However, the question of freedom of religion for Muslims in America is not confined to the issue of the proposed project of the Cordoba Initiative in lower Manhattan. Indeed, Muslim communities throughout the United States-in Connecticut, Georgia, Tennessee, Florida, and other states, face zoning challenges, regulatory opposition, and even intimidation and threats of violence when they announce plans to build houses of worship or enlarge mosques and Islamic centers that currently exist.
There is even a document, currently circulating on the internet, that is a virtual “ How to Stop a Mosque” manual for communities that want to mobilize against the legitimate religious rights of Muslims. There have been recent instances, for example, of peaceful Muslim worshipers who were confronted by hostile crowds upon leaving mosques after Friday prayers. One such anti-Muslim church community in Florida is even planning to publicly burn copies of the Holy Qur'an on September 11th, 2010.
MAS Freedom believes that the vast majority of people of faith in America are fair and just in their respect for Muslims and the religion of Islam, and that a spirit of mutual tolerance and respect defines the vast majority of these relationships. However, a disturbing trend of unwarranted opposition to Muslims, and even the open hatred of our faith, is emerging from some extreme political quarters in the nation:
Political conservatives rage against Islam in the media, and even equate the construction of a community and religious center in lower Manhattan-one that is not even at the site of World Trade Center-as tantamount to an act of treason. A number of Muslim congregations have been confronted by angry protesters after the conclusion of our Friday congregational prayers. Mosques have been vandalized, and even threatened with destruction. Muslim women wearing Hijab, the traditional head covering, have been harassed in public and there is even one religious congregation in Florida that has called for the public burning of copies of the Holy Qur’an on September 11, 2010.
Yet the continued exploitation of the emotions that followed the September 11th, 2001 attacks must not be used as a pretext to demonize the entire American Muslim community. This was a crime committed by Al-Queda; American Muslims did not orchestrate, finance, or execute this vile act. And no national Muslim organization condoned or excused this crime. Indeed, the American Muslim community was also victimized by this terrorist attack, and hundreds of Muslims were among the dead and injured at the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.
Muslims in America seek positive engagement with the broader American community. We sponsor community-based educational, charitable, and youth development initiatives. We are anxious to demonstrate to others the genuine tenets of our faith, and our commitment to work for social welfare and social justice not only for Muslims, but for all people in our great nation but we will not accept second class citizenship, or the compromise of our legitimate freedoms and constitutional protections. We appeal to all people of faith and conscience to affirm faith over fear, and religious freedom and justice for all.
More than the freedom of religious expression, we believe that establishment of the Park 51 project of the Cordoba initiative, and the expansion of other religious facilities for Muslim communities in America, would represent a victory against the extremists who mischaracterize our nation as one that is hostile to the religion of Islam. Indeed, the values of justice, compassion, and the celebration of pluralism- so inextricably woven into our best traditions- send a powerful message to the world that Islam, along with the other faith traditions in the mosaic of this country, enjoys the freedoms and protections that all other religions do in America.
As a Muslim, a seventh-generation citizen of the United States, and a descendent of enslaved Africans transported to these shores, I celebrate not only this part of the American legacy, but the centuries of sacrifice and struggle that have made this freedom possible. Hatred, prejudice, and the false notion of the collective guilt of all American Muslims may contaminate the thinking of some people in our society, but they are not the values that uphold the best of what America should mean to the world.
The free expression of religion must not be truncated by fear or falsehood. And Muslims, who contribute so much to the well-being of America, must be equally protected under the supreme law of this republic-the constitution of the United States.
Ibrahim Ramey is an international human rights and interfaith activist. He currently serves as the Director of the Human and Civil Rights Department of the Muslim American Society Freedom Foundation (MAS Freedom)