Pete King is on the Wrong Track

Pete King is on the wrong track. In America, we don’t segregate people by where they go to church.

Faith leaders in New York, organized by Pax Christi/Long Island, sent a public letter this week to Rep. Peter King (R-NY) asking him to call off his hearing on Capitol Hill that promote Islamophobia. (Additionally, 50 Members of Congress did the same.) More than 80 religious and peace leaders signed the statement saying:

Protecting our nation requires allegiance to the fundamental values that give life to our democracy. A commitment to pluralism and respect for diversity are strengths in the fight against terrorism. We agree that law enforcement must find practical solutions to stop terrorism, whether these threats come from religious or non-religious extremists. Muslim-Americans have consistently denounced terrorism and worked closely with law enforcement to prevent violence. Building and maintaining trust with the Muslim community is crucial to furthering this cooperation, and we fear your hearings will only sow greater distrust and division at a time when unity and moral courage are needed. …

Let us remember the lessons of history. Entire communities should never be targeted for suspicion of disloyalty. During World War II, Japanese Americans were deprived of their rights and forced into internment camps because of blanket distrust of their commitment to our country. The McCarthy hearings became a shameful national spectacle that falsely impugned the loyalty and destroyed the lives of many Americans. Catholics were once demonized as threats to democracy beholden to a foreign power. Jews and African Americans have faced centuries of suspicion and prejudice. Today, Muslim-Americans in many communities face fierce opposition when they propose to build mosques and worship peacefully. A growing number of Muslims are victims of hate crimes. This bigotry and discrimination, rooted in fear and ignorance, diminishes us all and unfairly maligns Americans who teach our children, serve our country, live peacefully and believe in the American dream.

“I am disappointed that these religious leaders and peace advocates wish to obstruct my search for the truth,” King responded. “Obviously, I am going forward with my hearings into Muslim radicalization.”

Sr. Jeanne Clark, a member of Pax Christi/Long Island, has spoken eloquently about why Catholics should be very clear in condemning religious intolerance and should instead hold up examples of interreligious partnerships.

Over 80 religious leaders, social justice advocates and people of faith on Long Island sent the congressman a letter urging him to cancel these misguided hearings. Many of us recently gathered in prayerful protest in front of his office.

Although Congressman King has insisted that his hearings will focus on Islamic extremism, his own rhetoric suggests that he will cast a cloud of suspicion over the entire Muslim community. He told a radio host that radicals lead 80 percent of mosques and once described Muslims as “an enemy living amongst us.”

Leaders across the political spectrum agree that we must work together to prevent terrorist attacks. My opposition to King’s hearings isn’t motivated by “political correctness” or a naïve belief that evil does not exist in the world.

Rather, we need a different approach because I fear these hearings will undermine practical approaches to confronting violent extremism in all its forms and threaten our most inspiring ideals as a nation. –Sr. Jeanne Clark

No person who has sworn to uphold the U.S. Constitution should be allowed to targeting a single religious group. It threatens democratic values and let’s the terrorists win.

As Christians we can read King’s approach through the biblical lens of empire. King’s rhetoric and actions are part and parcel of imperial projects bent on a strategy of “divide and conquer.” As Christians we hold an alternative vision, we practice a “divine counterstrategy” that elevates rich cultural diversity as part of what strengthens the human family.

Read all of Why Catholics Must Speak Out Against Islamophobia.
Read the letter sent by religious leaders to Pete King.

‘A Hungry Man Is An Angry Man’: Christians and Muslims Together in Overcoming Poverty

Christians and Muslims attend Mass in Baghdad as a celebration for Muslims rebuilding the church.
Christians and Muslims attend Mass in Baghdad as a celebration for Muslims rebuilding the church.

The Vatican’s inter-religious dialogue council sent a “Happy Id al-Fitr” message to Muslims around the world as they come to the end of Ramadan on Sept 19-20 by inviting them into common cause on ending poverty.

Ramadan is a time when Muslims reflect more deeply on the real meaning of life by being close to God and their neighbors. As part of this, they heighten their awareness of the needs of others, especially the poor, though fasting and practices of charity.

Christians and Muslims: Together in overcoming poverty looks at poverty that is the result of human sin and the loss of human dignity but also at poverty that is chosen and embraced as an example of one’s humility before God.

Indonesian priest Markus Solo serves in the middle of enormous tensions and violence between Muslims and Christians and between people of genuine faith and extremists. Around the world, Solo says, poverty “is getting worse after the recent economic and financial crisis. Everybody knows that poverty is a real and bitter challenge for people living in the developing countries, which also happen to be religious ones.”

The Vatican message noted a link between poverty and extremism or violence, a theme Father Solo echoed. He quoted the English proverb: “A hungry man is an angry man.”

Here’s an excerpt from the Vatican’s invitation:

On the occasion of your feast which concludes the month of Ramadan, I would like to extend my best wishes for peace and joy to you and, through this Message, propose this theme for our reflection: Christians and Muslims: Together in overcoming poverty. …

In his talk on the occasion of the World Day for Peace, 1st January 2009, His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI distinguished two types of poverty: a poverty to be combated and a poverty to be embraced.

The poverty to be combated is before the eyes of everyone: hunger, lack of clean water, limited medical care and inadequate shelter, insufficient educational and cultural systems, illiteracy, not to mention also the existence of new forms of poverty “…in advanced wealthy societies, there is evidence of marginalization, as well as affective, moral and spiritual poverty…” (Message for the World Day of Peace, 2009, n. 2).

The poverty to be embraced is that of a style of life which is simple and essential, avoiding waste and respecting the environment and the goodness of creation. This poverty can also be, at least at certain times during the year, that of frugality and fasting. It is the poverty which we choose which predisposes us to go beyond ourselves, expanding the heart.

As believers, the desire to work together for a just and durable solution to the scourge of poverty certainly also implies reflecting on the grave problems of our time and, when possible, sharing a common commitment to eradicate them. In this regard, the reference to the aspects of poverty linked to the phenomena of globalization of our societies has a spiritual and moral meaning, because all share the vocation to build one human family in which all – individuals, peoples and nations – conduct themselves according to the principles of fraternity and responsibility. …

The poor question us, they challenge us, but above all they invite us to cooperate in a noble cause: overcoming poverty!

Read the whole message here. (As an aside, this message also references JPII’s 2001 address on establishing a “common ethical code,” particularly in the financial industry. It’s worth a read.)

The Mosque in Morgantown: Finding Our Religion within American Pluralism

Asra Nomani (center) and family
Asra Nomani (center) and family

In March, I had lunch with Asra Nomani at Sticky Fingers, the vegan bakery across from the Sojourners office. Nomani, former Wall Street Journal reporter and author of Standing Alone in Mecca: An American Woman’s Struggle for the Soul of Islam, mentioned the culmination of a two-year film project she’d been working on that PBS would be airing as part of the “America at a Crossroads” series. The Mosque in Morgantown premiers Monday, June 15, 2009, at 10 p.m. EST. (Check your local listings.)

I first came across Asra Nomani in 2003. There was a small article in The Washington Post about a woman who was fighting for women’s rights in her mosque in Morgantown, West Virginia. I was intrigued by a Muslim woman — born into an Indian Muslim family and raised in the United States — not only returning to the heart of her religion but doing it in a way that produced the kind of radical call to freedom true faith engenders. I was intrigued that she claimed Sojourner Truth, the ex-slave who adamantly defended the rights of women in the church and in society, as one of her inspirations.

The Mosque in Morgantown is the story of Asra and her mother, Sajida, who in 2003 entered their mosque in Morgantown by the front door and prayed in the same room with men. This was counter to the rising practice in many mosques, in which women are forced to pray behind partitions. In June 2004, five women from around the country joined the Nomanis to pray in Morgantown’s mosque.

Not only did Nomani forcibly integrate the mosque, she “nailed” (taped, actually) her “99 Precepts for Opening Hearts, Minds, and Doors in the Muslim World” and an Islamic Bill of Rights for Women on the mosque door. She stood firmly in the tradition of Martin Luther, who pounded his 95 Theses into the church door in Wittenberg, and Martin Luther King Jr., who posted the demands of the open-housing campaign on then-Chicago Mayor Richard Daley’s office door in 1966.

The Mosque in Morgantown takes the viewer inside a religious community that’s in the midst of a simmering battle between progressives and traditionalists. We see how Nomani’s prophetic tactics of direct action alienate the moderates and horrify the traditionalists. We see the struggle for power that should be familiar to anyone who’s ever served on a parish council or vestry. We see the creative responses that emerge from the community as it is forced to deal with change.

Nomani is driven to fight the “slippery slope” of extremism that she perceives to be taking over the leadership of the mosque her father founded. It’s clear to the viewer that Nomani, who was a close friend of murdered Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl, must take clear and decisive action against religious extremism in her home community because she’s seen where such extremism can lead.

At the same time, members of her community take great offense at being lumped in with violent extremists just because they take a traditionalist view of their faith. Other community members don’t like her tactics. They prefer a moderate, more measured, course. “The American experience,” says moderate mosque member Ihtishaam Quazi, “works against the idea of a slippery slope that Asra is so afraid of.”

Unfortunately, as we’ve learned from the murder of Dr. George Tiller by religious militant extremist Scott Roeder and the murder at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum by militant religious extremist James W. von Brunn — both of whom claim to be Christians — the “American experience” and the vibrant flame of a pluralistic democracy must be guarded with eternal vigilance.

Watch The Mosque in Morgantown on PBS and find out more here.

This post first appeared on GodsPolitics.com. For more about Asra Nomani, see “Men Only?” by Rose Marie Berger and “Living Out Loud,” by Laurna Strickwerda. To read Nomani’s articles in Sojourners, see “A Faith of Their Own,” “The Islamic Reformation Has Begun,” and “The Struggle for the Soul of Islam.”