Who would have believed that, within a decade, a congressional hearing would turn the tables on Muslim leaders in America?
After Sept. 11, Muslim leaders were among the first to ask, "but why do they hate America?" Some wrote articles, others went on media, and yet others posted online comments, but the question remained consistent: Why?
Ziauddin Sardar went as far to write a book titled "Why do people hate America." When asked on CBS' "60 Minutes" if U.S. deserved the attacks, Imam Faisel Abdul Rauf, the former leader of New York's controversial Park 51 project (the so-called Ground Zero mosque), answered: "I wouldn't say that the United States deserved what happened. But the United States' policies were an accessory to the crime that happened."
Granted, the first reaction to any atrocity is anger, not analysis. But within months after Sept. 11, Americans not only began to ask the same question but also understood its relevance.
Strange as it may seem, many American Muslim leaders are now trapped in their own rhetoric. For Rep. Peter King's congressional hearings have largely met with anger, protests and claims of McCarthyism from Muslim Americans. They want to blame the nation instead of engage in self-examination.
So let's pose a question to the Muslim leaders similar to the one they posed about the U.S. 10 years ago: Why do they single out Muslims for these hearings? Why not another religion? Why?
According to a 2007 Newsweek poll, 32 percent of Americans say they believe Muslims to be less loyal to the U.S. than others. "Hey, providing tips to thwart terror plots is a great start," you may say. But why do we hesitate to declare that loyalty to the country of residence is a tenet of Islam? Such a declaration will not deprive Muslims of their right to dissent. But it would send a clear message to someone with a conflicted identity who might be planning an attack on the U.S.
In another Newsweek poll, in 2010, 52 percent of Americans said they were worried about "radicals within the U.S. Muslim community." So remind me again, why are Muslims being singled out?
Maybe it is because many American Muslim leaders remain mute about the Iranian woman Sakineh Ashtiani, sentenced to death by stoning for adultery. Or because American Muslim leaders remain mute when asked, on primetime, if the punishment for apostasy in Islam is death. Or because they generally remain mute about the Christian woman, Asiya Bibi, who was sentenced to death under Pakistan's blasphemy laws.
And here's the rub: Hundreds, if not thousands, of Muslim American students are learning these misguided philosophies in religious schools oversees.
Thomas Jefferson said, "It does me no injury for my neighbor to say there are twenty gods or no God. It neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg." But if such flawed concepts as divided loyalties and death for apostasy, blasphemy and adultery are allowed to infiltrate American Muslims, a whole lot more is at stake than a fractured leg.
The overall perception of Islam in the U.S. will only change when Muslim leaders will recognize the relevance of "why" and respond to it by demonstrating true Islam as practiced by Prophet Muhammad.
True Islam is a religion of life, not death. It gave life to girls in Arabia by abolishing the tribal custom of female infanticide. It gave life to women by pioneering their rights to marriage, divorce, property and inheritance. It gave life by abolishing slavery. It gave life even in cases of murder by allowing for the option of blood money, only if the heirs of the deceased agreed. True Islam proclaims "… and whoso gave life to one, it shall be as if he had given life to all mankind (5:33).
As Muslim Americans embark on a "what to why" journey, the Congress must remain mindful about the "how." Denis McDonough, U.S. Deputy National Security Adviser, was dead-on when he said: "In the United States of America, we don't practice guilt by association." Our Constitution's First Amendment prohibits the Congress from making any law "respecting an establishment of religion" or impeding the free exercise of religion.
Let's not demonize Islam in the process, as we don't want to read a decade later: who would have believed that a congressional hearing would turn the tables on the U.S. Constitution?
Faheem Younus is an adjunct faculty member for religion/history at the Community Colleges of Baltimore County and a clinical associate professor at the University of Maryland. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org