There’s no reason to be terrified about mosques

ows_145471998019129I have a feeling that President Obama’s visit to a Maryland mosque this week was kind of too little, too late (“In mosque visit, Obama decries anti-Muslim bias,” Feb. 4). It is ironic that while Obama is sending drones to kill Muslims abroad, an Islamophobe like Donald Trump only calls for banning them.

Republicans think Muslims just don’t fit here. Obama, on the other hand, thinks Muslims fit just fine right here in America, once they make it into the country alive. “Let me say as clearly as I can as president of the United States: You fit right here,” Obama assured thousands of Muslim Americans at the Islamic Society of Baltimore who came to listen to the first black president of the U.S. This probably was not the first time Obama had visited a mosque. His father was a Muslim, which has been a scar that has followed him all of his life.

According to a September CNN poll, 29 percent of Americans believe Obama is a Muslim, including 43 percent of Republicans. Obama joked about such notions in his mosque visit, saying the same rumors had stained Thomas Jefferson. “I am not the first,” he said. “I am in good company.”

Americans have a medieval view of mosques; many seem terrified of mosques. Most mosques in this country were at some point churches or schools that closed down. Very few mosques are actually built as mosques.

A big chunk of Americans who have never visited a mosque think mosques are breeding grounds for terrorist jihadists. Mosques, unlike churches, have no membership or denomination. Any group or imam can open a mosque. If you don’t like a mosque, you simply go to another one or build your own.


I’m a Muslim, not a terrorist. So why did the NYPD spy on me for years?

elshinawy_240x180_61454638842A couple of weeks after I began lecturing on Islam at New York City mosques, something strange happened. Acquaintances and congregants told me they’d been approached by law enforcement officers who asked about me and my talks. Soon after, I began to notice suspicious people in the audiences. One gentleman stood out — he was the most frequent attendee, but he regularly fell asleep while I spoke.

It was 2003. I was enrolled at Brooklyn College, studying English literature. I’d grown up in New York and loved the city. But I’d also seen the way Muslims were discriminated against, particularly after Sept. 11, 2001. In the year after the attacks, hate crimes spiked tenfold. I wanted to encourage Muslims to stay strong in their faith in spite of these assaults. I spoke on theology and visiting the sick, on skepticism and the sinful pursuit of instant gratification, on the gravity of injustice and the vastness of God’s mercy.

I wasn’t doing anything wrong. I consistently rejected violence and terrorism in my lectures. Still, for a decade, I felt like I was under surveillance, pursued by shadowy law enforcement officials seeking out a crime that didn’t exist.

In 2013, my fears were confirmed. I found out from an Associated Press investigation that I was a victim of the New York Police Department’s aggressive surveillance of Muslims. After 9/11, the NYPD began to track large swaths of us. Officers secretly labeled entire mosques as terrorist organizations, then spied on imams and recorded sermons. The department conducted at least a dozen of these “terrorism enterprise investigations” since 2001, often without specific evidence of criminal wrongdoing and minimal oversight from judges. No charges were ever brought as a result of the activities of the so-called “demographics” unit.


Nancy Pelosi Invokes Prophet Muhammad at National Prayer Breakfast, Compares Islam and Christianity

12102015_obama-kennedy-center-hon-268201_c0-211-5010-3129_s400x233House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., invoked the Islamic prophet Muhammad at Thursday’s National Prayer Breakfast in Washington D.C., and compared aspects of the Christian and Islamic faiths.

Pelosi, a Roman Catholic, was one of the number of political and faith leaders to speak at the annual prayer breakfast, and mentioned in her speech some of the similarities she sees between Islam, Judaism, and Christianity.

“In the Gospel of John we see the golden rule that stands at the heart of the gospel, and as we hear these words from John 13, 15, and 17, we know that this message, this command of love is not confined to the New Testament,” Pelosi said, according to The Daily Caller.

“The same message stands at the center of the Torah and the teachings of the prophet Muhammad too. In the Torah it says, ‘love your neighbor as yourself’ and from Muhammad, ‘none of you has faith until he loves for his neighbor or brother what he loves for himself.'”

Comparisons between Islam and Christianity have stirred notable controversy in evangelical circles in recent months, particularly with the ongoing case of a Wheaton College professor who is facing termination for suggesting that Christians and Muslims worship the same God.


How are Muslims around the world reacting to Obama’s visit to a mosque?

obamaPresident Obama’s first visit to an American mosque since taking office predictably drew criticism from his opponents on the campaign trail and conservative commentators. But what was the reaction from the world’s 1.5 billion Muslims?

For the most part, a collective shrug.

The symbolism of Wednesday’s visit did not go unappreciated, especially in the U.S., where Obama was lauded for taking a stand against the inexcusable political rhetoric against Muslims and exhorting Americans not to confuse millions of patriotic citizens with a “radical, tiny minority” who engage in violence. But many wondered why the president had waited until his seventh year in office.

President George W. Bush visited a mosque in Washington within days of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, to reassure American Muslims and appeal for tolerance.

The Council on American-Islamic Relations and other Muslim groups had been urging Obama to make a similar visit for years. Obama has visited mosques during official visits abroad, including in Egypt and Indonesia. But the president’s aides feared such a visit in the U.S. would feed the rumors — inaccurate but persistent– that Obama is a Muslim.

“Maybe he feels comfortable there,” Republican front-runner Donald Trump said of Obama’s visit on Fox News, a loaded comment from someone who has appeared to question Obama’s Christian faith as well as his birthplace.

Obama’s visit also drew criticism from Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) who accused the president at a town hall in New Hampshire of “always pitting people against each other. Always.”

However, Obama was received warmly at the Islamic Society of Baltimore, where he noted that Jefferson’s opponents “tried to stir things by suggesting he was a Muslim, so I was not the first. I’m in good company.”

Zainab Chaudry, the council’s outreach manager in Maryland, said the visit was “a significant step in the right direction and will hopefully encourage our nation’s political and religious leaders to join him in pushing back against rising Islamophobia.”

The visit also generated some self-deprecating humor, including this tweet from the author, lawyer and Harvard University scholar Qasim Rashid:

Outside the U.S., however, the speech had little impact.


Two Ways Christians Distort Islam (and Two Ways Muslims Distort Christianity)


Editor’s Note: Christian. Muslim. Friend. received the 2016 Christianity Book Award in the category of Missions/The Global Church.

My wife, Grace, and I were in a restaurant in an Asian country when friends ushered to our table another American couple. Our friends introduced me as an expert on Islam. “Oh, how delightful to meet you!” the American couple exclaimed. “We want to learn all we can from you about Muslims. Of course, we both know it is difficult to describe Muslims, because the Muslim holy book teaches Muslims to be liars. So when a Muslim says he has become a Christian, we can all know he is still a Muslim because his lies actually communicate the opposite of what is true.”

On another occasion I was in a mosque on a Friday just on the eve of the Christmas holidays. In the sermon the imam confidently explained to the congregation that Christians get drunk on Christmas. So a proof of the truth of Islam is that Muslims do not get drunk, he said; they would never think of desecrating a Muslim festival by drinking.

Neither statement is true. Some Muslims do tell lies; some Christians do get drunk at Christmas. But this is not normal. Most Christians do not get drunk on Christmas, and most Muslims are not liars.

Muslims and Christians often participate in distortions of one another. Both would do well to be people of truth and avoid distortions or exaggerated overstatement. My goal is to communicate the essence of Islam in ways that, if Muslims were listening, they would agree. I am committed to accurately describing their faith and truthfully representing disagreements. I also plead with Muslims to exercise the same commitment. Muslims and Christians should be careful to portray each other in ways that are truthful, kind, and trust building.

In the spirit of building relations committed to truth, I will comment on four distortions that need to be addressed: two Muslim distortions and two Christian distortions.


Obama, in Mosque Visit, Denounces Anti-Muslim Bias


WASHINGTON — President Obama on Wednesday embraced Muslims in the United States as part of “one American family” and implicitly criticized the Republican presidential candidates in a warning to citizens to not be “bystanders to bigotry.”

In a visit to the Islamic Society of Baltimore, his first to a mosque in the United States as president, Mr. Obama recited phrases from the Quran and praised American Muslims as a crucial part of America’s history and vital to the nation’s future.

“And so if we’re serious about freedom of religion — and I’m speaking now to my fellow Christians who remain the majority in this country — we have to understand an attack on one faith is an attack on all our faiths,” Mr. Obama said.

Although Mr. Obama never mentioned Republican presidential candidates like Donald J. Trump, who has called for a temporary ban on Muslims entering the United States, the targets in his remarks were clear. “We have to reject a politics that seeks to manipulate prejudice or bias, and targets people because of religion,” he said.

The speech served as a bookend to a 2009 address Mr. Obama delivered at Cairo University, where he called for “a new beginning between the United States and Muslims around the world.” In Baltimore, the president did not talk about intractable international conflicts like the Israeli-Palestinian dispute and focused instead on the more prosaic reality of vandalized mosques and bullied American Muslim children.


Obama will make first presidential visit to a U.S. mosque

Islamic-Society-of-BaltimorePresident Obama plans to make his first presidential visit to an American mosque on Wednesday to deliver a message about religious tolerance — and to challenge what he sees as Republican intolerance on the campaign trail.

The president will visit the Islamic Society of Baltimore, one of the Mid-Atlantic region’s largest Muslim centers, to urge Americans to embrace the diversity of their neighbors, including the millions of Muslim citizens.

While he won’t mention Donald Trump or any other GOP candidates by name, one top aide said, Obama wants to speak out against what he sees as a strain of Islamaphobia aimed at playing on fears of domestic terrorism.

“The kind of rhetoric that we’ve seen from Republicans didn’t just emanate from Mr. Trump,” said Josh Earnest, the White House press secretary. “It has, unfortunately, infected our political debate in a way that doesn’t reflect the values that are so central to the founding of our country.”

He won the White House in 2008 only after a concerted effort to prove to voters that he is a Christian who did not inherit his grandfather’s Muslim religion along with his father’s Islamic-sounding name. He and his family occasionally attend church services.