Muslims and Anti-Muslim Rhetoric
What are American Muslims to say to Republican presidential candidate Herman Cain, whose latest round of statements solidifies his anti-Muslim stance that is becoming so integral to his candidacy? In an interview on "Fox News Sunday" last week, Cain referred to the ongoing fight in Murfreesboro, Tennessee, where some local are trying to prevent Muslims from building a mosque, saying that he sided with the anti-mosque group.
"Our Constitution guarantees the separation of church and state," Cain said. "Islam combines church and state. They're using the church part of our First Amendment to infuse their morals in that community, and the people of that community do not like it. They disagree with it." When host Chris Wallace asked if any community should be able to ban the construction of a mosque, Cain replied, "They have a right to do that."
So according to Cain, Islam advocates the combination of church and state, which goes against the Constitution, and therefore any mosque in the United States can be subject to banishment by the community in which it resides.
Unlike Cain, I cannot speak with authority on how Islam views the mingling or separation of church and state. Muslims, like Christians, are not monolithic in their views of such matters. But what I do know is that in the United States, where the separation of church and state is decreed in our Constitution, American Muslims are comfortable following the laws. Muslims are comfortable abiding by the Constitution that gives them the right to practice their Islamic faith, just as it gives their Christian, Jewish, Buddhist, and atheist neighbors the right to practice other ways of life.
Herman Cain seems to think that Muslims are out to impart their morals on the general population—and indeed, that our ultimate goal is to make America a Muslim country. And for those reasons, American communities have the right to ban the construction of mosques in this country. I guess Cain has forgotten that this country was founded on many principles, one of which was the freedom of religion. Are Muslims practicing their morals in this country? I'm sure many, including myself, are. Do other people not like the morals of some Muslims? I'm sure that is the case as well. Should that be reason enough to ban a mosque? Absolutely not.
Building mosques is not about pushing sharia on this country or about some Islamic mission to mesh Islam with the U.S. government. It's about having a place to worship and gather.
Herman Cain must understand all this. Surely he knows his beef with Muslims is pretty ridiculous. One moment, he'll infer that Muslims need to take a loyalty test if they are to serve in his cabinet. In his next statement, he'll say (weakly) that of course he's not discriminating against all Muslims.
Clearly, Cain understands that in this early election season, Muslim-bashing and jumping on the "creeping sharia" bandwagon are the ticket to getting noticed.
Dilshad D. Ali is managing editor of the Muslim Portal at Patheos. An experienced journalist, she has covered Islam and Muslims in America for more than ten years for a variety of print and online media outlets, including Beliefnet and Illume, Islamica, and Azizah Magazines.