Religious groups mobilize to counter anti-Islam speech
In his 2009 speech at Cairo University, President Barack Obama proclaimed that “Islam has always been a part of America’s History.” Nevertheless, a September 2010, Washington Post-ABC News poll showed that 49 percent of Americans held an unfavorable view of Islam, a significant increase from 39 percent in October of 2002.
In response to feelings like these, the Interfaith Alliance and the Religious Freedom Education Project of the First Amendment Center released a report Thursday, “What is the Truth About American Muslims? Questions and Answers.” The report includes answers to frequently asked questions about religious freedom and American Muslims.
At the same time, the American Freedom Defense Initiative won a court ruling requiring Washington’s Metro system to post “defeat jihad” subway ads.
Pamela Geller, AFDI’s executive director said that, while it is good to see Muslims in the U.S. condemning extremism, the "unpleasant fact" is that not a single mosque in the U.S. has a program to teach against the violent jihadist understanding of Islam.
The AFDI ads, posted last week at four D.C. Metro stations, read, "In any war between the civilized man and the savage, support the civilized man. Support Israel. Defeat jihad."
Another group bought counter ads at three Metro stations.
The interfaith report, drafted over nine months, was endorsed by 21 religious and secular organizations, including the Islamic Society of North America, Rabbis for Human Rights-North America and the New Evangelical Partnership for the Common Good.
Charles C. Haynes, director of the Religious Freedom Education Project, referred to a study conducted by the Center for American Progress in 2011.The study says that U.S. anti-Muslim organizations spent $40 million over the past decade to convince Americans that Islam is inherently violent and oppressive and that Muslims in the U.S. tend to subvert laws by imposing their own.
The study revealed “a tightly networked group of misinformation experts guiding an effort that reaches millions of Americans through effective advocates, media partners and grassroots organizing.”
The study cited U.S. politicians Rep. Peter King R-N.Y.; Allen West R-Fla., and Michele Bachmann R-Minn., as having repeated anti-Muslim attacks and misinformation.
Haynes said his project doesn’t have $40 million to correct the record, but it has the power to bring together religious leaders and scholars to say with one voice “enough is enough – here is the truth about American Muslims.”
The Rev. C. Welton Gaddy, president of the Interfaith Alliance, said, “When one religion is under attack in this nation, no religion is free from similar circumstances.”
Gaddy said the group plans to place the document in the hands of 1,500 elected officials, including members of the Senate and the House of Representatives. The document will also be given to attorneys general in states considering anti-Shariah legislations.
A study released by Gallup in 2012 found that most religious groups say American Muslims do not speak enough against terrorism.
The term jihad in Islam is not what most American’s think it is, according to the report, which defines it not as a “holy war” in the way the crusades would be considered a holy war.
The report says jihad has two theological meanings, the struggle to purify one’s heart and fighting against oppressors and aggressors who commit injustice. The form of jihad that involves fighting requires specific ethical conditions under which it is permissible to fight. Radical and extremist groups misuse the term, the report says.
American also misunderstand Shariah, which is Islamic law, but interpreted differently in different Islamic countries and is “vulnerable to misuse by extremists to promote violence,” the report says. The report says that, to most American Muslisms, Shariah is a personal, religious obligation governing the practice of faith, not as something American governments should enforce.
This year, 33 anti-Shariah or international law bills were introduced in 20 states, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
After Metro installed the defeat jihad ads in four stations, Shoulder to Shoulder, an interfaith organization dedicated to ending anti-Muslim sentiment, unveiled the counter-ads it bought and called on Metro to donate to charity all proceeds earned from both sets of ads.
Metro said the money would go into its general funds.
Sabrina White, a member of the national office of the United Methodist Women, said that in the past, the use of words such as savage has caused trouble. She said people may start believing they can treat a certain group badly because, “if you tell a lie long enough, people begin to believe it.”
Reach reporter Monica Ibrahim at email@example.com or 202-326-9861. SHFWire stories are free to any news organization that gives the reporter a byline and credits the SHFWire.