Fight over mosque is bigotry in disguise

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Fight over mosque is bigotry in disguise

BY AREF ASSAF

Daily Record Op-Ed

The unprecedented public uproar over the planned Rockaway mosque has been partly premised on the false view that American Muslims are responsible for acts committed by other Muslims anywhere in the world and, as such, should be denied a place of worship.

It is most unreasonable to blame every Muslim for the crimes committed by some in their faith. We do not blame every Christian for the Crusaders’ wars, for the Spanish Inquisition, for slavery, and for the Holocaust. American Muslims are by far the most moderate of Muslims since the greatest majority has nothing to do with terrorism. Their household income is among the highest in the nation due to their work ethics, devotion to educational excellence and family values. Their crime rate is among the lowest because they are law-abiding citizens and their faith dictates much of their lives.

The outrage against the mosque has little to do with the declared objections; traffic concerns and loss of tax ratable. It has a lot to do with denying Muslim citizens the same rights bigots take for granted.

Other objectors, while appearing civil and constrained, are no less intolerant. Muslims may have a mosque and worship their God, but not in my backyard. NIMBY used to describe people’s reactions to garbage dumps, a porn shop, or a nuclear reactor. In Rockaway, it now includes a Muslim place of worship. Since when is a place of worship so disdained with such virulent opposition? This is a place where alcohol is never consumed, where no music is ever played, where no immoral acts are ever tolerated. It will be, however, a place for spiritual healing, for quiet and retrospect prayers, and a welcoming place for inter-religious outreach and volunteerism.

The 20 Muslim families in Rockaway and indeed the Muslim community in Morris County have been here for decades, paying their dues and diligently enhancing the quality of life for all. They have also been praying in rented halls and other humble places. All they are asking for is a place of their own.

The Morris County Muslim community will not simply wither away if Rockaway rejects their mosque application. Their existence is not predicated on a rented or owned place of worship. The mission of the newly founded Islamic Center of Morris County is steeped in building a tolerant, pluralistic society.  Interfaith dialogue, community outreach, and volunteerism are core objectives of our organization.

Irrefutably, the great majority of Muslims oppose, condemn, and dissociate themselves from the rhetoric, agenda, and acts of the extremists amongst them. When people cry Muslims’ “silence” in the face of terrorism, it is indeed the silence of the victim so overwhelmed by the savagery inflicted by extremists professing their faith.

Our condemnation of terrorism has been unequivocal and unconditional. The reason our fellow Americans do not hear our cries of condemnation is partly our fault for not being so media savvy and proactive. But more importantly, it is the mainstream media and the powers behind it that have muffled our otherwise deafening opposition to and dissociation with terrorists. Furthermore, the media silence about moderate and pluralistic Muslims then filters, or better, refracts through the prejudice of bigots in the media audience, who seek to turn the war against terror into a war against all of Islam, and thus, against all American Muslims.

The tax and traffic concerns, while legitimate, are in reality a clever camouflaging of selfishness, bigotry, and moral contradictions. It bears witnessing the immortal words of Prophet Muhammad: “A man’s faith is never complete until he wishes for his neighbor that he desires for himself.”

Aref Assaf, of Denville, is president of the American Arab Forum