First: Last fall Muslim cab drivers at the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport refused service to alcohol-toting passengers. A national debate ensued: Should civil-rights laws protect such religious convictions? Or was this merely a political stunt to test the elasticity of American pluralism?
Second: In November six imams generated a stir at the same airport, reportedly praying loudly in the gate area, angrily discussing U.S. foreign policy as they boarded a plane, and requesting seatbelt extensions that witnesses feared might be used as weapons. Authorities detained the Muslim clerics for questioning and released them several hours later.
Third: Recently, Muslim cashiers at Minneapolis-area Target stores refused to scan pork products, citing Quranic teaching that pigs are unclean. Target accommodated its employees with new positions away from the checkout lines.
Three controversies, no coincidence: Minnesota is home to roughly 150,000 Muslims, most of whom live in the greater Twin Cities area. Rep. Keith Ellison, who became the nation's first Muslim congressman earlier this year, has characterized the problems in his district as normal growing pains typical of any first-generation immigrant population.
But several moderate voices within the Muslim community believe the 1-2-3 push is part of a larger campaign: Minneapolis, they suggest, is just one front in a national movement to advance Shariah (Quran-based) law under cover of civil-rights protections.
Omar Jamal, executive director of the Somali Justice Advocacy Center in St. Paul, has repeatedly told WORLD that national organizations such as the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) and the Muslim American Society (MAS) are tricking the region's large number of Somali Muslims into high-profile controversies to drive a Middle-Eastern political agenda. "CAIR and MAS are radicalizing the community," he said. "They're not interested in protecting civil liberties. They're interested in a broader political mission to create a world of Muslims versus Christians."
Evidence of an agenda beyond civil-rights protection has surfaced on several university campuses throughout the country. Syracuse now recognizes the end of Ramadan as an official holiday, shutting down the entire campus. At Georgetown, Muslim women can opt out of the dorm living required for other freshmen and choose not just single-sex housing but special accommodations termed "Muslim Interest Living Communities," which aim "to establish an Islamic living environment for those who wish to increase and strengthen their faith."
Those are private universities, but reports are arising of taxpayer-funded colleges creating permanent Muslim prayer rooms in school buildings at the same time that they ban recognition of Christianity. Minneapolis Community and Technical College, for example, plans to install a ritual washing basin for Muslim students in a public restroom, but in December instructed employees not to put up any signs recognizing Christmas. Such accommodations for Shariah law are largely the result of the Muslim Accommodations Task Force (MATF), a Washington D.C.-based group that aims, according to its website, to make campuses more "Muslim-friendly."
In Minneapolis, Jamal worries that CAIR and MAS have made considerable headway convincing Minnesota's Somali community that fighting for such advancements in "civil rights" is central to maintaining a Muslim identity. Jamal is publishing informational materials and speaking regularly at various local colleges in an effort to turn the tide.
He says objections to transporting alcohol or scanning pork products "have nothing to do with religion." If they did, he asks, why haven't Muslim cab drivers or cashiers in other cities raised such concerns? He believes Middle-Eastern Muslims have identified Somalis in the Twin Cities-a group of mostly unassimilated immigrants eager to prove their faithfulness and build community in a new country-as uniquely vulnerable to manipulation by religious fatwa.
In the case of the cab drivers, the MAS-issued fatwa against transporting alcohol nearly succeeded in altering the Metropolitan Airport Commission's rule book. A plan to provide color-coded top lights on all taxis so prospective passengers could identify alcohol-friendly cars would have represented a dramatic step in government accommodation of Shariah law.
But public outcry prevented enactment, and airport officials announced this month that, beginning May 11, cabbies refusing to transport alcohol will receive a 30-day suspension on the first offense and a two-year revocation of their license on the second. Lawyers representing the taxi drivers are threatening to challenge that crackdown in court.
The "flying imams" have turned to the legal system also, filing suit against airport officials, US Airways employees, and unnamed airline passengers for the alleged embarrassment, inconvenience, and mental anguish they suffered when removed from their scheduled flight to Phoenix, Ariz. The imams were returning home from Minneapolis after attending a conference for the North American Imams Federation, an event at which Rep. Ellison spoke.
The lawsuit seeks monetary compensation for civil-rights violations. But M. Zuhdi Jasser, director of the American Islamic Forum for Democracy (AIFD) in Phoenix, believes other motivations are in play. A practicing Muslim and personal acquaintance to several of the suing imams, Jasser nonetheless has denounced the litigation as both "frivolous" and "very concerning." He vows that his organization will help provide legal defense for any passengers.
In an interview with WORLD, Jasser explained the importance of his stance in what he views as a broader struggle between Islam and Islamism. He contends that the lawsuit, which is backed by CAIR, is part of the same broad political agenda Jamal identifies-the radicalization of moderate Muslims: "They're doing this under the guise of political correctness, but what they really seek is for the Muslim community to function as one body politic. Their endgame is to create a state and political construct in which imams and clerics that are experts in Shariah can have influence in government and society rule in order to create quasi-theocracy."
Jasser, a practicing physician and former Lieutenant Commander in the U.S. Navy, founded AIFD to resist such politicization of Islam in America, a movement that he says has overtaken almost every national Muslim organization. Despite the highly visible presence of CAIR, MAS, and other politicized groups like the Muslim Public Affairs Council and the Islamic Society of North America, Jasser is hopeful that moderate Islam may still succeed in stamping out more radical visions.
He believes that as many as two-thirds of the nation's several million Muslims are what he terms non-affiliated, that is, uninvolved with political organizations and still open to moderate values. But his efforts to reach that non-affiliated group have come at a high social cost. Jasser has attended mosque and sat under the teaching of some of the flying imams, but he says some of them routinely question the authenticity of his faith and accuse him of harboring personal political ambitions.
He bristles at such charges: "My goal is to disassemble political Islam and make my spiritual path with God more private. They feel that my desire and work to separate politics from our spiritual faith in the God of Abraham is somehow a foreign intervention into the faith." But Jasser's faith is more liberal than that of the imams. He says, "There are many different pathways to God. If you believe others are going to hell for not following your path, it becomes problematic to society."
In Jasser's view, the controversies in the Twin Cities stem not from Islam per se but from a religious exclusivism that he sees as incompatible with American democracy: "Government is based on the values of natural law and humanism and not on one pathway to God. I believe the Quran is my book at home that I believe is the word of God, but it should literally have no role in government."
Such compartmentalized faith, a concept most Bible-believing Christians resist, may prove the best antidote to political Islam and the establishment of Shariah in America. Not all exclusive truth claims are equal: Bible-based Christianity birthed American democracy; Quran-based Islam now threatens it.