Not long ago a list of "unique issues affecting Muslim Americans" was posted at the Muslim Americans for Obama '08 website. This describes a number of "recommendations" drafted to advance the discussion of lawful Islamism and exceptional accommodation in the United States. These suggest both that "Islamic" comportment is beyond reproach, and that one is always correct to press the case for inviolable "Muslim" space.
The "recommendations" described are neither fantastical nor improbable. In fact, if the United States has by this time failed to enact the variety of accommodations embraced by our Western allies, it is clear that, on the ground and across the United States, private institutions and local governing bodies have taken the lead in obliging Islamist groups. This is simply to say that the present list of wishes (untouched for spelling and grammar) has become very real for many.
QUESTION: What are issues and recommendations for solutions that are unique to Muslim Americans?
1. A Law against harrassment of Muslim women wearing Hijab at the Airport, DMV and other public arenas.
2. Institute a Law to allow Muslim Employees to take a hours off from work for Friday Jummah [congregational] Prayer.
3. Make the 2 Eid's [holidays to mark the end of Ramadan and the Festival of Sacrifice], recognized National Holidays on Calendars with days off from work.
4. Optional Halal meals in federal buildiings, public schools and colleges.
5. Provide prayer areas suitable for Salah [ritual prayer] and Jummah, in public and private facilities. (i.e. Malls, Airports, Universities and government buildings.)
6. Organize a Muslim American group to assist in recommendations for US foreign policy affecting majority Muslim countries.
Consider the first example, which concerns hijabs (headscarves) at the DMV. The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) has long been active on this front – and in 2004 produced a document titled Religious Accommodation in Driver's License Photographs. Here one reads that: "South Carolina, Michigan and West Virginia allow veiled women privacy in taking a full-faced picture; Kansas, Pennsylvania and Indiana allow veiled women a no-photo driver's license; […] and that Nevada allows photos with ‘drastic alteration of appearance.'"
CAIR has also celebrated several victories recently: first in San Diego, California, where a sheriff's department employee was allowed to re-shoot her identification card to include hijab; and in the states of New York and Ohio, which now allow for partially obscured driver's license photographs.
The second recommendation has become a reality for many. In Nebraska last year, for example, Swift & Co. agreed to "tweak" break times to accommodate the daily sunset prayer. This was decided to allow dozens of striking workers, who complained their right to worship freely was denied them, to return to work. And in Pennsylvania, Muslim employees who quit work at Arnold Logistics, following a "misunderstanding" as to the five minutes' break allocated to employees, are back on the job, with a 15-minute accommodation for their daily prayers. Dell, Tyson Foods, and Whirlpool claim similar experience.
The third has not yet become a national priority, although it is not uncommon for observant Muslims to stay home the Muslim holidays of Eid al-Fitr and Eid al-Adha. And a growing number of schoolchildren (in New Jersey, for example) are finding they are not required to attend class on Muslim holidays, or that the days are classless altogether. And New York State Senator John D. Sabini, hoping to deliver Garden State equanimity to his constituents, introduced a bill into the state senate that would require the city school district of New York City to recognize the Eid holidays as it does those for other faiths.
As for the fourth: Halal meals, you say? These are available at a number of American colleges and universities, including, claims the Halal Digest, Harvard University, Syracuse University, University of Connecticut, Cornell University, Boston University and Dartmouth College. But one is most likely to discover halal optional in federal prison, where access to these and kosher platters is required. Add to this that the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in January that prison officials in Arizona must demonstrate "real hardship" before they can deny halal meals to Muslim inmates.
Fifth: Prayer areas suggested or retained for exclusive Muslim use at the airport at university (or at the hospital) have become more common. But as for a federal mandate requiring prayer facilities at retail outlets like the Mall of America, for example, and across the private sector, it appears one will (for the moment, anyway) have to do with ecumenical or shared-use facilities.
Sixth, and finally: where it's a question of Muslims advising foreign policy decisions, one only has to consider the appointment of U.S. "special envoy" to the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC). The individual, who has yet to be named, will be tasked to "maintain formal contact with the OIC Secretariat, the Secretary General, the chairing country, plus other member countries, to follow OIC affairs and activities, understand the views of OIC members and leaders, seek ways for the U.S. and the OIC to cooperate, and seek to promote U.S. views on important policy matters that may come before the OIC." This represents a first-ever appointment to the body on the part of the United States government.
But domestic matters also press: Florida Attorney General Bill McCollum recently agreed to establish a Muslim community advisory group, tasked to offer educational programs on Islam and Muslims to Justice staff. The decision, which the Attorney General reached after consulting with members of CAIR, the Muslim Public Affairs Council (MPAC), the ACLU of Florida, and the Florida Muslim Bar Association, appears a means to make good for allegedly directing staffers to view "Obsession: Radical Islam's War Against the West."
The examples supplied above are by no means the only of their kind. These represent a sampling – limited to the United States, for obvious reasons – from among those making news most recently. The fact is that the issues associated with lawful Islamism and outsized accommodation are well more advanced in Western Europe (in Great Britain, notably) and in Canada than they are in the United States.
But it's clear that accommodation does not, in every case, portend disaster. Private employers are free to change or stagger break times as they see fit, to accommodate employee worship, provided they do this of their own free will, and that the change does not disrupt staff and operations. Likewise, in districts where schoolchildren are granted leave for ritual holidays, it makes no sense to deny the same right to Muslims – provided student enrollment makes this meaningful. Similarly, one cannot disallow halal meals where one already offers confessional platters, or where demand makes this reasonable.
On the other hand, to suggest that government allow for partially veiled-user identification cards, which can only trouble law enforcement; impose exclusive-use facilities for Muslim faithful; or commission faith-based advisory boards, is to admit to ignorance of the Constitutional separation of powers, the American democratic tradition, and the idea, finally, that "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion." One might also allow that a program like this has for goal to smash the bedrock foundation of civil society, breach the American social contract, and/or promote a regime of auto-segregation and exception.
American Muslims enjoy the rights and responsibilities available to every other citizen, as well they should. Muslims are also invited to conduct their faith in view of the rule of law, as are members of every conviction. One has long invited Muslims to fold their faith into the American melting pot; for a wish to fashion the existing order into something "Islamic" is unacceptable to Muslims who eschew Islamist orthodoxy and reject the influence of Saudi-funded lobbies, and offensive to all who have found a home in the Constitutional regime.
FamilySecurityMatters.org Contributing Editor R. John Matthies is assistant director of Islamist Watch, a project of the Middle East Forum. He can be reached at Matthies@MEForum.org.