Political Islam's ideological battle fronts are many. They can include the obvious like the liberation of Iraq or the rampant domestic and foreign policy speeches given under the guise of Friday sermons in mosques around America. However, an ideological front which is gaining traction among Islamists is that of religious accommodations (or demands) in our free society. Every week, it seems we are seeing new iterations of the same issue. Soon we must all ask -- at what point do Muslim requests for accommodations to religious practices and beliefs cross the line of the fundamental basis of American liberty and freedom?
First, we heard about a large group of Somali Muslim airport cabbies in Minneapolis refusing to provide service to travelers carrying alcohol or using dogs. At first, the airport moved to accommodate, but then the Somalis lost the battle to impose coercive interpretations of sharia (Islamic law) upon airport travelers. We recently have also seen airports, schools and universities agreeing to install foot-washing stations for Muslim airport cabbies and students at a significant cost to taxpayers in the name of special accommodations for Muslims. In Lincoln Park, Michigan, a few Muslim women insisted that a co-ed health club to which they signed up provide them a women's-only room for exercise. Fitness USA acquiesced under fears of litigation despite the fact that the Muslim women signed up for no such guarantee with their enrollment contract.
In the past few weeks we've seen the Islamist political agenda in the U.S. carry itself further bringing the debate to Carver Elementary School in Oak Park, California. A substitute teacher brought forth a complaint to the district's school board that a 15 minute break in classroom teaching was carved out for Muslim prayers. The influx of over 100 Somali Muslim students from another failed school brought with it swift efforts by Carver administration to accommodate to their needs. The issue has since carried far beyond San Diego and simple personal accommodation. The debate centers on the limits to which accommodation can impose changes and obligations upon others and on the entire system. Some argue that religious freedom is secondary to classroom instruction time and the strict separation of religion and state. Others have contrarily taken the opportunity and suggested, in all fairness, that public schools have a more global "daily prayer time policy".
While a host of groups all the way from the Thomas More Law Center to the ACLU are following closely these accommodation issues in California's second largest school district, few Muslims, save the Islamists, have weighed in on where this case highlights the differences between a personal, spiritual Islam and political Islam. It is imperative that other Muslims stand up to attempts by Islamists to Islamize western society on behalf of the name of Muslims and a single interpretation of Islamic practice in general society.
In submitting to the accommodation, Brent North, the SDUSD (San Diego Unified School District) attorney compared it to the 1993 court direction to San Diego Unified allowing lunchtime Bible fellowship meetings. He cited directives from the Department of Education guidelines which equated non-religious excuses from class with religious ones. North stated,
"What is unique about this request is the specificity of the religious requirement that a prayer be offered at a certain time on the clock….The district's legal obligation in response to a request that a prayer must be performed at a particular time is to treat that request the same as it would treat a student's request to receive an insulin shot at a particular time."
Additional accommodations in the school include the removal of pork from the lunch menu at the school among others.
The non-Muslim naysayers to these accommodations enter the debate under the premise that taxpayer funded institutions should not be in the business of promoting a specific religion or making accommodations for one which they do not do for all. Even the notoriously anti-religious ACLU has been relatively silent in this case probably flummoxed by their own hypocritical conflict between minority advocacy politics and their underappreciated ideological incompatibilities with Islamism.
CAIR-San Diego's representative, Edgar Hopida laid out a veiled warning stating, "our country is transforming demographically, religiously… our country has to now accommodate things that are not traditionally accounted for before." And Ibrahim Hooper goes even further chiming in from CAIR's national office stating that the school needs to go beyond providing a space and non-instructional time for prayer but rather should accommodate the daily schedule since Islam requires prayers at a specific time in the day. Hooper told Cybercast News Service, "Muslims just have logistical requirements that need to be filled."
This behavior and Islamist commentary which exploits personal practices of the Muslim faith in order to make public statements and impose the mandates of one's personal faith upon general society is classical behavior for Islamists. We saw it with the flying imams and now we see it with demands for the accommodation of an entire school time schedule for Muslim prayer obligations.
Just as we saw with the flying imams and their ill-advised trumped up Islamist lawsuit against US Airways and the reporting John Does, this also is not about prayer. Many of us Muslims grew up in pubic schools for decades and performed our five daily prayers at their prescribed times and never asked for special treatment or accommodation not afforded to every other individual in our schools regardless of faith. There is no doubt that a Muslim's five daily prayers are a central part of our spiritual rituals and relationship with God alone and in congregation. But prayer is about a personal conversation with God. It is not about Islamizing society or imposing costs and inconveniences upon anyone else.
Schools and public places should whenever possible provide a place to pray as it does for non-religious needs of students. However, the time to pray is between an individual and God. A school should not impose that time and allowance upon the entire student body. Most Muslims believe that other than on Friday's congregational noon prayer, the time for prayer encompasses five different relatively long windows of time from dawn to dusk. The comparison of the need for a Muslim to perform their prayer at exactly the prescribed time to giving insulin to a diabetic is pure deception by Islamists and misunderstanding by non-Muslims. This is one of the central problems of public accommodation—which interpretation of a faith does one apply? How does a school differentiate what is a reasonable religious obligation from a more unreasonable, rigid manifestation of political collectivism?
The Koran teaches Muslims that God did not make our faith to be too difficult. For example, prayer can be completed up until the time for the next prayer. Many Muslims, whether in class or at work will wait until a natural break in order to complete the prescribed prayer. Demanding a specific time with no flexibility within a few hours is not only too rigid, but crosses the line of coercion and imposition of the Muslim faith upon others. Carver may have placated this set of Muslims but what will happen to a society which becomes a dangerous competition of religious accommodations and placation? Which demand becomes too much for which the majority can acquiesce?
The Establishment Clause of our Constitution and the pluralism upon which our nation is based carries with it principles which should always be remembered. Our freedom to practice our personal faith should never be denied. And the courts have repeatedly endorsed this as a right guaranteed by our First Amendment rights to free speech and religious practice.
However, once that right begins to impose a cost, whether financial or experiential, upon another citizen, that right ends. For with that cost, it becomes an imposition---a coercive force. A political force—in this case, Islamism.
Our shared schedules, schools, legislatures, and neighborhoods in the glory of our pluralism must provide spaces for us to practice our personal faith and honor the liberty of individuals to choose their own practices or no practice at all. We cannot suffocate other faiths by the schedules and rules of our own. This is the definition of Muslim anti-Islamism—Muslims who believe in and practice their faith but refuse to allow its coercion in the body politic.
The protections afforded to minorities in the Bill of Rights must also be afforded to the majority. A minority cannot and should not impose its own prayer clock, diet, dress, rituals, and spiritual practice upon the majority and neither should the majority upon the minority. There will be those who will cite the celebration of Christmas as an example of mandated holidays and faith-based scheduling. Yet, the vast majority of our holidays are national in orientation and not faith-based. This exception rooted in a nation founded by Christians and yet maintained in an exemplary anti-theocratic ethos is hardly the rule. This example of the public recognition of Christmas actually becomes the foundation for the respect of other religious holidays from Yom Kippur to Ramadan.
Islamist organizations, like CAIR who never met a demand from rigid Muslims they didn't like, will continue to demand ‘logistical requirements of faith' all the while intimidating non-Muslims into allowing them to control public spaces and times. Whether cabbies in Minnesota, children at San Diego schools, or women at Michigan fitness clubs, the Islamist agenda is transparent. It's all about accommodation with no sense of moderation. Necessary for the validity of these demands of accommodation is a deeply rigid uncompromising interpretation of Islam—salafism and Wahhabism. Flexibility and moderation would make these demands generally disappear.
We should understand that these are not the first Muslims ever in America to try and complete their prayers, fasting, holidays and other spiritual requirements in a secular school system. Some of us have done it for years with never a demand for accommodation but only a request for personal space and occasional ‘make-up' of missed class time.
At the end of the day, it's about the philosophical orientation of Muslims. Are we Americans who happen to be Muslim or rather are we Muslims who demand to be American?
There is no greater laboratory of religious liberty and freedom than in the United States. Most of our parents escaped our motherlands in order to practice our personal spirituality more freely here than in so-called Muslim lands. They did not come to exploit and impose. American freedoms and openness to accommodate will be exploited by Islamists seeking a Muslim body politic. This will all continue as long as other non-Islamist and anti-Islamist Muslims stay silent to the exploitation of Islam for the Islamist political agenda.
FamilySecurityMatters.org Contributing Editor M. Zuhdi Jasser is the founder and Chairman of the American Islamic Forum for Democracy based in Phoenix Arizona. He is a former U.S. Navy Lieutenant Commander, a physician in private practice, and a community activist.