A precious good whose delicate complex order and freedom can at any moment be overthrown
Asra Q. Nomani, "Hate at the Local Mosque," The New York Times, May 6, 2004.via Tac
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — Not long ago in my little mosque around the corner from a McDonald's, a student from the university here delivered a sermon. To love the Prophet Muhammad, he said, "is to hate those who hate him." He railed against man-made doctrines that replace Islamic law, and excoriated the "enemies of Islam" who deny strict adherence to Sunnah, or the ways of Muhammad. While he wasn't espousing violence, his words echoed the extremist vocabulary of Wahhabism, used by some followers to breed militant attitudes.
Like others who listened that day, I was stung by the sermon. It stands in chilling contrast to reforms taking place within Muslim communities nationwide. In fact, only months earlier at my mosque, my mother, sister-in-law, niece and I prayed in the main hall, an act of defiance that led to a reversal of the policy that women had to pray in a secluded balcony. Sadly, I have learned that the realization of an inclusive Islam is a fragile thing, even in this country. Americans need not look elsewhere to hear hate-filled rhetoric preached by fundamentalists. It resounds in our own back yards.
A month before the student's speech, he and about 10 other men staged the equivalent of a coup. They appointed five in their ranks as the "temporary executive committee" and usurped the board's power to choose who will lead prayers, preach and make management decisions.
These men rally around strict interpretation of the Koran and Sunnah, which last week entailed a sermon that criticized women working outside the home and called women who have lost their chastity worthless. The group has packed the mosque's bookcases with fundamentalist publications.
Even though a majority of the mosque's membership, which is largely made up of West Virginia University students and staff members, is moderate, passivity by it and the board has allowed extremism to take hold. One board leader told me that the board doesn't want to "get aggressive." Tired of such complicity, my father — who helped start the mosque, Morgantown's first, 23 years ago — just resigned from the board.
Christian and Jewish leaders offered to meet with the takeover leaders to discuss promoting tolerance in Morgantown, a city where people from more than 100 countries coexist peacefully. Their offer stands in contrast to the reactions by the Islamic Society of North America and the Council on American-Islamic Relations to complaints I filed. The society said it was available to mediate but would prefer disputes like this be resolved locally. The council, which recently started a "Hate Hurts America" campaign to counter anti-Muslim rhetoric, initially said it did not want to get involved in an "inter-community" issue, but now says it will investigate.
It saddens me that these Muslim organizations and my mosque leadership are reluctant to take a strong stand, because ending hate begins at home. If Muslims in America and elsewhere expect religious tolerance, we must ourselves enforce a zero-tolerance policy against preaching hatred and bigotry. At the very least, American Muslims need to follow the lead of the mainstream Muslim Council of Britain, which sent a letter to 1,000 British mosques urging members to oppose extremism and provide "Islamic guidance" to help "maintain the peace and security of our country."
The goings-on in my small mosque may seem inconsequential, but we are a microcosm of the challenges moderate Islam faces throughout the world. If tolerant and inclusive Islam can't express itself in small corners like Morgantown, where on this earth can the real beauty of Islam flourish?