‘Islam: An American Religion’ by Nadia Marzouki

August 27, 2017
The cover of “Islam: An American Religion” by Nadia Marzouki

The term “Islamopho­bia” is spreading but remains controver­sial. The late British- American journalist Christopher Hitchens called it a “stupid neologism… which aims to promote criticism of Islam to the gallery of special offences associ­ated with racism.” Conservative columnist and radio host David Prager said the aim was to scare Americans and prevent them from constructing arguments to critique Islam.
Anti-mosque groups that have arisen in several US communities say Islam does not deserve the same legal protections as other religions. Nadia Marzouki argues in her book “Islam: An American Religion” that this goes against the philosophy of liberalism, under which the law applies to all without exception.
Anti-mosque groups, however, seek to prove that the first amend­ment to the US Constitution does not apply to Muslims. This anti-liberal argument has emerged from ideas in the Tea Party movement.
Marzouki discusses how emo­tions affect the relationship between defenders and opponents of mosques. She points out how the dialogue between them sounds more like a “lover’s quarrel” than a clash of civilisations: “How can you do this to us?” “How can you be so insensitive?”
Mosque opponents accuse Ameri­can Muslims of being insensitive to the suffering of the families of 9/11 victims. This can be inter­preted as “proof of their capacity to harm American society,” Marzouki writes. Their seeming absence of emotion has been interpreted as a “violation of the rules of etiquette and the preconditions of social co­hesion and, therefore, as a gesture of disengagement from the major­ity group,” she adds.
Marzouki warns that Americans may decide to suspend guaranteed constitutional protections when faced with what they per­ceive to be a threatening minority that is not part of “the peo­ple.” An example of this was seen dur­ing the second world war when Japanese-Americans lost their protections and were placed in internment camps. The liberal approach to constitutional democ­racy, which includes equal rights for all and extends legal protection to religious minorities, is not likely to be considered.
For years, many legal cases involving Muslims, in which clear references were made to sharia or Islam, had been handled by American courts with the upmost respect for American law and without causing a problem. Islam had been given little attention in legal debates regarding the first amendment. Then the threat of imple­menting sharia law in the United States became an issue.
In 2010, the Oklahoma ballot initiative “Save Our State” banned the use of international and sharia law in Okla­homa. Muneer Awad, former director of the local chapter of the Council on American Is­lamic Relations (CAIR), said that by preventing Muslims from freely exercising their religious freedom in ordinary life and by “specifically” targeting Islam unlike other religions, the “Save Our State” amendment vio­lated both the free exercise clause and the establishment clause of the first amendment.
It also violated the clause relating to the supremacy of the US Consti­tution, Awad said, which affirms the priority of federal law over the laws of the states and requires that states respect international treaties entered into by the federal govern­ment.
Ironically, the anti-sharia move­ment has benefited Muslims by making the defence of Muslim rights an important agenda of many civil liberties organisations — such as the American Civil Liberties Union and the Southern Poverty Law Centre — as well as liberal think-tanks such as the Centre for American Progress. Progressive journalists, politicians and ordinary people have defended the Muslim cause. Moderate members of the Republican Party have denounced the exaggerated and unfair stance of the anti-sharia movement, as have Jewish and Christian religious authorities.
Although Marzouki’s writing style is average, “Islam: An Ameri­can Religion” provides important insight into why some Americans feel threatened by Muslims and warns that this issue should not be ignored.