It seems that according to some, the constitutional guarantees of the “equal protection of the law,” “due process of the law,” “the free exercise (of religion) thereof,” and many more should not apply to the Muslim citizens of America.
Efforts to prevent the building of mosques not only 3 blocks from Ground Zero, but all across the United States (for reasons other than traffic or noise concerns), the disruption of Friday prayers by Tea Partiers in Temecula, the emergence of groups brandishing names such as ‘Stop Islamization of America’ and the ‘Burn a Quran Day’ organized by a Florida pastor, are just a few examples implicating how some people believe that Muslims and their faith should to be excluded from the purview of our Constitution.
As foolish as it was in 1960 for some to believe that a Catholic running for President could only be a papal ploy to control the American Government, such xenophobia has not grown old with the passage of time.
Today, it is that same prejudice being held against Muslims and their religion. Now, it has taken form in the argument that a mosque being built three blocks away from Ground Zero in New York City can only be an attempt by Muslims to rule the American people, and further, to desecrate the memory of the lives lost on 9/11.
Really, now? In speaking of “desecration,” they however show no anguish over the strip clubs thriving within a few feet, not even blocks, of Ground Zero. Upon examining the facts, it’s clear which institution is more of a desecration.
A mosque near Ground Zero also including accommodations for people of other faiths to join and worship God together would boldly announce the triumph of our American freedom and unity over the hate and division that inspired 9/11.
On the other hand strip clubs are far from what any decent American would consider a consecration and honor to the victims of 9/11.
Opponents have also failed to mention that amongst the brave men and women who gave their lives that day, nearly 100 of them were Muslim Americans.
Ground Zero is hallowed ground for Muslim Americans just as much as it is for any other American. To protest now that Muslims shouldn’t worship so close to this site is far more of a desecration to the memory of those who died on that day, and the Constitutional principles of liberty and justice for which they died for.
It is in these times that our nation’s commitment to our Constitution and its democratic principles is most arduously tested.
It is in these times that we must preserve our commitment at home to the principles that nearly 3000 Americans died for on 9/11, and many more continue to die defending abroad.
It is our Constitution that reminds us today, as it did in the case of John F. Kennedy, that freedom denied to one is freedom denied to all. There are those today, despite what our Constitution has ordained, who insist upon all Muslim Americans being denied their Constitutional rights, and all Muslims being convicted for the crimes of the 9/11 hijackers.
For them, Islam as a whole is now guilty because of the few who distorted it to be something it never was, and something its never been.
An entire religion has now been passed a guilty verdict even after the vast majority of its adherents have consistently denounced the actions of that fringe minority.
For these certain few, every Muslim is now to be held under higher restrictions–restrictions that go so far as to deny Muslims their Constitutional right to build a place of worship or peacefully practice their faith.
Also contrary to what some may propagandize, Muslims are also ones who grieve just as much for the loss of innocent lives at the hands of radicalism as all other Americans.
Opponents, such as the Stop Islamization of America, should know that when they call for the suppression of Muslims’ rights, they ultimately attack the foundation of their own rights just as forcefully.
Indeed, this principle resonates again; freedom denied to one is freedom denied to all.
These groups forget, however, that our Constitution has no exceptions — the principles of our Constitution stand for all and can never be deprived because of the myths, gross generalizations and nonsensical misconceptions that others may perpetrate against another’s religion, or race.
It goes without saying that in a vibrant pluralistic society such as ours, any one person’s rights are as justly also his neighbor’s, irrespective of the faith he or she subscribes to.
As Americans, we like to believe that our Constitution is the source of wisdom meant to serve all generations, and indeed it has been since its inception.
This Constitution which we as Americans hold so dear can only endure if it is obeyed honestly and without exceptions.
Muslims are certainly no exception to the laws and protections of our hallowed text, even if some argue otherwise.
1.5 billion people claim Islam as their religion, 8 million of whom reside in the United States. These individuals contribute to the greater American society on a daily basis, and consist of government officials, doctors, engineers, lawyers, activists, artists, and more, who are proud to call themselves Americans.
But as Americans, our work does not end in just remembering and reciting the greatness of our Constitution.
If America is going to be the nation that promises “liberty and justice for all,” Muslim Americans must do more in securing their rightful positions and liberties within this country.
It has been warned that “all that is needed for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.” Because freedom can not defend itself, our rights are only protected so far as we are willing to protect them.
Such a belief is tantamount in our Islamic faith. In one of the Hadith, or sayings of our Prophet Muhammad salla Allahu `allayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings be upon him) we are taught that, “Whosoever sees an evil action, let him change it with his hand; and if he is not able to do so, then with his tongue; and if he is not able to do so, then with his heart – and that is the weakest of faith.”
In fixing the wrong with our hands, let us fill the newspapers and blogosphere with articles educating others of the beautiful character of Islam, and defend the true principles of America.
We must volunteer, participate in our community and extend our hand in friendship to all our neighbors.
In simply conveying kind greetings to our fellow American neighbors, we can go far to dispel the suspicion and mistrust that isolation breeds.
By actively engaging in interfaith dialogue and sitting with our friends to discuss the true tenants of our religions, we can marvel at how they hold much more in common than what is conventionally portrayed. That much can be simply done with our tongues.
If any of the above is unachievable, we must at the very least make a continual effort to rid our own hearts of any prejudice and hate we may have towards others.
We must make the iron will to stand up for justice and equality whenever and wherever it is denied to anyone, regardless of their faith and nationality.
Racial profiling and xenophobia didn’t just begin after 9/11, and have not only struck at the rights of Muslim Americans; indeed, their terrible histories have taken their tolls against minorities long before Muslim Americans were at the epicenter.
African Americans, Irish, Hispanics, Catholics, and Jews to name a few, have all felt and some continue to feel the sting of prejudice and hate.
We must make the commitment in our hearts to stand for justice regardless of who the victim may be or what the circumstances are if we are to carve a new future that does not echo the ills of the past.
Indeed it is in these times, our nation’s commitments to its democratic principles are the most arduously tested. Without a doubt, it is in these times that the strength of every Muslim’s faith is also being tested.
As Muslim Americans, we are guided by both our Islamic and American principles to collectively take the unrelenting stance to fix what is wrong and defend what is right whenever, wherever, and for whomever.
I have no doubt that as both Muslims and Americans, if we hold fast to and act on our Divinely ordained teachings of justice, we can not and will not lose.
America will only be a stronger nation because of it, and Muslims will always be firm components and contributors to that strength.
UMER WARIS is a first year Biological Sciences major at the University of California, Irvine
Photo by Anum Arshad and EMAD KAZI