What is Jihad? Do Muslims practice taqiyya (I mean, do Muslims really believe lying is a principle of the faith)? Isn’t shariah creeping like kudzu on the Constitution? These are some of the questions American Muslims are being asked. As the Islamophobia Industry continues to profit from tearing America apart, these questions are framed in more aggressive and hateful ways.
In response to this growing animosity, the Religious Freedom Education Project at the First Amendment Center along with the Interfaith Alliance released a frequently asked questions document entitled “What is The Truth about American Muslims? Questions and Answers,” co-authored by Dr. Charles Haynes of the Religious Freedom Education Project, Wajahat Ali, and myself. The idea has been in development for nine months, as Muslims came under more scrutiny, and after Islamophobic groups attempted to denigrate the tragedy of 9/11 for coarse political gains starting in 2010.
The questions we formed were based on two basic criteria: what we believed the bare minimum of knowledge should be about the history and contributions of Muslims in America and what were some of the terms that we believed were being misused in the public sphere. In both aspects, we relied on consultation, going to heads of relevant organizations, and multitudes of congregations, to find out what would be most useful to help bring understanding. Our own ongoing work here at RD proved to be an invaluable resource, as we had documentation about the variety of myths that were being spread about Muslims.
The questions being asked of American Muslims are the same type that were asked of other religious groups in this country as they become more visible. One goal is for people to ask themselves the same questions about their own traditions, since the lack of religious literacy is one of the key drivers behind bigotry against religious communities. It allows pernicious, vicious myths to continue to exist.
What this document does is represent that there is a long and healthy respect for religious freedom and Muslims in this country. Dr. Haynes, Rev. Dr. Welton Gaddy, and I were joined by Rev. Richard Cizik of the New Evangelical Partnership for the Common Good, and were supposed to be joined by Rabbi Jill Jacobs of Rabbis for Human Rights – North America, the group responsible for putting up ads in the NYC subway system in response to the hateful speech promoted there earlier in the month. It also gives a platform for Muslims to represent themselves and state what they believe. We were fortunate to have many individuals who gave input from the Muslim community, including academics, traditionally trained scholars, and activists. It was reviewed by experts in the relevant fields, and we received feedback from a wide variety of faith groups.
We do, by the way, have good answers for the questions that I began the post with. For example, taqiyya “does not allow one to deceive and lie;” it allows you to protect your life from imminent harm. One question we didn’t address was “Is President Obama Muslim?” Since the answer is a simple “no” we didn’t think it belonged in a book on American Muslims.