The name of the 120-year old San Francisco Bay Area “Islam Temple” is out, to be replaced by the more benign “Asiya Shrine”. Gone as well are the Rhode Island “Palestine Shriners”. After years of threatening phone calls, vandalism of cars (even the vans ferrying sick children to one of the Shriners 22 children’s hospitals), physical harassment, and in the case of the Islam Temple, Muslims inquiring about prayer times, some Shriners clubs are reluctantly changing their names to protect their members and avoid confusion. The Shriners (often the subject of freemasonry conspiracies, but that’s another article) are a philanthropic fraternal organization with 500,000 members throughout North America. The Shriners adopt Arab garb, Muslim symbolism, and Islamic architecture in their buildings, but do not practice Islam. (They do, however, drive around in go-carts in Fourth of July parades and train clowns.) Muslim groups are not particularly troubled by the Shriners’ Islamophilia or the rush to change some names. “As long as people borrow from cultures in respect and dignity and not use it in a pejorative manner,” said Helal Omeira of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, “I think everybody’s OK with that.” A few Shriners clubs are refusing to give in, including the Mohammed Shriners of Illinois, the Mecca Shriners of New York, and the what-were-they-thinking-when-they-named-it Wahabi Shriners of Mississippi. “Mecca Temple is not afraid.” proclaimed Al McConnach, leader of the New York chapter, the organization’s oldest. “We’re not offending anyone, and we will never give up the name Mecca, never.”
Shahed Amanullah is editor-in-chief of altmuslim.com.