One Muslim parent’s complaint that his children were given fliers by their public school teachers promoting an upcoming Easter egg hunt has sparked a controversy – and a show of interfaith solidarity.
Majed Moughni was upset after his son and daughter, both elementary school students of Dearborn Public Schools in Dearborn, Mich., brought home invitations to an “Eggstravaganza” at a local church.
Dearborn is home to about 40,000 Arab Americans, according to the 2000 Census, the highest proportion of Arab Americans in any U.S. city.
Moughni, an attorney, complained to the Detroit Free Press in a story published April 4 that the distribution of the fliers represented a violation of the constitutional separation of church and state.
That sparked a media controversy, with conservative outlets like American Thinker decrying the Muslim parents who were upset about the invitations for the Easter egg hunt – a controversy fueled by the belief there were multiple parents who complained. The Free Press story said that “Moughni and others are worried that churches are trying to convert their youth through Dearborn Schools,” but Moughni was the only parent quoted in the story.
The Quran, which Muslims believe to be the revealed word of God, contains the essence of nine of the Ten Commandments. (The only one we do not share is the Sabbath.) The fifth commandment to “Honor your father and your mother, so that you may live long in the land, the Lord your God is giving you” contains lessons for today that both Muslims and non-Muslims should heed.
The fifth commandment is more than a directive. Unlike other commandments, it contains a promise from God. The spirit of the fifth commandment can be found throughout Islamic tradition. Muslims are commanded to honor our parents and are reminded that we will be judged for whatever “good or evil” we have done in following Quranic directives.
“Thy Lord hath decreed that ye worship none but Him, and that ye be kind to parents. Whether one or both of them attain old age in thy life, say not to them a word of contempt, nor repel them, but address them in terms of honor” (Quran 17:23-4). Muslims are reminded to respect their parents in the same breath in which God reminds us to “worship none but Him.” But does this promise cut both ways between generations? Our sacred books of faith tell stories of prophets and families with struggles, parents who have failed and children who have chosen a path not taken by their forefathers. Many find ruin and misfortune while others, like Abraham, found God.
Fox News Insider reported yesterday about an interview of Elisabeth Hasselback with president of the American Islamic Forum For Democracy, Dr. Zuhdi Jasser, who called the Muslim parents’ claim “absurd”. He believes that the Muslim parents’ contention that the giving of flyers was equivalent to the violation of the separation of church and state was preposterous. He even questioned the alleged reaction of the Muslim parents’ child to the brochure, saying:
“Do we really believe that his nine-year-old daughter was threatened by this scary brochure that he held up for the media in Detroit?”
He further gave harsh commentary on the Islamist movement, which Jasser felt was surging throughout America:
“We can’t let this alliance between the hyper-secular anti-religious left and the Islamists to continue to marginalize the big part of American culture which has a lot to do with Christianity.”
Jasser said that he, a Muslim, has participated with various events hosted by different faiths, but claims that he never felt it threatened his Muslim faith.
The American Islamic Forum for Democracy (AIFD) wishes to express our deep sorrow and outrage at the news of the anti-Semitic attacks in Kansas yesterday. As more is learned about the individual who committed these attacks – from his history with white supremacist movements and his apparent admiration for Hitler – we are reminded that our work to end anti-Semitism and all forms of bigotry is far from over. We at AIFD stand in solidarity with the Jewish community during this difficult time and always. We offer our condolences to the family and friends of the three innocent people who lost their lives in this act of senseless and barbaric violence.
The news of this attack against the Jewish community is especially troubling as this evening marks the beginning of Passover, when the Jewish people commemorate their freedom from bondage in Egypt. This year, as we wish our Jewish friends and allies Pesach Chag Sameach – Happy Passover – may we recommit ourselves to working for freedom for all oppressed and marginalized people everywhere. May our Jewish friends, supporters and loved ones have a blessed Passover season, and may we all remain steadfast in our commitment to freedom and ending persecution.
Earlier this year, Dr. Jasser was interviewed by Fox News regarding the Department of Justice’s decision to embrace greater flexibility for its religious members, specifically by permitting certain types of religious dress or appearance to be maintained while in uniform. To see that interview, click here.
Following that interview, the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) began another shameful round of attacks against Dr. Jasser. To see those attacks and our full response, click here.
Despite our many refutations of CAIR’s baseless attacks, they continued (and continue to) smear our work. We even invited CAIR to a public debate on “Islamophobia in America,” with a neutral moderator and venue. They declined our invitation. To see that exchange and our analysis, click here.
Most recently, Dr. Jasser was contacted by Voice of Russia, who had spoken with CAIR about the Department of Justice’s policies. Most revealing was CAIR’s choice to attack Dr. Jasser and AIFD through Russian media, even attempting to pose a question to Dr. Jasser through them.
To read what Voice of Russia published, please click here.
Since the final piece was understandably brief, we thought we would share Dr. Jasser’s interview in its entirety. Below, we have posted Voice of Russia’s questions to Dr. Jasser and the full responses he sent back.
Voice of Russia]: Questions for: US Commission on International Religious Freedom, Vice Chair for the organization Dr. Zuhdi Jasser
Dr. Jasser: First note that ethically you do not define the capacity in which I act during a media interview. I do. During the Fox interview in question and during this interview I am speaking to you on my own behalf as well as President of the American Islamic Forum for Democracy. If you are interested in our work specifically during my past two years of service on USCIRF, you are welcome to contact USCIRF and avail yourself of the publicly available work there which I have participated in during my tenure thus far as a USCIRF commissioner since 2012.
[VOR]: The Council on American-Islamic Relations released a press release after Dr. M. Zuhdi Jasser appeared on Fox News. The council was disgusted by the words that you (Dr. Jasser) said on national TV … as according to CAIR, the International Religious Freedom Vice Chair did not think it was a good idea to broaden the religious freedoms for Muslim military personnel— to what degree is it fair to allow any type of religious follow practice their faith in the US military?
The Council on American-Islamic Relations welcomes the new policy which has broadened the religious rights, Dr. Jasser, how come CAIR states that you are so much against this policy?
Dr. Jasser: CAIR claims that I am against religious rights being granted for Muslims in the military because they have a very flexible relationship with the truth. My words stand on their own merit. Any honest human being that reviews my comments will know that not only am I not against this new policy, I actually welcomed it publicly – both in the Fox interview over which they attacked me, and in multiple publications and statements after the fact. Unfortunately, the only way CAIR knows how to advance their agenda is to maliciously misrepresent my position in order to defame me in the eyes of other Muslims. It is a desperate and obvious attempt to damage AIFD’s work as we gain more support in the Muslim community. Rather than confront the issue of Islamism and its threat to Islamic reform and true religious freedom, CAIR operates under the premise that any Muslims who call them out and disagree with their Islamist agenda must be “anti-Islam” or “Islamophobic” and thus not a “good Muslim” by their standards. Their behavior smacks of takfirism (the insinuation that other Muslims are not devout enough and thus anti-Islam).
VOR]: It has been noted that you are a devout Muslim which means you actively practice your religion. To what degree would you be alright with Muslims in the military growing out their beards as a way of showing dedication to their faith?
Dr. Jasser: As was stated in our response to CAIR’s attacks which I hope you read, religious accommodations must be evaluated on a case-by-case basis with priority given to mission readiness and unit cohesion. As a veteran of the U.S. Navy and as a practicing Muslim, I found no conflict between practice of my personal faith (including fasting, praying, abstention from alcohol and dating) and my service in the military. Whether or not a beard is an absolute religious requirement is something we Muslims should be able to discuss reasonably. The beard as described in the sunnah is not even worn by many in CAIR’s leadership, so it is curious that they are so adamant about it as a religious requirement. I will point out that in that interview I did not even explicitly say that men should be forbidden from having beards. One thing many seem to be forgetting is that a career in the military is not one for those who want limitless personal expression through their appearance. I applaud the military for looking at these more inclusive policies, but also understand that the uniform is meant to create some amount of visual uniformity. I continue to ask that commanding officers be protected from organizations like CAIR who will insert themselves into command decisions to either allow or deny any special religious dress request.
VOR]: During an interview I had with Ibrahim Hooper, the spokesperson for CAIR, he has posed the question to you: How can you defend religious freedom in this organization while decrying religious freedoms for Muslims in the American military?
Dr. Jasser: It is truly stunning – and revealing – that a CAIR official asked me, another American, to defend my position on religious liberty by asking me a question through Russian state media- a foreign media arm of an autocratic state which by the way has great incentive in misrepresenting my positions due to the stance I have taken against the Assad regime and Russia’s support of their genocide from the beginning of their Revolution in 2011. The simple answer is: Mr. Hooper, as any person with basic literacy and comprehension skills can easily verify, I have never “decried religious freedoms for Muslims in the American military.” This is a dishonest assertion, but as I have said before, CAIR’s inability to engage with integrity is not unexpected, and their desire to silence the urgently needed ideological battle within the Muslim community is legion. I not only stand behind my comments but my eleven years of service in the US Navy as a proud American Muslim.
VOR]: It has been over a month since CAIR has made its press release public, can you give a reason or reasons as to why you have not given any direct response to the organization?
Dr. Jasser: I wonder if Voice of Russia has verified this allegation, or if you have simply taken CAIR’s word for it? First, CAIR’s press release was just that – a press release, a public attack. They were not entitled to a personal response from me, but my organization did indeed publish a response within a few days. A link to that response is here, and is posted prominently on our website. CAIR officials have been made aware of our response. Various members of their staff have taken to social media to attack me, calling me an “Uncle Tom” and even a “monkey.” You can in fact follow my twitter timeline and see that engagement with their leadership. You could easily find my organization engaging CAIR officials on these very issues, and you could also easily find interviews in which I address these issues. Not a one has engaged me on substance – they have merely resorted to ad hominem attacks and untruths. Finally, I have challenged CAIR to a thoughtful public debate on multiple occasions and have received no response. Private conversations with leaders of an organization whose modus operands are through the dissemination of fabrications and deception are a waste of time and do nothing to hold them accountable and honest. We have always been willing to engage their leadership in public substantive conversations.
VOR]: Can there ever be a truce or common understanding between your involvement with religious freedom organizations and CAIR’s activities within the Islamic community?
Dr. Jasser: As long as CAIR continues to lie about my relationship to my faith and my community, and as long as they continue their malicious attacks against Muslims who seek to advance liberty and freedom, no, there cannot be a “truce.” By the way, intra-faith “truces” within an American faith community over deep ideological disagreements are not best broached by the state media apparatus of a foreign autocracy like Russia. It would seem that CAIR feigns being focused on domestic civil rights of Muslims in the U.S. while spending most of its time engaging foreign media of autocratic states from Saudi Arabia to Iran and now Russia to perpetuate false information about other American Muslims.
VOR]: Islam is said to be a religion of peace, how can opposing organizations (in this instance the one you stand for and CAIR), promote peace and harmony for the same exact cause if there is so much conflict between the two groups?
Dr. Jasser: This is a peculiar question, as it seems to suggest that Muslims ourselves are a monolith. As I have explained repeatedly in my decades of work for religious freedom and peace, there is a conflict within the “House of Islam,” between those who truly support the separation of mosque and state both when we are minorities in a country and in countries where we are a majority — and those who would ultimately welcome an Islamic state or global caliphate. I delve into this in my 2012 book, A Battle for the Soul of Islam: An American Muslim Patriot’s Fight to Save his Faith. I do not believe that CAIR stands for “the same exact cause” as I do. An organization like CAIR which sends letters to corrupt thuggish dictators like Muammar Qaddafi, fawning over him and what they called his exemplary Islamic behavior is hardly an organization with which I am going to find much common ground. As I said in my response to CAIR’s press release: if we want the military and the broader American community to truly embrace the contribution of American Muslims, we must reject the bullying tactics of organizations like CAIR, who claim to advocate for civil rights but really peddle a narrative of ceaseless victimhood while denigrating and libeling any Muslims who seek balance against the threat of Islamist ideologies. Their approach belittles true transgressions against religious liberty and in fact ostracizes those Muslims who bravely serve our country. Millions of liberal Egyptian Muslims protested the Muslim Brotherhood leadership and their Islamist theocratic policies last year. Rational observers would not say that those liberal Muslims who rose against the Islamists last June were “anti-Muslim”. Those anti-Islamist Muslim voices deserve respect and honest debate whether in Egypt, the United States, or Russia.
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