By Zainab Chaudry
On the holy day of Friday, Muslims around the world set aside daily distractions and re-direct their focus solely on God. Today, however, as Muslim communities across the nation prepare to gather for congregational prayers, one community in Arizona has reason to be more distracted than usual.
As Muslims drive to their mosques this afternoon, they will glance more frequently in their rear view mirrors.
As they arrive and park their cars, they will avert their gaze from the direction of the mosque gate, and possibly look anxiously over their shoulders.
As they walk towards the mosque’s entrance, their pace may be more hurried than normal.
And as they listen to the words of the imam leading the service, some subconsciously will brace themselves for sounds of shouted slurs, gunshots, police sirens, and revving engines.
Because today, under the guise of free speech, armed bikers plan to hold a “Draw Muhammad” contest and sell “F*ck Islam” t-shirts (minus the asterisk) outside the Islamic Community Center mosque in Phoenix, Arizona.
The organizer, Jon Ritzheimer, who sees himself as a champion of American ideals, claims these measures are necessary “to expose the true colors of [Islam].” He has urged protestors participating in the cartoon contest — the second such in less than a month — to be armed and prepared to “utilize their second amendment right at this event just in case their first amendment comes under much-anticipated attack.”
Ritzheimer, inspired in part by rabid Islamophobe Pamela Geller, has joined the ranks of her ilk and interestingly labeled the faith of more than 1.5 billion peaceful people worldwide as an “intolerant religion.”
I have a message for Mr. Ritzheimer: Before you take it upon yourself to defend American values, it may be helpful to learn what they are first. You cannot advocate for tolerance by being hateful and intolerant yourself.
We get that there’s confusion about who Muslims are and what we believe. It’s impossible to keep track of all the sensationalized propaganda peddled by biased media outlets about Muslims; terrorist organizations pretending to be Islamic only makes matters worse.
But if you want to undermine threats to our freedom, you won’t achieve that by attacking those same freedoms yourself. All that accomplishes is to alienate and jeopardize the safety of an already marginalized community while promoting the agenda of terrorists who seek to create division and disharmony.
Muslims are not new to America. We are not all immigrants who crossed oceans and walked miles to forge a new life in this land. Muslims have been a part of the fabric of our nation since her birth.They can be identified in slaves who toiled her land and laid her foundation stones; in inventors who industrialized our nation and scientists who improved its quality of life; in doctors who treated and saved lives of fellow Americans and teachers who tirelessly educated future generations; in legislators who made laws to govern our nation; and in law enforcement officers who swore to uphold them.
Many American Muslims honorably served in the armed forces, and even gave their lives defending our country. As a former marine, you yourself can appreciate the sacrifice required to serve.
In your ignorance, Mr. Ritzheimer, you are attacking and disrespecting the faith of all of these people.
Because of your foolish actions, you are risking the safety of law-abiding Americans, like the parents of a Minnesota journalist who were recently held at gunpoint for no apparent reason other than because they are Muslim.
An America that stands by in complicit silence when confronted with such unprecedented levels of bigotry and intolerance is not my America. An America that allows the vilification and terrorizing of marginalized communities — especially those who have loudly and consistently condemned acts of terrorism that do not even reflect their beliefs or views — is not my America.
An America that does not stand up and champion values of pluralism, tolerance, and religious freedom that served as building blocks for our great nation, and which was itself settled by pilgrims who themselves were fleeing religious persecution, is not my America.
We are so much better than the bigotry that will be on display outside of this Arizona mosque today.
You are entitled to your views. You have the God and state given right to hate and criticize, just like the rest of us. But you do not have the right to force an entire communities to live in fear or uncertainty because of your own ignorance or faulty logic.
You do not have the right to question the patriotism and intentions of law-abiding, tax-paying citizens because they have been otherized and appear foreign to you. And, you do not have the right to compromise the safety and security of innocent Americans who will be viewed with increased suspicion and hostility because of your words and actions.
As an American who unequivocally champions free speech and whose tax dollars are helping to provide protective custody for your family while you organize this protest, Mr. Ritzheimer, I will pray for their safety from harm.
And as a Muslim who is watching the drama unfold outside this mosque in Arizona during a period when Muslim communities are on heightened alert due to threats and attacks, I will pray for the safety and peace of mind of my brothers and sisters so that they may worship in peace.
Zainab Chaudry is the Maryland Outreach Manager for CAIR, Council on American Islamic Relations, contributor to Altmuslim and soon to be a blogger on Patheos Muslim.