Fear of Islam violates our traditions

By: Rabbi Jack Bemporad, Center for Interreligious Understanding Professor Marshall Breger, Catholic University of America Suhail A. Khan, Institute for … Continued

By: Rabbi Jack Bemporad, Center for Interreligious Understanding
Professor Marshall Breger, Catholic University of America
Suhail A. Khan, Institute for Global Engagement
The Very Reverend Dr. James A. Kowalski, Cathedral Church of Saint John the Divine

We are here as a single voice that comes from the three Abrahamic faiths, because we are seeing a new slogan ripple from downtown Manhattan across the US. Its timing particularly resonates as some of us have just returned from an unprecedented tour of concentration camps in Europe, where we stood side by side with a delegation of the most influential US Imams and Muslim leadership. Together, those of us who are Jewish and Muslim, came face-to-face with the unambiguous lesson that religious demonization can and does lead to unimaginable violence and horror.

This angry and emotionally-charged debate over the so-called “Ground Zero mosque,” (which is not at Ground Zero and is a community center that includes a mosque), is about the perceived threat and rights of a religious minority, Muslim Americans. While many people are legitimately concerned for the sensitive reconstruction of property near Ground Zero, if the controversy was simply the proposed Islamic center in downtown New York, the danger would be contained. Ugly and messy, perhaps, but contained. But throughout the nation a slogan has emerged: No More Mosques. Not just near Ground Zero but in Staten Island, Tennessee, Wisconsin, California…

Thus radio talk show host Rush Limbaugh calls for a moratorium on mosques everywhere as political advisor Dick Morris sounds the alarm: “The proposed mosque near to Ground Zero is not really a religious institution. It would be — as many mosques throughout the nation are — a terrorist recruitment, indoctrination and training center.”

And a good deal of this rhetoric has crossed the line from antipathy to mosques to hate speech about the religion of Islam itself:

While former House Speaker Newt Gingrich conjures up Nazi imagery, Evangelist Franklin Graham describes Islam as “a very evil and wicked religion” and Christian Broadcasting Network’s “700 Club” host Pat Robertson says Islam isn’t a religion but a “worldwide political movement meant on domination of the world.”

Their ignorance and inaccurate diatribes about Islam would not be worth noting were it not for the frightening impact this fear-mongering zeal is having on the fabric of American society. The Pew Research Center just released a study that shows the American view of Muslims has declined in the last five years and today, more Americans now have an unfavorable opinion of Islam than have a favorable one.

Are there extremists who promote violence in the name of faith? No doubt. Zealots of all three Abrahamic faiths have done so for time immemorial. The early Christian apologists told us “there is no crime for those who have Christ”. The Crusaders pillaged entire cities. Jewish Sicarri zealots provoked a war with Rome. Fast-forward to the cross-burning KKK, and the Kach followers of Rabbi Meier Kahane, designated by the US government as a terrorist organization. We personally cringe and publicly reject what these extremists stand for. Clearly it is neither Christianity nor Judaism just as 9/11 does not reflect the essence of Islam.

But we must not commit the cardinal error — indeed cardinal sin — of taking one aspect of a religion (often torn from context) and condemning an entire faith community for its errant fanatics. In our zeal to attack the extremes, we should not attack the spiritual truth of the religions themselves.

We would do well to remember the words of President George W. Bush after the horror of 9/11: “Millions of our fellow citizens are Muslim. We respect the faith. We honor its traditions. Our enemy does not. Our enemy doesn’t follow the great traditions of Islam. They’ve hijacked a great religion.” And the post-9/11 statement issued by fifty-seven leaders of North American Islamic organizations, seventy-seven Islamic intellectuals, and dozens of concerned Muslim citizens: “As American Muslims and scholars of Islam, we wish to restate our conviction that peace and justice constitute the basic principles of the Muslim faith….Groups like al-Qaeda have misused and abused Islam in order to fit their own radical and indeed anti-Islamic agenda. Usama bin Laden and al-Qaeda’s actions are criminal, misguided and counter to the true teachings of Islam.” And the words of President Obama last year “There are extremist organizations – whether Muslim or any other faith, in the past – that will use faith as a justification for violence. We cannot paint with a broad brush a faith as a consequence of the violence that is done in that faith’s name.”

In 2005, a Fatwa, an Islamic ruling that carries the weight of religious law, was issued against Islamic extremists by the Fiqh Council of North America. This association of Islamic legal scholars interprets Muslim religious teaching and guides millions of American Muslims. Its 18-member council issued this Fatwa that condemns all acts of terrorism and religious extremism as fundamentally un-Islamic: “There is no justification in Islam for extremism or terrorism. Targeting civilians’ life and property through suicide bombings or any other method of attack is haram – or forbidden- and those who commit these barbaric acts are criminals, not ‘martyrs.'” This Fatwa was endorsed by more than one hundred Muslim organizations in the US.

Islam’s teachings and ethics are very similar to Jewish and Christian teachings. Islam teaches the love of God and love of fellow human beings; the living of an ethical life that emphasizes justice and charity, and being kind and generous to all human beings. The authentic teachings of Islam consider Jews, Christians and Muslims to be “People of the Book” and therefore not infidels.

The kind of caricature and reductionism we have recently seen does nothing to help fight terrorism, the real and murderous enemy all of us — regardless of faith or no faith at all — currently face and must defeat. It gets in the way.

As Americans of all faiths we must recognize, marginalize and reject the divisive rhetoric of a vocal minority. We are seeing the early days of a potential tsunami of prejudice currently called Islamophobia and there is no place in our civil society for it. Hate is hate: just take a tour of a concentration camp and it is clear that hate knows no bounds. As we toured Dachau and Auschwitz it was also clear that the only way to make real the commitment of “Never Again” is to stand united under the law, against injustice, and loudly reject the roiling wave of prejudice churning on our horizon. To not do so is to go against the American principles of inclusion and fairness. And it goes against the very spirit of our faiths.

To read the landmark statement issues by the Imams after their trip to
Dachau and Auschwitz, please see:

  • bhigr

    Suhail A. Khan I want to ask you a few questions. Which law has priority, Allah’s law, shariah, or the US constitution? Is Hamas a terrorist organization? Is the muslim brotherhood a terrorist organization? Shariah law calls for the execution of apostates. Do you approve of killing apostates according to shariah?

  • ThomasBaum

    To Bemporad, Breger, Khan and Kowalski Pointing out that the god of islam and the God of the bible are not one and the same, is not “condemning an entire faith community for its errant fanatics”, as a matter of fact, it is not commenting on any Muslim.If Jesus is not God-Incarnate, and He Is God-Incarnate, than there is no such thing as Christianity.The god of islam denies the Divinity of Jesus and yet claims Jesus as his prophet, in other words, the god of islam calls Jesus a liar and then picks Jesus as his prophet, just like satan to try and put himself above God, isn’t it?You wrote, “Islam’s teachings and ethics are very similar to Jewish and Christian teachings.”Similar, yes, but the ONE THING that makes Christianity, Christianity, is denied and not only denied but it gets the god of islam very perturbed to call Jesus, The Son of God or anyone else a son or daughter of God.Denying the most basic, core truths of Christianity is to spit in God’s Face if one happens to call themself a Christian who believes that God Is a Trinity.You then wrote, “Islam teaches the love of God and love of fellow human beings; the living of an ethical life that emphasizes justice and charity, and being kind and generous to all human beings.”Christianity teaches that God became One of us and “paid the price”, so to speak, for ALL OF US.On the cross when Jesus called out “IT IS FINISHED”, this translates as “PAID IN FULL”.The Jews are the “Chosen People” for the simple reason that God chose and formed them.It was thru the Jews that God became Incarnate and lived and died, for all of humanity and all of creation, as a Jew.Christianity is part of God’s unfolding Plan which God has had since before creation for the Salvation of ALL, ultimately.As I have said many times, God is a searcher of hearts and minds, not of religious affiliations or lack thereof.It really doesn’t matter what religion or no religion that one belongs to because God looks at the person, not the label, but God did become One of us and His earthly name was/is Jesus.Take care, be ready.Sincerely, Thomas Paul Moses Baum.

  • ErikKengaard

    Islam may be more a political ideology, with attributes of some of the worst, than a religion. If it is a political ideology, then it makes sense to oppose it. Consider some of the political ideologies that we oppose. What are their attributes? What are the attributes of Islam as practiced by many?

  • tlwinslow

    Those who quote history should at least do a thorough job of studying it first, else they will create a selective rose-tinted view, in this case of Islam. A study of Islam back to is start reveals it to be the most intolerant, violent and supremacist ideology ever known, with its founder Muhammad claiming divine backing for declaring war on the world to make them submit to Allah, either by becoming Muslims or by accepting their domination and superiority and living under their laws, which include lifetime punishment taxes for not being executed for being infidels. Fear is part of Allah’s own formula, since he consigns infidels to Hell and Muslim martyrs to paradise. Yes, Jews were treated like merde by Christendom, and many actually preferred to live under Islamic rather than Christian domination, since they both kept Jews down, but with Islam they usually left them alone after they paid their taxes, and they could engage in professions such as medicine or even rise to grand vizier. Still, any time a group of Jews collectively raised their position to anywhere near equality with Muslims, the latter would rise up and start a pogrom, such as in Cordoba in 1011, which is why naming the Ground Zero Mosque after Cordoba and wanting to break ground for it on 2011 should disturb any Jew. Muhammad of course set the example for all Muslims with his vile hatred and murder of Jews, which is why Islam is incurably anti-Semitic. Why not take time to study the complete 1400-year history of Islam free online with hundreds of links to history sites to check facts and go deeper with the Historyscoper’s free online Islam history course, then pontificate about Islam and fear? To get started click