A New Jersey mosque is planning a national day of prayer on Sept. 25 on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., that expects to draw as many as 50,000 Muslims from across the United States. No signs, no politics. Just prayer.
This appears to be the first such event held by Muslims on such a large scale in the U.S. It represents a huge step forward for Muslims who for the most part had preferred to stay out of the spotlight following 9/11.
Hassen Abdellah, president of Dar-ul-Islam in Elizabeth, N.J., told the Star-Ledger newspaper that, "Most of the time, when Muslims go to Washington, D.C., they go there to protest some type of event ... This is not a protest. Never has the Islamic community prayed on Capitol Hill for the soul of America. We're Americans. We need to change the face of Islam so people don't feel every Muslim believes America is 'the great Satan,' because we love America."
The event will be held from 4 a.m. to 7 p.m., but the main prayer will occur at 1 p.m.
It's a wonderful thing to see Muslims wear their patriotism on their sleeve and demonstrate the deep love for their country. Abdellah hopes that people of other faiths will join Muslims as well.
But, alas, the event also is turning into a religious war spurred by fringe groups who see an opportunity to stage confrontational anti-Islamic protests. One pastor is urging his congregation to fast from midnight on Sept. 25 to 7 p.m., not for spiritual meditation or to bring people closer to God but to wrestle the "soul of the nation" away from Muslims. He's mistaken. Muslims don't claim ownership of America's soul and he shouldn't either.
The argument that has originated on anti-Muslim websites and appears to be spreading among conservative religious groups is that some sort of cultural or stealth jihad is being played out in the West while non-Muslims go about their business blissfully ignorant of the dangers. Meanwhile, mainstream media, according to some of these groups, conspire to keep it all hush-hush.
For those who may not care to read the blathering of such websites, stealth jihad supposedly occurs when Muslims seek prayer breaks at work or when Muslim women request private time to swim at public pools. Even wearing in public the so-called burqini, modest swimwear for women, is somehow Islamifying the local community. Who would have thought that a loose-fitting single-piece swimsuit would become a political hot potato that required government intervention, as we have discovered to be the case in France and Italy?
Now, the image of 50,000 Muslims -- most of who are American citizens - praying in public has raised the hackles of some people who see prayer as not worshipping God but as a threat to the soul of America. The whole thought seems, well, so un-Christian and un-democratic.
This past year or so a disturbing trend has emerged as small groups of people have staged anti-Muslim protests. On the eighth anniversary of 9/11 a small church group held an anti-Islamic demonstration at a Gainesville, Fla., mall to memorialize those who lost their lives on that day and those serving in the U.S. military.
It seemed less about a memorial and more about the 30 protesters waving confrontational signs and shouting anti-Muslim rants. In London a nastier and more violent confrontation occurred between the English Defence League and Muslim youths at a Harrow mosque under construction.
If taken as isolated events, the rallies don't amount to much. But it's curious that for the first time we are seeing organized anti-Islamic protests. Or perhaps more bluntly: anti-religious protests. I can't help but think we are witnessing the early signs of future, better organized rallies targeting the Muslim community, which ultimately will lead to other religions being attacked.
Certainly Muslims have staged anti-Western rallies and often those demonstrations are violent. But these protests are not so much as anti-Christian but sparked by specific events, such as the publication of images of the Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him. The incidents at Harrow and Gainesville are a different animal all together. The protesters' target is faith, as in my faith threatens your faith.
The implication is that we pray to a different God because we call Him Allah. And that's the irony. We all share the same God. By denying, interfering or ridiculing anyone's right to worship demonstrates a complete lack of respect to the deity we all pray to.