized to apply to the FISA Court to review applications for warrants related to national security investigations.
Critics of the FISA Court have noted that the court effectively acts as a rubber stamp only rejecting .03 percent of all government surveillance requests, according to the Wall Street Journal.
In emails between the DOJ's Office of Intelligence Policy and Review (OIPR) and FBI’s National Security Law Branch, it is reported that the FISA Court decided that “the facts were too ‘thin’ and that this request implicated the targets First Amendment rights.”
The report cites a former counsel for intelligence policy who stated the OIPR should have subsequently examined the FBI’s underlying investigation after the FISA Court rejected the Section 215 request but that it was stretched too thin to “serve such an oversight role.”
An internal FBI audit in 2007 found that the “bureau potentially violated the law or agency rules more than 1,000 times while collecting data about domestic phone calls, e-mails and financial transactions in recent years,” according to The Washington Post.
It is deeply troublesome that the FBI would pursue national security investigations of American citizens “premised on protected First Amendment activity.” It is even more disconcerting that the FBI would use NSLs to obtain such information after the FISA Court refused to authorize a warrant, given the Court’s near 100 percent approval of such requests.
The DOJ’s OIPR lack of ability to examine the FBI’s underlying investigation at the time of the request due stretched resources also raises serious questions about how well the Office is able to protect the civil liberties of Americans.
The DOJ’s Office of the Inspector General report only labels such possible FBI violations of the law as “noteworthy” cases. The report does not provide any substantive recommendations to address these possible FBI abuses – unless such suggestions were made in one of the heavily redacted sections.
 U.S. Department of Justice Office of the Inspector General “A Review of the FBI’s Use of Section 215 Orders for Business Records in 2006 (U),” 2014. Report was requested by Congress via the USA PATRIOT Improvement and Reauthorization Act of 2005.
2 Wall Street Journal, “Secret Court's Oversight Gets Scrutiny,” Evan Perez June 9, 2013. Website: http://www.wsj.com/articles/SB10001424127887324904004578535670310514616
3 The Washington Post, “FBI Finds It Frequently Overstepped in Collecting Data,” John Solomon, June 14, 2007. Website: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2007/06/13/AR2007061302453.html
by Robert McCaw
"Our country's Founders understood the best way to honor the place of faith in the lives of all Americans was to fight for justice and equality as well as liberty and freedom."
- Deputy Secretary of Defense Bob Work, 2014 Pentagon Iftar Dinner
On Veteran's Day, American Muslims, like other communities, thank those who have served in our nation's armed forces.
The nation's military draws its service members from all communities including the American Muslim community, which has contributed over 6,000 soldiers who have served honorably in overseas war deployments since 2001.
Out of those volunteer soldiers, at least 14 American Muslims have made the ultimate sacrifice having been killed in action.
In March, CAIR staff and board members who are U.S. veterans marked Memorial Day with the release of a video featuring Muslim veterans honoring the sacrifices Muslim soldiers have made for their country.
Today's celebration finds its origins in Armistice Day, a day of national reflection and gratitude for the hard fought victory that marked the end of World War I. As history marched forward each generation of Americans has responded with courage and bravery to the call of service and we as a nation have established Veterans Day to demonstrate our deep appreciation.
There is not a single faith or community that is not represented by our nation's soldiers in uniform. When Deputy Defense Secretary Gordon England helped dedicate the Marine Corps' first Islamic prayer center in 2006, he recognized that we are "a nation of people from all races and creeds who believe in liberty and freedom."
As a nation we are able to salute the service of our veterans while still publicly opposing the immoral political motivations that some administrations have used to justify sending our troops into harm's way. We are able to separate the service of volunteer soldiers from the decisions of policy makers and elected officials.
As a nation, we should better honor our veterans every day by empowering them through streamlining veterans' health care and benefits systems, securing more scholarships and educational grants for veterans, promoting veterans hiring programs, and ending the serious problem of veteran homelessness.
U.S. Muslims, like all other Americans today, will thank those who have served on our behalf and remember in our thoughts and prayers the ones who did not come home.
It's election season. That means over the last several months, you've been inundated with ads from candidates who've collectively spent hundreds of millions of dollars vying for your vote.
If that makes you feel special, it should. Clearly, your vote matters.
Yet the results of CAIR's recent survey of Muslim voters indicate that less than 70% of registered Muslim voters will head to the polls this year. While that number is an improvement over Muslims' participation in past elections, we can do much better.
Many American Muslims who don't vote may say it's for one or more of the following reasons.
No one can blame you for feeling this way. But remember: the most effective way to change policies and affect problems like Islamophobia is by speaking out against them. Your vote is your voice.
By voting for the candidate whose views are most in line with yours, you are establishing yourself as someone who has invested in their career as a politician. It gives you credibility to make your concerns a priority for legislators. This makes you a stakeholder and ensures that you have a seat at the table.
Elected officials are public servants. They have an obligation to meet with their constituents and to listen to concerns, but they will prioritize the thoughts and opinions of people who go to the polls and cast their ballots.
If their position on one issue conflicts with yours, let them know how you feel. Build support for your position by mobilizing your friends and community. Organize grassroots campaigns. Launch petitions via sites like www.change.org. Whatever you do, don't remain silent and do nothing.
The best voter is an educated and informed voter. Rather than becoming discouraged, learn about the candidates' positions on issues that matter to you.
Many organizations publish candidate scorecards that grade each candidate on their positions on important issues. Familiarize yourself with candidates' positions on issues that are important to you and learn what issues or causes they've supported in the past. Find out where candidates will be speaking and attend so you can listen to them speak firsthand or even ask them questions.
Research and watch past speeches and media appearances. Have they authored books or written articles? Reading these can help provide deeper insight on their views. Most importantly, the best way to learn is by asking questions. Speak with the leadership of your local mosque or another organization to organize a candidate forum.
Each state has a state board of elections whose website contains important information on the application process such as requirements to register to vote and important deadlines. The deadline to register to vote on November 4 is nearing or has already passed in most states.
If you are too late to register this election season, register now so you'll be prepared for the next election. And you can still make a difference by volunteering to be an election judge, volunteering for candidate campaigns, encouraging your friends and family who are registered voters to cast their ballots, and by helping to provide transportation to polling stations for the elderly and disabled.
If you have trouble physically getting to the polls, there are other solutions. CAIR encourages people to carpool to and from the polling stations. Carpooling helps more people to vote in greater numbers, is more environmentally friendly, and provides transportation for people who otherwise may not be able to make it out.
Contact your local mosque to find out if arrangements are being or can be made to transport congregants to the polls. Call your state board of elections and find out what kind of transportation services they are providing and in what areas. Ask a family member, neighbor, friend or colleague if they would mind giving you a ride. Many cities provide free transportation to and from polling stations for the elderly and physically disabled.
Correction: It does! There's power in numbers. Never doubt the impact of a single vote, especially in critical battleground states where the Muslim vote has the potential to play a key role. Not only is voting your constitutional right, it is also your voice. It's a way to express your views.
If you don't vote, you allow others who do to affect decisions on important issues like the economy, healthcare and education -- and you may like the outcome even less. The next generation is depending on you to make important decisions that affect their future. One way to do your part to secure your children's future is to vote in their best interests.
County and statewide elections stand to have a greater impact on an individual level. The role you play and the decision you make in whether to vote will be instrumental in deciding the direction of our collective future. Don't sit this ride out -- buckle up and head to the polls on November 4 to make your voice count.
Two years after the senseless shooting at a Sikh temple in Oak Creek, Wisconsin that claimed six innocent lives, the challenges facing the Sikh American community have only been compounded.
Members of this religious minority continue to be subjected to hate and bias attacks from racists due to their physical appearance and traditional attire.
Last Thursday, a Sikh man walking with his mother was approached by three teenagers who yelled racial and ethnic slurs at his mom before calling him "Osama bin laden" and physically assaulting him.
Only a few days before that, a 29-year-old father of two, Sandeep Singh, was also victimized in a brutal hate crime. As he walked home with friends, a man in a truck began shouting racial slurs and abuse at Singh, who wears a turban. When Singh confronted him, the man reportedly mowed him down with his truck. Singh is now hospitalized, struggling to recover from the extensive injuries he sustained.
Physically, both of these victims are expected to recuperate; however, the mental and emotional trauma they have endured will take much longer to heal.
This most recent wave of attacks has heightened tensions in an already marginalized community that has suffered tremendous backlash in post-9/11 America.
These incidents fueled by bigotry and hatred must stop.
It is unconscionable, unjustifiable, and un-American to verbally or physically assault anyone based on their race, religion, ethnicity, gender, or sexual orientation.
Hate is divisive and robs us of compassion and understanding. Intolerance blinds us to the vast diversity that strengthens and beautifies our nation.
The Sikh community is compassionate, and proud. Many Sikhs in America have shared heartbreaking stories of their struggle to reconcile their religious beliefs with their American identity.
It is unacceptable that they -- or members of any ethnic or religious group -- feel fearful of practicing their religion.
As a civil rights activist committed to advancing justice for all people, I strongly believe that if we are not a part of the solution, then we are part of the problem.
Martin Luther King, Jr. rightfully said: "Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere." We cannot afford to idly sit back and ignore the threat bigotry and racism pose in our society; we must unequivocally condemn it.
Groups in both public and private sectors must work together to combat these issues that overshadow the discourse in marginalized communities across the nation.
Faith in our justice system must be restored. Law enforcement officials must take appropriate steps to discourage repeat attacks; they must conduct thorough, fair investigations and they must be held accountable in making sure justice is served.
And, perhaps most importantly, victims like Sandeep Singh and their families must be made to feel safe again in an environment that appears increasingly hostile towards all they represent.
Only when we unite as Americans to send a strong, clear message that racism and bigotry are unacceptable, can we effectively work to cure the intolerance that infects our society.
My English classroom in high school was covered in posters. Some had grammar rules, some showed pictures of authors, and others featured cats in funny costumes. But the one poster I remember most was a quotation. It read:
First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out--
Because I was not a Socialist.
Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out--
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out--
Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me--and there was no one left to speak for me.
Though I didn't know it at the time, this is a famous quotation from the Christian theologian Martin Niemoller. He was a German pastor who publicly criticized Adolf Hitler during the Nazi regime. Although he remained nationalistic and an outspoken anti-Semite throughout World War II, his criticism of the Nazi party caused him to be imprisoned for seven years in a concentration camp.
After he was released by Allied forces in 1945, Niemoller became one of the first Germans to talk about the guilt of the German people and the sin they had all committed through inaction . He spent the rest of his life as an advocate for international peace.
Now that I'm in my third year of studying religion, that poster-filled classroom seems a long way away to me, but Martin Niemoller's words seem closer and more urgent than ever before. In 2012 there were 5,796 hate crimes reported in the United States, 842 million people worldwide were undernourished, and just a few weeks ago, 60 people were shot in a single U.S. city over one weekend. This must stop.
Now that I work just blocks from the U.S. Capitol as an intern for the Council on American-Islamic Relations, I'm exposed to horrifying statistics like these more than ever. A few weeks ago I attended a conference advocating for equal rights for Arab-Americans with my fellow interns. We sat at a table and a woman shortly joined us. We introduced ourselves and told her we were interns with the CAIR. She told me about some of the work she does and then asked if I was Muslim. I told her no, I'm an atheist going to school in Minnesota. This shocked her and I gladly told her about my journey through the interfaith movement that led me to work at CAIR. But is the fact that I, an atheist, am concerned about Muslim rights so shocking?
When Niemoller died more than 30 years ago at the age of 92, he was still fighting for peace. I cannot begin to compare my effort to his long struggle for peace. I can't even compare it to the scores of people I've met in the last few weeks who dedicate their lives to advancing social justice. But I've learned how the status of one group affects the wellbeing of all.
Atheists like me must stand up to protect religious rights. Christians must stand for the rights of Muslims. Likewise, Muslims must stand up for the rights of their fellow Americans of other beliefs. Every group, minorities or majorities, liberal or conservative, religious or not, should work together to achieve peace. Not because one day they expect the other group to speak for them, but because of the loss they risk if they do not speak now.
In 1963 another international leader penned a famous letter from the cell of an Alabama prison. Martin Luther King Jr. wrote:
"I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro's great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen's Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to 'order' than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice."
Which leads me to ask some important questions: What kind of world would we live in if people only stood up for their own rights? Where would we be if all remained silent for any justice but their own? And most importantly: is that the kind of world we want to live in?
The answer, of course, is no. So it's time to do something about it.
Robyn Adams is a religion major in her junior year of college. She is currently working as a summer intern for CAIR's department to monitor and combat Islamophobia.
By Robert S. McCaw
The Fourth of July is a time when we come together as a nation to celebrate our independence and political freedoms. This Independence Day, I will be joining my family in a small coastal town just south of Boston to show off my newborn son and enjoy a traditional halal barbeque and lobster clambake.
I will also be observing Ramadan, a month of spiritual reflection marked by fasting and appreciating the blessings God has provided my family, community and nation. On this day, the American Muslim iftar, or fast-breaking meal, will be accompanied by neighborhood barbeques, sweet dates and fireworks.
I will not take my independence and freedom for granted. I will thank my maternal grandfather and great uncle, who joined the U.S. Coast Guard and Marines respectively, for their service during the Korean War. I will remember my paternal grandfather, who served in the U.S. Navy as an aviator during World War II and the Korean War, my father and paternal uncle who served in the U.S. Army during the Vietnam War, and send a note of appreciation to my cousin who currently serves as a command sergeant major in the Army.
While my family eats together, we'll surely be listening to the Boston Pops on the radio and hearing the distant roar as spectacular city fireworks are met with local neighborhood firecrackers. That day, we will be celebrating America as much as our ties to each other.
My family is a reflection of America's religious and politically diversity. Politics aside, my mother is Methodist, my aunt is Universal Unitarian, my grandfather is Episcopalian, my mother's cousins are Jewish, and my wife, son and I are Muslim.
My great grandmother, the daughter of Swedish immigrants who became the matriarch of a sprawling New England family, would often sit on the porch during such celebrations and smile to herself with a sense of great pride while gazing at the diversity of her linage.
As Americans, we each have a personal story for how we have come to express ourselves as patriots and how we celebrate our hard-won freedoms. From the Declaration of Independence, through wars and struggles for equality and civil rights and acknowledging our diversity as a source of national strength, celebrating the Fourth of July is a reminder of who we were and what we have all become: American.
Robert S. McCaw is the government affairs manager at CAIR's national office in Washington, D.C.
In response to a court order, the Obama administration has released the Justice Department's 41-page legal memo on U.S. targeted killing operations. The memo was used in the decision-making process that led to the 2011 extrajudicial killing of U.S. citizen Anwar al-Awlaki and, two weeks later, his 16-year-old son, Abdurrahman, who was also a U.S. citizen. The memo was released in response to a court order in consolidated FOIA (Freedom of Information Act) lawsuits filed by the ACLU and The New York Times.
For the past several years, CAIR has joined the ACLU, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and other civil liberties and human rights organizations in calling on the president and submitting testimony to Congress seeking the release of all U.S. government targeted killing memos related to counterterrorism and drone warfare programs.
It's critical for Americans to know how our government determines its own authority to assassinate U.S. citizens suspected of supporting or engaging in acts of terrorism. And the U.S. government's targeted killing program has not only taken the lives of several American citizens but has killed thousands of other people, including countless civilians who are all too often referred to as necessary collateral damage.
As a nation we must ensure that the rule of law and respect for human life is preserved -- whether the intended target is a U.S. citizen or a foreign national -- when targeting groups like al-Qaeda. If we don't, such groups will continue to capitalize on America's targeted killing program, drawing support from popular resentment built around unintended but all too frequent civilian deaths.
CAIR looks forward to reviewing the memo, and continues to urge our government to commit to further disclosure and transparency of American counterterrorism and drone warfare programs.
Robert McCaw is the government affairs department manager at CAIR's national office in Washington, D.C.
On Tuesday, April 29, interfaith leaders and community members gathered at the St. Francis Convent in Little Falls, Minn., for a community dialogue on "Tolerance and the Fear of Islam." The event was organized after community leaders and activists considered the negative impact a speech by an anti-Muslim speaker had in the same community last year.
Approximately one-third of the audience consisted of individuals hostile to Islam and Muslims – and they came prepared with their Islamophobic books. They handed out hate-filled flyers and started heckling, but eventually they started to listen.
CAIR-MN Brings Dialogue on Tolerance to Little Falls
CAIR-MN Civil Rights Director Saly Abd Alla presented first, when the crowd was the most hostile. She spoke about the history of religious intolerance in America and provided some much-needed context and education. The heckling gradually diminished as her presentation went on.
Then CAIR-MN Outreach Director Jaylani Hussein presented on Islam 101. His Quran recitation was one of the most beautiful things I have witnessed. I could see that, whether they wanted to admit it or not, the recitation touched some of the individuals hostile to Islam and Muslims- to the point that they were bowing their heads down. He did a great job in making connections to things community members could relate to like sports and winter weather, and showed everyone how normal Muslims are.
Lastly, Father Virgil Petermeier of the St. Cloud Muslim-Christian Dialogue spoke about his positive experiences living with Muslims in Indonesia for 36 years. He told the story of when the monastery was burned to the ground, the Muslims in their community helped rebuild it. He said how when a senior pastor fell ill, a Muslim woman doctor drove two hours while she was fasting and saved the pastor's life. He said how Muslim students attended the Catholic school and demonstrated how the local imam, Baba Haji, greeted him with both arms raised whenever he saw him. These stories were imperative in countering all the negative stories of Christian-Muslim relations some people had heard.
The Q&A was respectful and organized, thanks to the efforts of moderator Kevin LaNave, director of the Center for Learning Services and Social Change. Attendees asked real questions they have about Islam and Muslims and the panelists openly and honestly answered them.
After the event, many people stayed back. Some of the same people who had been distributing hateful flyers at the beginning of the event were now talking to us. They were asking questions.
My most memorable moment from the evening was at the very end. The host of the Little Falls Dialogue had told us that he was fielding hate calls all week. Some people were trying to intimidate him into cancelling the event. There was one call that stood out to him - it was from one of his donors. The individual said that he would withdraw his donation if this event took place. The host politely told him that he was sorry to lose the donation, but that the event would go on as scheduled. He was not going to cancel it. When the event was finished and we were all walking out together, a Muslim stopped the host and said, "You may have lost one donor for holding this event, but you gained another one,"- and handed him a personal check.
This event won't change everyone, but I saw firsthand how many people changed. Most people had never met a Muslim, let alone sat and listened to them talk for two hours. What a wonderful world this could be if everyone just listened - even if it's for two hours in a convent in Little Falls, Minnesota.
Event sponsors included: Little Falls Partners for Peace, Brainerd Area Coalition for Peace, Building Blocks of Islam, and the Minnesota chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR-MN). It was hosted by the Franciscan Sisters of Little Falls at the St. Francis Convent.
[My speech on "Is sharia compatible with democracy?" was presented in Maine on March 22, 2014. The below text differs slightly from the original as I was able to check a couple of references that I did not have access to while in Vacationland. From here forward, everything in brackets was added after the speech was delivered.]
Salaam alaykum. Peace be unto you. Good evening.
In 1996, Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf, then a basketball player for the Denver Nuggets, refused to stand during the national anthem. Abdul-Rauf asserted that his action was a reflection of his understanding of the Islamic faith.
This sparked a nationwide debate.
Shortly after, one of the major news magazines ran a story about the ensuing controversy. The story featured a photo of a woman at a later Nuggets game wrapped in an American flag and crying. [She was demonstrating her outrage at Abdul-Rauf's deed.]
Abdul-Rauf's action was, in my opinion then and now, disrespectful and inappropriate. Indeed, he later stated that while he believed his motivation was correct, his choice of expression was not the best approach." So while I disagreed with the action, I would defend his right to do what he did.
Abdul-Rauf's act was political dissent, respect for which is enshrined in our national character. [This respect for dissent is why I also disagree with the woman in the photo. I defend her right to do what she did, but I think becoming angry at his act is also not the best approach.]
At the time there were calls for Abdul-Rauf to face consequences. He served a one game suspension.
Often in incidents like this we even hear legislators talk of passing laws to ban certain behaviors or to legally impose them. Outlawing flag burning, another form of protest I view as a crass political stunt, is a frequent example. I think the tension between faith, politics, ideals and their expression we see in the Abdul-Rauf incident is important to think about tonight.
Now, before my hosts get too nervous trying to figure out why the speaker is rambling on about a minor incident, I want to take a moment to increase their tension.
I respectfully disagree with our chosen topic for tonight. I think it draws on incorrect assumptions about sharia, or Islamic legal principles, and democracy. I honestly think there is another, more significant topic to be considered.
So I am going to beg your indulgence for a bit and allow me to make my case. I pray you will find by the end of our discussion that I have answered the "Is sharia compatible with democracy?" question anyway.
To start, let's discuss sharia. Like jihad, it is a term that has been hijacked and turned into something scary.
To assist our discussion of sharia I will turn to a scholar, Asifa Quraishi-Landes. She teaches American constitutional law and Islamic law at the University of Wisconsin and has a doctorate from Harvard Law School among other honors. Here is a short passage from her paper "Sharia and Diversity" in which she describes sharia as literally meaning "way" or "street":
"Sharia refers to the way that God has advised Muslims to live, as documented in the Quran and exemplified in the practices of Prophet Muhammad. In other words, sharia can be understood as the Islamic recipe for living a good life. But of course, no one can taste a recipe. We can only taste the product of a chef's efforts to follow one. In addition, different chefs can follow the same recipe and still come up with quite varied results."
There are a few things I hope we hear in this reading.
First, Muslims recognize that the process of understanding God's will is ongoing. There is not a set of books equivalent to the U.S. Code sitting somewhere that spells out what the law is in fine detail. There is the ideal of divine law [found primarily in the Quran and the life of Islam's Prophet] and the reality of human interpretations of the law, which we can define using the Arabic term fiqh.
Second, we are painfully aware of our humanity and that we can interpret and express these ideals wrongly.
Third, there can be a wide variance in the understanding of Islam.
I like Quraishi-Landes's use of the recipe metaphor. Sharia is the recipe, but different religious scholars produce varied dishes from it.
Let me give you a real world example of the variety [available to Muslims.]
One of Islam's most important holidays is Eid Al-Fitr. It comes at the end of Ramadan, the month wherein Muslims eat no food, drink no water and avoid other physical indulgences during daylight hours. Ramadan is a time of great spiritual reflection and self-denial, Eid is the party at the end. I would be lying to you if I did not admit that after a month of food and sleep deprivation it is a joy to get this party started.
The problem is, we have a hard time agreeing on when it starts. Islam is on a lunar calendar, and thus the date of Eid changes each year in relation to our own calendar. Some Muslims maintain Eid starts when someone of good reputation sees the new moon with their eyes, thus starting the new month. Others say we can use scientific calculations to know the exact moment of the birth of the new moon. Many immigrant Muslims prefer go with when their country of origin says Eid starts. Others say that since Islam is now worldwide, we should all go with when Mecca, the place all Muslims face when we pray, recognizes the start of Eid.
As a result, every year we hear conversations in mosques along the lines of "Are you celebrating Eid on Monday, Tuesday or Wednesday?"
We have people going to their employers and saying, "next week is our most important religious holiday of the year, I need to take the day off." The boss usually replies, "Sure, what day do you need?" Then we get the rather awkward response of, "Well, it might be Monday, but maybe Tuesday, perhaps Wednesday."
As an aside, next time someone tells you Muslims have some shady conspiracy to subvert the Constitution, remember this holiday. If we cannot organize our major holidays, I doubt we can pull off a vast conspiracy. I have also never encountered any actual Muslim interest in such a conspiracy.
So, sharia was and is developed to be flexible and dynamic in practice. This was done in order to achieve two main goals, and protect six main principles in society. The two goals are to bring good to humanity community, and to repel harm from humanity. Please note, this is not bring good to Muslims, and to repel harm from Muslims. It is humanity.
All religious rules must be in line with these six principles of Sharia, presented here as written out by Sumbul Ali-Karamali:
Sharia must then adapt with respect to the social, political, and cultural climate of a given place and time in order to ensure that these two goals are met, and these six principles are protected. In fact, sharia mandates that a Muslim practice their faith while respecting the law of the land in which they reside.
Throughout history the way to achieve these goals and protect these principles has differed between various philosophies, eras, communities, and leaders. At the center of these various interpretations is always intended to be human good.
Ibn al Qayyim, a notable medieval-era Islamic jurist put it this way, "The foundation of the sharia is wisdom and the safeguarding of people's interests in this world and the next. In its entirety it is justice, mercy and wisdom. Every rule which transforms justice to tyranny, mercy to its opposite, the good to the evil, and wisdom to triviality does not belong to the sharia. ..."
So these are the ideals behind Islamic legal principles. We Muslims, like every other way of life with which I am familiar, do not always live up to our own ideals.
Let's think about one example. In Islamic inheritance a son gets a full share and a daughter gets a half share. This is done because the son is expected to pay for funeral expenses and support all family members. The daughter can choose to help, but it is not an obligation. Similarly, a man is obligated to financially support his family. Any money a wife earns is hers to do with as she chooses, she can contribute or not as she wishes.
These are the ideals aimed at ensuring everyone is supported financially and it is clear who is responsible. Does it always work out that way? No.
In my opinion, ideals are at the core of our conversation tonight. They are precious things. We in America have them and strive for them. We Americans, like every other way of life with which I am familiar, do not always live up to our own ideals.
In 1761, Boston lawyer James Otis spoke against overly-broad warrants issued by the British government. These Writs of Assistance allowed the crown's agents to search any house or ship they chose. John Adams -- who went on to sign the Declaration of Independence and become our nation's second president -- said of Otis's speech, "Then and there, the child Independence was born."
In 2013, shortly after revelations of overly-broad warrantless surveillance of the American public by the National Security Agency, or NSA, the Pew Research Center found 56 percent of Americans think this is an acceptable way for the government to investigate terrorism." Sixty-two percent agreed that it is more important for the government to investigate possible terrorist threats, even if it intrudes on personal privacy." A stark contrast to the men who founded our nation.
More recently, Pew reported, "Today, 40% approve of the government's collection of telephone and internet data as part of anti-terrorism efforts, while 53% disapprove." Pew adds, "In addition, nearly half (48%) say there are not adequate limits on what telephone and internet data the government can collect."
So here we see an example of our national struggle to balance our ideals with reasonable concerns for public safety and less reasonable fears that may cause us to be too willing to give up ideals the founders valued.
John Adams, by the way, set the standard for placing ideals over emotions when he acted as legal counsel to British soldiers accused in the Boston massacre, one of those iconic incidents that contributed to sparking full scale colonial revolt against King George.
The ideal, broadly embraced in our society, was later expressed in the Sixth Amendment as an accused having the right to the assistance of counsel to his defense.
Writing in his diary, Adams expressed fear he felt for his own safety, as well as that of his family from more radical elements of the revolutionary movement. Of his decision to defend the soldiers Adams concluded: "It was, however, one of the most gallant, generous, manly and disinterested Actions of my whole Life, and one of the best Pieces of Service I ever rendered my Country."
Let's consider a couple of more recent examples.
In 2004, three years after the 9/11 attacks, Cornell University reported that "nearly half of all Americans believe the U.S. government should restrict the civil liberties of Muslim-Americans." This included "27 percent of respondents supported requiring all Muslim-Americans to register where they lived with the federal government."
Article VI of the U.S. Constitution prohibits any "religious test" for public office. However, in 2010 Time reported that "twenty-eight percent of voters do not believe Muslims should be eligible to sit on the U.S. Supreme Court" and that "nearly one-third of the country thinks adherents of Islam should be barred from running for president."
The lesson I see here is that we have grand ideals in this nation, but our reality does not always live up to them. The struggle to enshrine our ideals is long and difficult.
In his Pulitzer Prize-winning book on the Civil War, James McPherson reports on English Protestant Americans' suspicion of German and Irish Catholic immigrants to the U.S. in the nineteenth century. He writes, "most of these new Americans worshipped in Roman Catholic churches. Their growing presence filled some Protestant Americans with alarm. Numerous nativist organizations sprang up as the first line of resistance in what became a long and painful retreat toward acceptance of cultural pluralism."
Striving to "civilize" Native Americans, the federal government instituted a practice of taking children away from their parents and placing them in off-reservation boarding schools. Here, the children were to learn a culture not their own. These schools still existed in the 1960s.
It took until 1920, 144 years after the signing of the Declaration of Independence, to pass a constitutional amendment granting women full voting rights. The Lilly Ledbetter Act, signed into law in 2009, reminds us that women in America still struggle for equal pay for equal work.
Our nation placed Japanese-Americans in internment camps following the 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor. The deeply troubling story of the African-American struggle for full equality is well known. Sadly, it is commonplace for minority groups and their leaders to be vilified.
Martin Luther King, a non-violent, civil rights icon, has a federal holiday named after him and won a Nobel Peace Prize.
However, before his assassination, he was branded the "most dangerous and effective Negro leader in the country" in an FBI memo. His calls and sometimes hotel rooms were wiretapped. FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover labeled King a degenerate.
I hope by now you may begin to see why my concern is not "Is sharia compatible with democracy?" The term democracy may not even be the best for our thoughts tonight. Like Islam, democracy takes many forms.
The citizens of Athens, a direct democracy where only landed males could vote, would hardly recognize our system. Pirate democracy, entertaining as the subject is, is probably not a focus for us tonight. On a pirate ship, all crew got a vote and the captain was elected.
Some -- maybe Vladimir Putin -- would call the recent referendum in Crimea an instance of democracy. But voting is not necessarily an indicator of a healthy democracy. We are all familiar with despotic rulers who handily win "vote me or else" elections.
Indeed, our own democracy, the recipe the Founding Fathers gave us is constantly being assessed by new chefs. When the U.S. Constitution came into effect, 10 of the 13 states required a voter to own property or pay some form of tax. Today, such requirements cause outrage.
But, as you may have noticed, the ideals, the principles behind our expression of democracy do offer us a guide to the target of our thoughts tonight.
Two documents give us a sense of the recipe:
The Declaration of Independence asserts that the right of the people "to alter or to abolish their government" must remain intact and the people must have the freedom to lay government's "foundation on such principles" and organize "its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness."
The Constitution adds additional thoughts: "to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity.""
These are the goals of the democracy our founders created. These are the ideals, the recipe.
Let me remind you of the two main goals and six main principles of sharia. The two goals are to bring good to humanity, and to repel harm from humanity.
All religious rules must be in line with these six principles of sharia:
I hope you are beginning to hear what I concluded long ago -- that the similarities between Islamic sharia ideals and western democratic ideals are fairly obvious.
Many Muslims have already concluded the ideals are similar. This is not just my opinion. Early after my decision to embrace Islam I heard a story. I do not know if it is fact, but it expresses a reality I have heard many Muslims agree with. In short, after visiting America, a Muslim scholar is reported to have said, "I went to the east and found Muslims without Islam. I went to the west and found Islam without Muslims."
This scholar is saying he saw in the west Islamic principles in action where Islam was not the majority faith. He is saying in many countries where Islam is the majority faith, politics and history have created circumstances where Islamic principles are not expressed in society.
In 2011, the Fiqh Council of North America adopted a resolution titled "On Being Faithful Muslims and Loyal Americans."
Here are a few lines from that resolution:
Aside: Al-Qaeda is everybody's enemy
At this moment of thinking about the parallels between Islamic ideals and western democratic ideals, let me insert a couple of thoughts about Al-Qaeda and their ideological allies.
Extremists who claim that Islam motivates, or worse, sanctions, their atrocities have done deep harm to Islam. Their terrorism, the blatant human rights abuses, their complete distortion of the faith -- these provide the breeding ground for much of the anti-Muslim extremism we are living through today.
The worldview of violent extremists is a complete distortion of Islam. Islamic teachings clearly state that the killing of one innocent is the moral equivalent to the killing of all humanity.
To the more than a billion Muslims worldwide, Islam is a religion that teaches tolerance, justice and compassion. Unfortunately, for many who know little of Islam or Muslims, violent extremists have come to personify both.
What many do not realize is that in the struggle against Al-Qaeda and its ideological allies we can adopt an us [America] vs. them [Muslims] attitude or we can adopt a "we are all in the struggle against violent extremism together" approach.
At least 31 Muslims were among the victims of the 9/11 attackers. This includes Mohammed Salman Hamdani, who went into one of the Twin Towers to offer assistance and died while doing so. His sacrifice was noted in the USA PATRIOT ACT.
After reviewing a 2009 report titled Deadly Vanguards: A Study of Al-Qaida's Violence Against Muslims, Ralph Peters wrote in the New York's Daily Post, "Al-Qaeda does one thing extremely well: killing Muslims."
President Obama echoed this conclusion at a White House Ramadan fastbreaking reception in 2010 when he noted, "In fact, al Qaeda has killed more Muslims than people of any other religion and that list of victims includes innocent Muslims who were killed on 9/11."
The more we think about it, the more the us [democracy] vs. them [sharia] dichotomy falls apart.
Now here is a key, and for this gathering, crucial reality, that may surprise you: American Muslims are on the front lines of protecting American ideals.
Anti-Muslim sentiment in America has resulted in a certain willingness by a significant proportion of Americans to undermine the Constitution.
We are not just talking about [survey respondent's] words and opinions. In 2010 Oklahoma voters approved SQ 755, a state constitutional amendment banning judges in that state from considering Islamic religious principles in their rulings. In practice this would have prohibited a judge from probating an Islamic will, marriage agreement or other contracts such as home financing structured according to the Islamic prohibition against interest-bearing loans.
In the voting booth, Oklahomans were told that "Islamic religious principles are based on two principal sources, the Koran and the teachings of Mohammed."
This language rather directly contradicts the First Amendment in two key ways. First, the Establishment Clause prohibits government from condemning or endorsing any religion. Second, the Free Exercise Clause guarantees all persons of faith equal liberty to practice their faith.
Now, persons of faith regularly enter contracts or enact incorporating elements of their faith. So long as such provisions do not violate U.S. law, it is irrelevant to courts from where the provision originates.
For example, if a Jewish person enacts a will that directs a court to divide his estate in accordance with a particular verse found within his religious tradition, a court would likely comply with this request. But if a Muslim person were to attempt something similar in a state that has passed an anti-Islam bill such as Oklahoma's SQ 755, that Muslim would be prevented from doing so. This differential freedom accorded to members of one faith over another is what the Free Exercise Clause was written to protect against.
For this reason a CAIR staff person in Oklahoma challenged the law in court. Interestingly, CAIR was accused of trying to subvert the Constitution while we were making the First Amendment arguments I just presented to you. In 2013 a federal judge struck the amendment down as unconstitutional.
Oklahoma's bill wasn't unique. In 2011 and 2012, 78 bills or amendments designed to vilify Islamic religious practices were introduced in the legislatures of 29 states and the U.S. Congress. I am still tallying 2013, but it looks like another [37 bills in 16 states] total bills. Anti-Islam bills are now law in seven states.
As a second example that Muslims are on the front line of protecting American ideals, let's look at the 2012 presidential election, one of our nation's most visible platforms for political thought.
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.""
As we know from earlier, this would violate Article VI's ban on "religious tests" for public office. So, here we have a man, a frontrunner, committing to undermining the Constitution. Did he get tossed from the stage? No. 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 during which he 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." If you find Gingrich's assertion that a future secular atheist America will be run by Islamic radicals confusing, don't worry -- so does everyone else.
While these facts are disconcerting, they are nothing new. Just as Jews, Catholics and others stood up to prejudice, so, too, are Muslims. In fact, Muslims benefit from the lessons these other faith traditions learned in their struggles against prejudice. America's Muslims also recognize that while the lens of prejudice may be on us today, it will eventually turn elsewhere. We want to make sure our struggle is a benefit to this next group and our nation as a whole. We should stop splitting into two different camps.
So, to my understanding, our original topic tonight has the effect of slicing us into two different camps. "Is sharia (them) compatible with democracy (us)?"
I am pretty sure, hearing that topic, most of you did not come here expecting an American history lesson. However, I pray that what I have said tonight brings you to share my conviction that we are, in fact, allies.
Islam and American democracy may disagree on some things. However, just as best friends often disagree without it hurting their relations we too can be adults and debate differences while partnering on ideals. Frankly, those differences are relatively minor. Violent extremists like al-Qaeda may trying to convince you otherwise, but they are everyone's enemy.
I also pray that we can now start our conversation from a healthy place -- not one of "us vs. them," but of how do we work together to establish our shared ideals of justice.
By Gadeir Abbas
There was a time not long ago when the vast size of our world and the sheer number of people inhabiting it provided a degree of privacy protection against an intrusive government. No government could monitor everything that happened everywhere. So instead, governments had to pick and choose who to follow, what to listen to, and which information to collect. God might be omniscient, but we hoped our government never would be.
Unfortunately, we now know that there are places in the world in which the United States is omniscient. The Los Angeles Times reported earlier this week that the National Security Agency (NSA) was able to "collect, sort, and make available every Iraqi email, text message, and phone-location signal in real time."
Last month we learned from the Washington Post that, through an NSA program called MYSTIC, the agency is making a recording of all phone calls that occur in an entire undisclosed country. And the NSA has not been reluctant to extend its reach. Last year's intelligence budget provided the NSA the opportunity to extend its gaze to an additional five nations.
The NSA can now reduce to zeroes and ones the life of whole nations. The government no longer needs to pick and choose what information to collect. They can know it all. The privacy protections afforded by being just one person among many no longer apply.
And while the United States developed this monitoring capacity in secret, citizens must now decide for themselves whether their government should have it. One would hope that this question -- whether omniscience is an appropriate policy objective -- answers itself.
Just consider for a moment the recordings and intercepts the United States has now collected from half a dozen countries in the world -- calls to the doctor to discuss a complicated pregnancy, messages from a mother informing her children of their father's death, conversations between youngsters in love, pleas for help from those in dire financial straits -- the NSA would have a record of all these otherwise fleeting interactions stored away for as long as it likes.
It does not make one a terrorist sympathizer to find this objectionable. The NSA should not spy on foreign populations in ways that make our stomachs churn and tyrants green with envy. Foreigners are people like us and desire privacy as much as we do. This must count for something.
Though foreigners are subject to the NSA's omniscience today, Americans inside our borders will be tomorrow. If we cannot muster the empathy to respect the privacy of innocent foreigners, let's just be selfish. Government omniscience anywhere is the first step toward government omniscience everywhere.
The amount of information in the world there is to monitor no longer exceeds the United States' capacity to monitor it. And with this development, a pillar that once supported our right to privacy has crumbled.
Because we now have to answer the question of whether we want the United States to be omniscient, let us make clear that such attributes should be reserved for God alone.
Gadeir Abbas is a staff attorney at CAIR's national headquarters in Washington, D.C.