With the explosion of any terrorist attack in the US, Islamophobia explodes in the face of US Muslims and their faith accusing them of supporting terrorism. The reaction to the recent Boston bombings is another example of such misunderstanding and stereotyping that act against sustaining a harmonious US community where Muslims are an integral part of.
OnIslam.net took those concerns along with other inquiries about the US government policies against US Muslims to CAIR Florida’s Executive Director Mr. Hassan Shibly in an attempt to expose the truth.
With academic degrees in Political Science and Law, Mr. Shibly vibrant life is dedicated for the protection of civil rights of all Americans including Muslims. As a lawyer, he was admitted to the Florida Bar in 2011 as well as being admitted to practice in Florida’s federal courts in April 2012.
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OnIslam.net (OI): Is Islam a foreign religion in the US? Can Muslims be American?
Hassan Shibly: The US is one of the best places in the world to practice Islam and Islam has a very rich history in the US. Muslims first visited the US long before Columbus. There is in fact strong evidence that some of the Native American tribes practiced Islam or were otherwise heavily influenced by Muslim practices.
John Adams, one of the founding fathers of the US praised the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) in 1776 as a “sober inquirer of truth.” He even went on to sign a treaty as US President declaring that the US had no “character of enmity against the laws, religion, or tranquility” of Muslims. George Washington, America’s first president, was very clear that Muslims should be free and welcome to work in the US.
Benjamin Franklin said that even the “Mufti of Constantinople” should be welcome and free to preach Islam in America. Even today, the Library of Congress has a copy of the translation of the Quran read by Thomas Jefferson. Congressman Keith Ellison used that translation of the Quran to be sworn in as the first American Muslim Congressman. Morocco, a Muslim country, was the first nation to recognize the US as an independent nation. Muslims even fought during the American Civil War. Muslims are an important and an inseparable part of the fabric of American history.
Islamic ideals compliment many of the values that we as Americans honor today. Principles like freedom of religion, the presumption of innocence, the rules of just war, and honoring justice, have been adopted into American values from and heavily influenced by Islamic thought and thinkers.
Islam teaches always speaking the truth, respecting diversity, working with interfaith groups to advance justice, and having mercy on all creation. This all in fact makes one a better American. Being American means respecting diversity, freedom, and justice. Islam and traditional American values complement each other.
OI: How would you compare the US Muslim community now and shortly before 9/11?
Shibly: American Muslims have faced discrimination and attacks against Islam long before 9/11. Nonetheless, since 9/11 American Muslims have faced many challenges.
First, the terrible attacks of 9/11 were used to justify invasions of two Muslim countries that lead to the death or injury of millions. Second, the civil rights and freedom of speech of American Muslims have been severely curtailed and Muslims have been subject to enhanced surveillance. Third, American Muslims often face a double standard by the media, politicians, and many in the public.
If an American Christian does an act of terrorism or extreme violence, he is written off as being insane and representing no more than his own twisted mind. Christians are not expected to answer or be held accountable for his crimes. If, on the other hand, a person who happens to be Muslim does an act of terrorism, many point the finger at the entire Muslim community and faith.
Islamophobia was actually higher in 2010 than it was right after 9/11. However, since 2010 we have seen that many of the politicians and media personalities who made a career out of attacking Islam and Muslims lose respect and credibility amongst the mainstream and in-shaa’ Allah the situation is improving.
According to the FBI, between 1980-2005, only 6 percent of terrorist attacks in the US involved Muslims.
OI: The suspects of the Boston attacks turned out to be Muslims, again like most attacks since 9/11, do you think it is a coincident?
Shibly: Actually, most terrorist attacks in the US have not been planned by people who have anything to do with Islam. For example, according to the FBI, between 1980-2005, only 6 percent of terrorist attacks in the US involved Muslims. Now even 1 percent is too much, nonetheless, it certainly is not the majority.
Furthermore, American political scientists have made it very clear that those who commit acts of terrorism have nothing to do with religion and are often motivated by political, not religious, reasons. Actually, such attacks can never be justified and truly are nothing more than the result of having a twisted and sick mind.
OI: Which of the following do you think are the major influencing factor(s) motivating the Muslim perpetrators of attacks:
- Wicked understanding of Islam
- Islam being a minority religion in the US
- US foreign policy
- US government domestic discriminatory security policy against Muslims
- All the above
- None of the above
Shibly: None of the above. Domestically, it appears that many of those who engage in plotting acts of terror are ignorant, troubled, and mentally unstable individuals. Some have used disagreement with US foreign policy as justification for their disgusting acts, but the fact remains that such acts are unjustifiable and are due to the individual needing serious mental health counseling more than anything else.
No mentally healthy individual can accept the intentional attack against innocent civilians, especially not in the name of any divine faith.
Since 2010 we have seen that many of the politicians and media personalities who made a career out of attacking Islam and Muslims lose respect and credibility amongst the mainstream. (Reuters)
OI: How do you evaluate the impact of the Boston attacks on the US government policies against US Muslims in terms of freedoms and liberties?
Shibly: It’s too early to tell. Some law makers and government officials have very clearly stated that we must not stereotype and cannot hold an entire community accountable for the acts of a few. Others have already called for increased surveillance of Muslim communities. Time will tell whether reason or hysteria will prevail.
OI: Do the US government current policies against US Muslims help build a patriotic community with a sense of belonging to the country?
Shibly: Some US government policies and actions have helped foster a stronger sense of patriotism and belonging for the Muslim community whereas other actions have been counter-productive and served to act to alienate the community.
Anti-Muslim law enforcement training, spying on Muslims, profiling, harassing, and subjecting American Muslims to enhanced security and questioning while travelling has only served to alienate the community and promote distrust between the community and law enforcement. Government outreach programs (excluding that of the FBI), round table meetings, and relationship building between elected officials and the Muslim community have served to strengthen relations on the other hand.
OI: If CAIR has the chance to formulate the US government anti-terrorism policy, what would its foundational philosophy be?
Shibly: To profile suspicious actions, not ethnicity or religion. To work with all communities to establish healthy relationships based on trust and mutual respect. To ensure our foreign policy does not radicalize new generations by making sure we do not engage in acts that lead to the deaths of civilians or violations of the sovereignty of independent nations and peoples.
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