BUZZFLASH NEWS ANALYSIS
As Kirk Cameron goes around spreading lies about how children aren’t allowed to pray or open Bibles in school, there’s an effort to shut down a day of peaceful, non-political prayer in our nation’s capital.
Where is the uproar? What has happened to this nation, founded upon the freedom to worship as one pleases?
Oh. Turns out it’s a bunch of Muslims trying to get together and pray. How dare they!
About 50,000 people were expected at an event in Washington, D.C. Friday afternoon called “Islam on Capitol Hill.” Muslims will participate in Jummah Prayer (also known as Jumu’ah, Jum’ah or Friday Prayer), a traditional weekly gathering at a mosque during which Muslims ask for forgiveness for the previous week’s transgressions. A reading from the Koran is also planned, followed by a reception.
Warnings from the religious right about this event have been bouncing around the Internet since it was conceived early this year. Yesterday, the American Family Association (AFA) sent out an “action alert” questioning “whether this event is good for America.”
The AFA’s main problem is supposedly that the organizer of the event is a lawyer who has represented people involved with terrorist activities. Now while that might turn a stomach or two, mass murderers and serial rapists are also represented by lawyers, who are charged with providing everyone representation regardless of what public opinion might be. A vocation certainly shouldn’t preclude a person from praying.
The AFA also objects to several political statements by the man who will be reading from the Koran, Sheik Ahmed Dewidar. The organizers note that Dewidar ”stood shoulder to shoulder with U.S. President George W. Bush and UN Secretary General Kofi Anan at Ground Zero as Imam of the Islamic Center in Mid-Manhattan to speak on behalf of the Muslim community to condemn the September 11 attacks” and that he will merely be reading Islamic religious text at the event.
This clearly Islamophobic post in response to the AFA’s statement clearly equates the religion with Satanic worship (emphasis mine):
On September 25, 2009 from 4am until 7pm, a National Day of Prayer for the Muslim religion will be held on Capitol Hill, beside the White House. As a Christian, it makes me really wonder where the REAL direction of this country is headed. Well in fact I can clearly see where this nation is headed… into the service of Baal / Allah / Lucifer, what ever name you wish to put on him.
CNN quotes another Christian “leader” who has some funny ideas about the political significance of the event (emphasis mine):
“It is important for Christians to understand that Friday’s Muslim prayer initiative is part of a well-defined strategy to Islamize American society and replace the Bible with the Koran, the cross with the Islamic crescent and the church bells with the Athan [the Muslim call to prayer],” said Rev. Canon Julian Dobbs, leader of the Convocation of Anglicans in North America’s Church and Islam Project, in a written statement.
Doing what they do best, the Annenberg Center’s FactCheck.org took one rambling psycho’s chain e-mail (the writer says the prayer event “should make blood shoot out of your eyes!”) and analyzed the specious claims.
Among other falsities they debunk, Fact Check notes that the event is not secretive and that the mainstream media is not ignoring it. They write that the only connection the event has with Obama is that the organizer was inspired to initiate it by the openness of the president’s inauguration speech. He said “for the first time in my lifetime I heard someone of his stature speaking about Islam and Muslims not in an adversarial sense, but in the sense of being welcome and acknowledging we are integral citizens in the society.”
Isn’t it too bad that these people have to prove him wrong?
Not only is the Christian right being disingenuous about this issue, they’re also being downright hypocritical. Everything I read from sources condemning the event compared Obama’s supposed support for the Islam on Capitol Hill event with his supposed betrayal of National Prayer Day. Obama has nothing to do with the Muslim event, nor did he do so much as issue a statement about it. The president won’t even be in Washington today. He’s not expected to return from Pittsburgh, where he’s attending the G20 summit, until well after the prayer events have concluded.
The religious right has been licking fake wounds from National Prayer Day since May. As I noted during the ridiculous uproar over President Obama only issuing a statement (as opposed to attending the Washington event where he wouldn’t be allowed to speak by organizers), National Prayer Day is far from inclusive:
Reading the task force’s mission statement, one would think Christians invented prayer. It is unabashedly Christian and clearly sets its sights on the seat of power in this country (emphasis mine):
The National Day of Prayer Task Force’s mission is to communicate with every individual the need for personal repentance and prayer, mobilizing the Christian community to intercede for America and its leadership in the seven centers of power: Government, Military, Media, Business, Education, Church and Family.
One of their seven values of the task force is to “Publicize and preserve America’s Christian heritage.”
Hypocrisy aside, this is just sad. Regardless of whether the president recognizes the Islam on Capitol Hill event, they are merely trying to ”gather for the sole purpose of prayer.” Furthermore, the event is open to “all people, regardless of race, religion or national origin,” with a sense of inclusion one certainly does not get from the National Day of Prayer’s mission statement.
In sharp contrast to the National Day of Prayer event, this one is openly apolitical. Organizers and participants in the event are quoted in this article stressing the lack of big personalities and figureheads, as well as an absence of signs and placards. They have been very careful to say there will be no political agenda of any kind.
But so what if there were? Isn’t D.C. the center of American political life? Does being Muslim mean you must trade in your right to free speech as well as your freedom to worship?
Reading some of the invective hurled at this event, one can hardly fault their caution. This article notes that, along with the protests from Christians and others wary of Islam in America, some Muslims were critical of the event:
Sheila Musaji, founder of the journal “The American Muslim,” wrote that she worries the gathering was “not a well thought out program.” She said she worried the date is too close to 9/11 and that some terminology on the event web site, such as the motto “Our time has come,” will be misunderstood by many non-Muslims.
“It simply isn’t the right time or the right place for such an event,” she wrote. “That being said, the organizers have every right to hold such an event, and it is very positive that they say that there will be no placards or political speeches.”
Aziz Poonawalla, a Muslim who blogs about religion for the Washington Post, called the plan “bizarre.”
“I certainly understand and appreciate the sentiments and intentions of this,” he wrote, “but it just strikes me as the wrong way to go about it. It’s unwise to ignore the ‘optics’ of such an event upon the paranoid segment of the American public — who will certainly see the event as a threatening gesture which only validates their racism and Islamophobia.”
While I find their concerns understandable in the current climate, they’re also unfortunate. The fact that there has to be a “right” time or place for adherents of the second-largest religion on the planet in what is supposed to be the freest nation on earth to get together and pray is downright depressing. Then again, it’s also shameful that calling the president of the United States a Muslim is considered a slur.
So next time you hear some fundamentalist Christian whining about how they’re oppressed or how prayer and religion are banned in civil life, ask them why Muslims aren’t allowed to get together and pray peacefully in our nation’s capital.
For all the blustering from the religious right about the founding fathers, one would think the freedom to pray and worship as one sees fit would apply to all Americans. But I guess some religions are just more equal than others.
BUZZFLASH NEWS ANALYSIS