2 reports add to more complex picture of Muslim Americans

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Not all Muslims think New York Police Department surveillance for radical Islamic terrorist plans is a bad idea. And comparatively little mosque construction is under attack by anti-Muslim bigots.

These assertions, with some caveats, are suggested by recent news events.

At a March 5 rally by about 40 Muslims in New York, the Associated Press reported, speakers expressed disagreement with other Muslims who have denounced NYPD surveillance of them to find and track potentially violent extremists.

AP quoted a Queens imam, Qazi Qayyoom, as saying, “The police, they come to us and say, ‘Is everything OK? How can we help you?’ They are not trying to hurt us. For this, I want to say thank you and tell them I support them.”

Qayyoom told AP that if NYPD monitoring was what it took to keep his community safe, then let it happen. And Dr. Zudhi Jasser, one of the rally speakers, said, “We are not here to criticize the NYPD but rather thank them for monitoring extremists, a job that Muslims should be doing.”

The rally by the American Islamic Leadership Coalition was in contrast to other Muslims’ outrage after an AP investigation showing secret surveillance of mosques, Muslim-owned businesses and college students since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks by Muslim extremists against the United States.

Indeed, other Muslim groups quickly said that AILC did not speak for them. And Muslims already do work with police to combat terror threats. According to the Triangle Center on Terrorism and Homeland Security, 40% of potential terrorist attacks discovered in the U.S. were stopped with help from American Muslims. And the number of terrorism-related arrests is down: “20 Muslim-Americans committed or were arrested for terrorist crimes in 2011, down from 26 in 2010 and 49 in 2009,” the Triangle Center reports.

But the small AILC rally in New York may have voiced what many ordinary Muslims feel — that they are Americans, they want to live, work and worship freely like anyone else, they resent those among them who might harbor jihadist ideas, and they don’t necessarily see police work as intrusive or discriminatory.

The group seemed to draw a distinction between monitoring and spying.

“In no way do we want to be spied on,” Jasser said. “But this is not about spying. This is about monitoring and public programs.”

Whatever one might think of AILC’s views and NYPD’s methods, the message of the rally serves to counter anti-Muslim bigots who claim that Muslims simply can’t be trusted and must be prevented from building mosques and Islamic centers and schools because these are merely convenient bases for jihad.

Which leads to the second item in the news: the growth in the number of American mosques since 2000.

The Voice of America, USA Today and others reported Feb. 29 that a new survey had found a 74% increase in Muslim congregations “despite protests against their construction and allegations they have promoted radicalism,” as the VOA put it.

The survey was sponsored by the Council on American-Islamic Relations, the Islamic Society of North America and others, along with the Hartford Institute for Religion Research.

The survey’s tally of 1,209 mosques in 2000 rose to 2,106 in 2010. Probing Muslim religious leaders’ attitudes, researchers also found that “the vast majority of mosque leaders do not feel that overall American society is hostile to Islam.” Only 25% of mosque leaders in 2011, the survey reports, said that “American society is hostile to Islam” — and that’s down from 54% who felt that way in 2000.

From the high-profile headlines about public resistance to building a mosque near ground zero in New York (and  centers in California and Tennessee), and popular outcry over potential encroachments of Shariah law in the American legal system, we might conclude that Muslims and their faith are hated and under fire everywhere in the United States.

Certainly intolerance exists and must be vigorously exposed and opposed. Other surveys show many Americans do fear Islam, equating it with radical violence. Some 20 states have introduced anti-Shariah laws. Anti-mosque protests have increased, if only in a few areas. Unfortunately, attacks by Islamic extremists against Christians and others around the world fuel such sentiments at home.

But perhaps the reality of everyday American life for Muslims is more quiet and ordinary than headlines often suggest. The reality may be closer to what the survey by CAIR and the other groups shows: that Muslims are for the most part welcome and flourishing in the land where religious freedom is the first freedom under the First Amendment.

As Imam Qazi Qayyoom said at the New York rally, “What we experience here is freedom.”

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