This past week, the US celebrated one of the great moral and theological figures of American history, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Dr. King rarely directly addressed the topics and themes that we focus on here at Inside Islam, but his unique combination of pragmatism and dreaming allowed his faith-inspired message of peace, love, and brotherhood to flourish throughout the world in a way that we can still learn from today. Although the roots of his oratorical style derived from a specific Southern Baptist upbringing, his words continue to inspire all people. King called upon communities to come together to combat societal problems, something that is woefully missing from contemporary discussions.
This coming November, a new Muslim reality show will broadcast on TLC. All American Muslim will follow the lives of 5 families in Dearborn, Michigan, home to the largest Muslim population in the United States. The show aims to give a glimpse of the Muslim American population and the challenges that they face, inside and outside of their community. Moreover, according to Amy Winter, TLC’s general manager, one of the goals of the program is to show the diversity of the Muslim community, which is not only true of the community in Dearborn but of the worldwide Muslim community.
This show comes at a time where the situation for Muslim Americans has been mixed. Ten years after the 9/11 attacks, there is an increased awareness of this community and Islam more generally but on the other hand it has become much more acceptable to express negative sentiments about Muslims and Islam. A show like this can further the positive interest that has emerged post 9/11 and counteract the negative response.
There have been many indications in the last year that Islamophobia has been increasing: the protests around the building of Cordoba House in New York, the attempts in some states to ban sharia law, and Peter King’s hearings on the radicalization of Muslim Americans. All these stories revolve around the concept of fear, specifically fear of Islam and Muslims. While many people have strong opinions on Islam and Muslims, many actually do not know that much about the faith or its followers, even though it is the second largest religion in the world.
Today, April 5th, Nicholas Sarkozy’s ruling party will hold a national debate on the role of religion and secularism in France. Even though it is being framed as a discussion on France’s doctrine of laïcité (secularism), many believe that it is singling out Islam. Among the topics that will be examined in the debate is overcrowding in mosques, serving halal meat in school cafeterias, and whether patients should be allowed to request doctors of a certain gender.
On Sunday, March 27th, CNN aired “Unwelcome: The Muslims Next Door,” in which correspondent, Soledad O’Brien went to Murfreesboro, Tennessee, to examine the controversy around the building of an Islamic center.
In 2010, the city commission committee approved plans for the local Muslim community to build a 52,000-foot facility that would include not only a mosque, but also a school, a swimming pool, a gym, and a cemetery. Residents of Murfreesboro, which houses 180 churches and currently one mosque, came out in protest of the the Islamic center. In addition to protests, the sign at the site of the future center was vandalized twice: the first time the words “not welcome” were sprayed on it and the second time it was cut in half. Also, the construction equipment at the site was doused with gas and lit on fire. Finally, some residents filed an unsuccessful lawsuit to stop construction of the mosque.
O’Brien interviewed both opponents and supporters of the project. The question that emerged throughout the interviews was this: Is the problem with the building of the mosque itself or is the prevalent emotion symptomatic of a broader Islamophobia?
On Wednesday, March 16th, Here on Earth host Jean Feraca will talk with Prof. Ingrid Mattson, director of the Duncan Macdonaled Center for the Study of Islam and Christian-Muslim Relations at the Hartford Seminary and previous president of the Islamic Society of North America, about Representative Peter King’s hearings “on the extent of radicalization in the American Muslim community and that community’s response.” According to Rep. King, Muslim organizations have not cooperated enough with the government to prevent more attacks by radicalized Muslims.
The above were among the words used by anti-Islam protesters in Orange County, CA, as Muslim men, women, and children peacefully entered a fundraiser benefiting a local women’s shelter and homeless services. Local councilwoman Deborah Pauly was met with loud cheers as she told the crowd of hundreds, “I know quite a few Marines who will be very happy to help these terrorists [the peaceful people at the fundraiser] to an early meeting in paradise.” Other epithets from the crowd included “Muhammad was a pervert,” “Muhammad was a false Prophet,” and “One nation under God, not Allah.” (Just to clarify, Allah is the Arabic word for God, and is used to refer to God by Arab Christians, Arab Jews, and Muslims.)