from the world's big
We should care about constitutional rights for all, says lawyer and religious freedom scholar Asma T. Uddin. If they are denied for some, history demonstrates how they may be at risk for us all.
- Islam is being challenged as a religion in America today. Opponents claim it is not a religion, but a dangerous political ideology.
- Lawyer and religious freedom scholar Asma T. Uddin challenges that view and explains why it is a threat to the religious liberty of all Americans, not just Muslims.
- In U.S. history, Catholics, Jews, and Mormons have all been "denationalized" as Americans and persecuted for their beliefs. This destructive precedent is a threat to all Americans, across all belief systems.
The Islamic Center of Murfreesboro in Tennessee.
Photo: Saleh M. Sbenaty/Wikimedia Commons<p>The "circus," as a county attorney called it, went on for six days. It troubled me then, and continues to trouble me today, and not just because I am an American Muslim. It troubles me because I value and seek to protect all Americans' religious liberty. I see, perhaps more clearly than many others, that the claim used against Islam in Murfreesboro can be used against followers of any other religion, too.</p><p>In fact, historically, it <em>has</em> been used against other groups. In 19th-century America, nativists resented the new influx of Catholic immigrants. The anti-Catholic animosity was so strong that, on more than one occasion, it resulted in mass violence. As with anti-Muslim claims today, American nativists claimed that the Catholic Church acted as a foreign entity with monarchical tendencies, portraying the Catholic Church as incompatible with American democracy and calling into question the loyalty of Catholic citizens. Even as recently as John F. Kennedy's run for the presidency in 1960, prominent Americans claimed that the Vatican would exert nefarious political influence if a Kennedy, a Catholic, won the White House.</p>
Joseph Smith, the founder of Mormonism, and his brother, Hyrum Smith, were killed by a mob in Carthage, Illinois, on June 27, 1844.
Lithograph source: Library of Congress<p>None of this is new. A few decades before Kennedy's campaign, Henry Ford distributed the tract, "The Protocols of the Elders of Zion," an anti-Semitic fabrication that falsely claimed to detail meetings of Jewish elders seeking to control the press and the world economies. Mormons, or members of the Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter-day Saints, have also faced immense persecution in the United States. In 1838, Missouri governor Lilburn W. Boggs issued an expulsion and extermination order directing Missourians to treat Mormons as "enemies" who "must be exterminated or driven from the State if necessary." In 1883, Mormons faced what many have called a precursor to President Trump's travel ban. That year, President Grover Cleveland asked Congress to find a way to "prevent the importation of Mormons into the country." And in 1903, after the election of US Senator and Mormon apostle Reed Smoot, the U.S. Senate subjected Smoot's faith to a four-year proceeding because it feared Smoot's role as an apostle in the Mormon Church made him loyal to the Church over U.S. laws.</p><p>In each of these cases, the marginalized religious community has experienced what Yale historian Timothy Snyder calls "denationalization." This, he says, means, "You take people who are your neighbors and you define them not primarily as your neighbors and fellow citizens but primarily with some larger world community, all of whose members hold the same views." Today, Muslims are the ones denationalized, in some of our laws and in our public perception of Muslims' rights. But while Muslims are the latest victims, the attacks on their rights impacts all Americans.</p><p>Again, history bears out this point. When hostility against a specific group results in particular laws targeting them, those laws may later impact a much broader group. For example, the denationalization of Catholics in the 19th century culminated in the formation of a political party, the Know-Nothing Party, which sought a type of political purity and advocated for laws that banned public aid to parochial schools and prohibited public school teachers from wearing religious garb. The anti-garb statutes targeted Catholic nuns, and both sets of laws sought to limit Catholic influence over American public life. While these laws are rooted in anti-Catholic animus, today they impact people of every religion. Pennsylvania uses the religious garb ban against Sikh teachers in turbans and Muslim teachers in headscarves. And the ban on aid to parochial schools is used by many states against religious schools of all types.</p>
Researchers found that the hearts of Sufi devotees harmonized as one during a mystical practice. And this isn't the first study to show heart synchronization between people.
- Anthropologists at the University of Connecticut discovered that the heartbeats of Sufi practitioners synchronized during an important ritual.
- Sufism is a mystical component of Islam that emphasizes coming to know God through direct experience, like trance.
- Other studies have also found that individuals who are closely connected emotionally and socially experience physiological alignment.
What is Sufism?<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMTE3OTcwNy9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYwNDgyNDE0NH0.9K8FicAu40xtomaWivAbZGbfFRUd0mwwg2ogOQUYBnc/img.jpg?width=980" id="a814d" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="dc8f3187a8942e92c12c0c2e4dfb7b0a" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" alt="" />
A natural explanation<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="3b0479fbc2e325580fc0b2fc3bd1bf48"><iframe type="lazy-iframe" data-runner-src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/St8wgLMR5Fo?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span><p>What these heartbeat studies tells us is that, although we may believe we live our lives in isolated bodies, we are not physically severed off from the rest of the world. Natural rhythms have influence over us and our relations to others. In fact, according to Michael Richardson, a psychologist at the University of Cincinnati in Ohio, the harmonization of heartbeats is a part of a natural law. </p><p>"The natural law of coupled oscillators holds that when two or more rhythms meet, they will become coordinated—a phenomenon seen across the natural world, from fireflies matching their flashes to groups falling into step," Richardson <a href="https://www.nationalgeographic.com/news/2011/5/110504-fire-walking-hearts-beat-science-health-heartbeats/" target="_blank">told National Geographic</a> in 2011. </p><p>It has long been the subject of fascination by anthropologists and sociologists that rituals, particularly intense rituals, bind people together. Research like that conducted by Xygalatas and Manoharan on Sufis is starting to give us a glimpse at how bonding is achieved at the physiological level. </p><p>Strong social connections have <a href="https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/the-athletes-way/201601/having-social-bonds-is-the-no-1-way-optimize-your-health" target="_blank">long been linked</a> to living a healthier, longer, happier, and more meaningful life. But to achieve the social binding benefits of the Sufi's heart-synching practice, you don't need to attend a <em>dhikr </em>or adhere to any religion at all. If group prayer, or walking barefoot over scalding coals, isn't really your thing, similar states can be achieved simply by snuggling with a <a href="https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2016/05/04/a-dogs-heart-beats-in-sync-with-its-owners-says-new-study/" target="_blank">pet</a> you love, <a href="https://www.ucl.ac.uk/pals/news/2017/nov/audience-members-hearts-beat-together-theatre" target="_blank">going to a theater performance</a>, or rapturously <a href="https://www.bbc.com/news/science-environment-23230411" target="_blank">belting out your favorite songs</a> with your friends this weekend. (Ideally in harmony.)</p>
Some say Islam is not a religion. Here's why all faiths should contest that.
- Asma T. Uddin explores religious freedom -- or the lack thereof -- in her new book, When Islam Is Not a Religion: Inside America's Fight for Religious Freedom.
- She identifies and dispels myths surrounding Islam that attempt to weaken the rights of Muslims, such as the idea that Islam is a monolith, or is not a religion at all.
- It's important to understand that religious freedom primarily involves a relationship between the government and religious individuals or organizations. This differentiates it from religious pluralism or tolerance.
Myth 1: Islam is not a religion<p>Uddin knows this topic well. In 2010, she represented the Islamic Center of Murfreesboro, which was building a new mosque roughly 30 miles outside of Nashville. Having outgrown its previous facility near Middle Tennessee State University, members raised $600,000 for a new complex. Then <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Islamic_Center_of_Murfreesboro#Litigation_and_attacks_against_the_ICM" target="_blank">the vandalism began.</a></p><p>As Uddin explains, the center went through the bureaucratic process every house of worship has to endure. Religious centers are usually spared the more laborious aspects of this process, however. Only that's not what happened. Enter the argument that Islam is not a religion. </p><p>At this point, Uddin started to hear that, "Islam is not a religion, it is instead a dangerous political ideology and therefore Muslims don't have the same access to these religious protections, including the religious land-use laws that every other house of worship gets, because it's a threat to America. Unfortunately, the judge allowed this to go on for a number of days despite the fact that a lot of the questions are just really inflammatory, and ruled against the mosque."</p><p>At the time, Lieutenant Governor Ron Ramsey used his failed Gubernatorial election platform to <a href="https://web.archive.org/web/20150329175255/http://www.highbeam.com/doc/1A1-D9H7L7H00.html" target="_blank">question Islam's validity</a> as a religion. That helped to kick off this entire movement. Eventually, the center was given final approval thanks to Uddin's team's efforts. Sadly, this did not stop the vandalism. </p><img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMTE0NTIwMi9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYyMTExMjEyM30.p6yYfJB27VePT61Zx9EiMu7nTeMzAA0e3r6pNzcrcR8/img.jpg?width=980" id="19179" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="d1a25de0c320399736e373470e2d41fa" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
Vandalism at the construction site for the Islamic Center of Murfreesboro. Photo by Michael S. Williamson/The Washington Post via Getty Images.
Myth 2: Islam is a monolith<p>Anti-Islam sentiment has only been further stoked since then, especially when it comes to the many "Sharia bans" proposed around the nation. According to Uddin, 43 states have attempted or implemented some form of anti-Sharia legislation, even though there has been no evidence of efforts to institute it in this country. Uddin continues:</p><p>"The movement behind this uses a lot of the same language: that Sharia or Islamic religious law is actually just as a political tool to take over the U.S. The way I see it is that this is just another way to say Islam is not a religion. In terms of the policy ramifications and the legal ramifications, you see this happening in all the different states that are attempting to limit Muslim religious arbitration."</p><p>According to Uddin, this trend is not limited to building mosques. She cites a number of studies that have found that in religious liberty cases, Muslims are the least likely faith community to prevail compared to any other religious group. </p><p>Though there are thousands of <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Christian_denominations_by_number_of_members" target="_blank">Christian denominations</a> around the world—a fact most Christians recognize—Islam is often treated as a monolith in America. Yet, as Uddin writes in her book, Muslims come from over 70 countries, as well as from indigenous sects such as the Nation of Islam. In fact, 20 percent of slaves were Muslim. Islam is very much at the heart of the American experience; it is not the faith of the "other." Rather, it is part of us. </p><p>Uddin puts it best when she writes, "Fearing all Muslims because some Muslims are doing abhorrent things also betrays an extreme ignorance of religion in general and Islam in particular." </p> <div class="rm-shortcode" data-media_id="rjppOvZq" data-player_id="FvQKszTI" data-rm-shortcode-id="963e234e6605e58df2585ae275f4b014"> <div id="botr_rjppOvZq_FvQKszTI_div" class="jwplayer-media" data-jwplayer-video-src="https://content.jwplatform.com/players/rjppOvZq-FvQKszTI.js"> <img src="https://cdn.jwplayer.com/thumbs/rjppOvZq-1920.jpg" class="jwplayer-media-preview" /> </div> <script src="https://content.jwplatform.com/players/rjppOvZq-FvQKszTI.js"></script> </div>
Myth 3: Religious liberty protects religions<p>Defining what qualifies as a religion can even baffle scholars, as Jack Miles <a href="https://www.amazon.com/Norton-Anthology-World-Religions-Christianity/dp/0393062538" target="_blank">has written</a>. Uddin strips it down to the basics: ultimate ideas about life, purpose, and death; metaphysical beliefs; moral or ethical systems; comprehensiveness of beliefs; important writings; ceremonies and rituals; special diets; religious garb or grooming requirements. Islam qualifies on every measure. </p><p>American religious liberty is designed to protect believers, not beliefs. As Uddin writes, in autocratic nations, those hurt most under dictatorial governments are most often Muslims. America is supposed to be better than this. The freedom to believe (or not) is an important component of democracy. This does not, however, translate as acting out on every belief your faith system espouses. Be it the Bible or Quran, the religious are selective of the dictates they follow. The role of the American government is to monitor and, if needed, punish the actions of its citizens. It is not there to punish the observance of any belief system.</p>
Religious liberty: It's between the government and the believer<p>The term "American experiment" is pertinent. Collectively, we are a few centuries into creating a democratic nation open to all faiths, provided that the beliefs do not turn into actions that harm others. </p><p>As Uddin says, knowledge is of primary importance in this experiment. Her book is an important contribution to the broader religious educational legacy. That means understanding what our laws entail, which is what Uddin explains best in her book. </p><p>Religious freedom primarily involves a relationship between the government and religious individuals or organizations. In jurisprudence, the phrase that matters most is "the practice of their sincerely held religious beliefs without undue restrictions." If a burden is placed on your religious practice, there has to be <a href="https://www.mtsu.edu/first-amendment/article/31/compelling-state-interest" target="_blank">compelling interest</a>, which does not include not wanting a mosque in your neighborhood because Islam is not your religion.</p><p>"When I think of religious freedom, I think of this precise relationship between the government and the religious believer, whereas a lot of other people think of religious freedom as something more akin to religious pluralism or religious tolerance. I hope that this book educates people that it's more precise than that. And that precision is really necessary when talking about religious freedom in the current context because the politicization of religious freedom is really based on our misunderstanding of how the law works."</p>
Discrimination is up across the board.
- A new poll by PPRI found that nearly a quarter of Americans say it's okay to not serve atheists on religious grounds.
- The pro-discrimination number was even higher regarding gays and lesbians.
- Bias against Jews, Muslims, and African Americans is also increasing.
Image source: Education Images / Universal Images Group via Getty Images<p><strong>Jews</strong></p><p>Antisemitism is a growing concern in our world. While it has always been a problem (as thousands of years of texts describe), you'd think we would have learned the lesson we needed eighty years ago. Not the case. </p><p>Discriminating against Jews is up seven percent since 2014, landing at 19 percent this year. The charge is once again led by Republicans at 24 percent, followed by Democrats at 17 percent. Independents clocked in one point behind Democrats. </p><p><strong>Muslims</strong></p><p>Muslims were also not included in the 2014 poll. In 2019, they were slightly less biased against than atheists, slightly more than Jews, landing at 22 percent. As with every other category in this poll, men were more likely to favor discrimination than women (25 versus 20 percent), while 32 percent of Republicans, 20 percent of Independents, and 14 percent of Democrats are in favor of not serving them if the business owner felt that okay. </p><p><strong>African Americans</strong></p><p>Of all the groups polled, it might bring a certain sense of comfort that African Americans were the least discriminated against group, as this is the only category based purely on race. That said, like the other trend lines, we have a lot of work to do. Favor of discriminating against blacks rose 50 percent, from 10 percent to 15 percent in 2019. The biggest leap in bias occurred amongst white evangelical Protestants, up from 8 percent in 2014 to 22 percent this year. </p><p>--</p><p><em>Stay in touch with Derek on <a href="http://www.twitter.com/derekberes" target="_blank">Twitter</a> and <a href="https://www.facebook.com/DerekBeresdotcom" target="_blank">Facebook</a>.</em></p>
Symbols are often used to help people get an idea of higher, often ineffable, truths.
- A good story has the ability to transform its readers — it speaks to our psyche, and, in doing so, has the ability to change how we perceive the world.
- When trying to understand the adherents of the world's major religions, Joseph Campbell advises to try to look at mystical experiences through the lens of the founders. In doing so, we can better understand the context of their messaging.
- When we talk about God as an old man on a throne in the clouds, when seen as a metaphor, the imagery helps us understand the divine — the beard expresses great age, the throne symbolizes its supremacy, and the clouds signify that it presides over all of us.