By Ryan Plesh
Last Saturday, hundreds of people attended a rally in Waukesha in opposition to a proposal by the Islamic Society of Milwaukee to build a mosque in the city, as reported by the Brookfield Patch. Anti-Islam sentiment has been seen across the United States over the last decade, but that this type of reaction would manifest in Waukesha is disappointing. There are only two reasons to possibly oppose the construction of the mosque in Waukesha. The first is the idea that Islam is a terrorist religion and therefore Muslims should not have the same religious freedom as everyone else. The second is simply the classic fear of that which is not well understood. Neither is a sound reason to oppose the mosque.
Many Americans have not had the privilege of being friends with or neighbors of Muslims, and as a result, it is an unfortunate reality that when they think of Islam, they associate it with 9/11. We know that on September 11, 2001, 19 hijackers killed thousands of innocent people in the name of Islam. However, merely claiming that their actions were done in the name of Islam does not make these killers Muslims. They were not Muslims any more than members of the Ku Klux Klan were Christians. We as a country need to move beyond associating Islam with 9/11; I do not want my children to grow up in a country where they are told that Muslims are fascists hell-bent on commandeering America.
It is pretty obvious that most of the recent anti-Islamic sentiment is a product largely, if not wholly, of Americans' misguided linking of 9/11 and Islam. However, Islam is one of the fastest growing religions in America, and it may be that the people of Waukesha are simply afraid of that which they do not understand. If this is true, it is of course not as damaging as the false perception that all Muslims are terrorists, but it is ridiculous nevertheless.
Muslims are not here to try to take over the United States; they or their parents or grandparents came here from the Middle East for the same reason that my great-grandparents came here from Italy and Ireland: they wanted to have the opportunity to make a better life for themselves and their families. What do a great number of them get in return for being good, law-abiding, tax-paying, peaceful citizens? Not unlike the Italian and Irish immigrants of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, they get bigotry and intolerance. By discriminating against Islam, we carelessly perpetuate the same transgressions committed by or against many of our forefathers. It is time we move forward.
Pastor David Ball of New Berlin tries to make the case against Islam on political grounds, claiming that it is, as a political system as well as religion, incompatible with the Constitution of the United States.
I am a supporter of secular government, or more ideally, an all-inclusive government, and there are undeniably legitimate criticisms of Islam as a system of government. That is a discussion to be had, but it has absolutely nothing to do with whether the Muslims of Waukesha should be allowed to build a place of worship. They are not seeking whatsoever to impose Islam as a political system on the United States.
Some residents of Waukesha expressed concern that the Muslims may want to follow sharia. This demonstrates a grave misunderstanding of what sharia even is. Many Americans think that sharia is solely the law that governs Islamic nations, largely as a consequence of superfluous and ignorant legislation banning the practice or application of sharia law.
First, it is unclear to me why integrating parts of sharia law into our legal system would necessarily be a bad thing. Ours has significant influence from other legal systems including, among others, the English, the French and even the Romans -- who was it that crucified Christ, again? I think we would do well to broaden our legal system by incorporating parts of Islamic law that promote the good of society.
Second, sharia is not just about the laws of nations; it is the ethical code of all of Islam. Islam does not exist without sharia. Muslims abiding by sharia are no more harmful to America than Jews choosing to be kosher or Christians choosing to follow a certain dogma; in fact, if anything they are probably even less harmful, given the current blend of politics and religion in the United States.
There is no legitimate objection whatsoever to the proposed Waukesha mosque on principled grounds. The Muslims seeking to build a place of worship are not terrorists. They are only trying to exercise their freedom of religion that they are guaranteed, just like everyone else, by the First Amendment. What could be more American than that?
Ryan Plesh (email@example.com) is a senior majoring in math and physics,
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