Most of those opposed to the Park51 Muslim cultural center -- known as the "Ground Zero mosque" despite being neither a mosque nor at Ground Zero -- have understandable apprehensions about Muslims. The questions raised by opponents of the cultural center deserve clear, unambiguous answers about Islam in America. That's the least we as Muslim Americans can do for our fellow citizens.
1. What about Sharia (Islamic law) in the U.S.?
If what you mean by Sharia is what is practiced in the Muslim world -- no! Many Muslims fled the Muslim world because of corrupt regimes, injustice, misogyny, and downright discourtesy. I love the Muslim peoples throughout the world, and to borrow from Thomas Jefferson, my heart trembles for the Muslim world when I reflect that God is just. Sharia, to me, means living up to God's will of establishing justice. It is driven by five noble goals (as agreed upon uniformly by Muslim scholars throughout the ages), namely to secure and promote individuals' rights to life, expression, faith, property and family. When we see stoning of women in Afghanistan or Nigeria, or child marriages in the Arabian Peninsula, that is not Sharia. It is an exploitation of Islam to oppress people, especially women. (See Abusing Women, Abusing Islam.)
In reality, the U.S. Constitution fulfills my obligation as a Muslim to achieve the five principles of Sharia. When I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America, I make a pledge with God to uphold liberty and justice for all. Among our vast challenges today as Muslim Americans is the urgent need to develop a corpus of thinking and action that promotes a progressive approach to applying Islam in the modern era. We must find a way to keep the principles but do away with customs, cultural biases, and archaic traditions.
2. Are Muslims a liability or an asset to our national security?
Al Qaeda's ideologically driven violence has been rejected by Muslim Americans. We aim to promote and protect life, to enrich and enlighten our pluralistic societies, to promote constructive engagement with others, and to preserve God's will of racial, ethnic, and religious diversity. What Al Qaeda stands for is a cult of domination and death, leading them to send young people to die as an expression of their anger and victimhood, while its leaders sit on their empty thrones of self-righteousness. Muslim Americans have worked diligently to form partnerships with local, state and federal law enforcement. We suffered with all other Americans on 9/11, and several hundred Muslims were killed at or around the Twin Towers when they were attacked by 19 terrorists.
3. Where's the funding of Muslim organizations coming from?
My organization, the Muslim Public Affairs Council, only accepts donations from American citizens and residents. If a foreign group or government wants to financially support us, we decline. We have done this since our inception more than 20 years ago because we want to preserve our Muslim American identity and maintain our intellectual independence from any foreign influence. Our challenge as Muslim Americans is to ensure complete financial transparency and accountability to our American constituents. The board of Park51 may not follow our policy, but that's their prerogative. They have at least committed to an audit of all financial transactions to ensure that no funds come from anti-American sources.
4. Is terrorism ever justified?
No. Terrorism is evil. You need to see a new video featuring nine major Muslim American religious leaders, entitled "Injustice Cannot Defeat Injustice." Yet, when terrorists tape video messages from the caves of Afghanistan or the jungles of Somalia, they get free publicity in all US markets. When we condemn terrorism, it is barely recognized. Regardless, our job as Muslim Americans is to state clearly our loyalty to America and our commitment to serve her interests.
5. Are Muslims anti-American and anti-Israel?
No. We Muslim Americans aspire to see democracy flourishing and human rights restored throughout the Middle East. Democracy and human rights are pleasing to God; dictatorship and oppression are not. We oppose any military option to resolve the conflicts in the Middle East. We support non-violent resistance to Israel's ongoing occupation of the Palestinian territories. We do not seek Israel's destruction. We are concerned about the destruction of Palestine and the deterioration of Muslim holy sites in Jerusalem. It is the ongoing destruction wreaked by war that is radicalizing the region along with ideological violence that is causing so much suffering to innocent people.
These answers are intended to help elucidate our religious, social and political views. It is intended to promote a future of mutual respect, not mutual suspicion. I hope that the Park51 Muslim cultural center issue is resolved amicably between the sponsors of the project and the local community in Manhattan. As for the overarching issues involving Islam in America, they will need further discussion. If you wish, you may email me at firstname.lastname@example.org to continue this dialogue. I only ask that you be polite and constructive.
Follow Salam Al Marayati on Twitter: www.twitter.com/salampacker