‘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.