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Muslims Pray at the Capitol

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On September 25, a few thousand Muslims gathered on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC, for the Friday prayer. The event was organized by Hassen Abdellah, an African-American Muslim lawyer and President of the Dar-ul-Islam mosque in Elizabeth, New Jersey. Fox News described the gathering as "a peaceable day of Friday prayer, [Muslims] voicing their religious fervor and solidarity with American values while ignoring scattered protesters of other faiths."

Abdellah said in an interview with news media that there was no real agenda other than to pray together. "We want this to be purely about Islam," he said. "We want to change the perception of Islam to show we are not terrorists, but that most of us Muslims here love America and abide by its laws." Websites advertising the event indicate that initial hopes were that it would involve a very large turnout of Muslims from across the country, but it was a low-key event, purposely without involvement of any particularly famous Muslims or Muslim organizations.

Even so, several radical Christian groups were swept into hysteria over the event for months leading up to the event, raising an organizational battle cry against the "Islamization of America" and protesting at the rally with chants, posters, and pamphlets saying "Abortion is Murder!", "Homosexuality is Sin!", and "Islam is a Lie!". The din of their chanting rudely continued during the prayer and Qur'an recitation while the Muslim congregants ignored them. Some of the Christian activists, such as Tony Perkins, head of the Family Research Council, demanded that the Muslims in attendance publicly denounce a list of specific terrorists acts committed from 9/11/2001 to the present. However, the petition was never received by the Muslim participants, and the organizers said they strove to keep the event from being political.

Some of the controversy surrounding the event stems from the legal representation work of Hassen Abdellah – in the past, he has represented a client associated with the 1993 World Trade Center bombing and another who sold fake ID to 9/11 hijackers. Abdellah's response was to state that claiming his background made him unfit to organize an event spreading a message of Muslim solidarity with America followed the same logic as precluding "an attorney who has represented drug dealers from taking part in anti-drug events."

In truth, the protesters' behaviors show that their agendas had little to nothing to do with Abdellah, or with reality, for that matter. John Cosgrove, who calls himself a counterterrorism consultant, claims that he is engaged in a battle to save America from imposition of Shariah law, despite the fact that no evidence for any move to implement Shariah in America exists. He and other protesters claim Islamic values as being un-American, in contrast to the basic premise of the event organizers. Rather than providing factual evidence to support their claims that Islamic values are somehow inherently different than true Christian or true American values, the anti-Muslim hate groups spout various jibes that are not based in fact. For example, Cosgrove brushed away the fact that American Founding Father Thomas Jefferson had a Qur'an by saying, "He had it so that he could know his enemy, so he could confront them, know them, kill them, and vanquish the Islamic pirates, the scourge of the seas and spreading tyranny abroad. After reading the Koran, founding the Marines, and expanding the Navy to go kill them, I think he laid the Koran down thinking perhaps he was done. Sadly, it was not the case."

Reverend Dobbs of the Convocation of Anglicans in North America's Church and Islam Project announced that the service is "part of a well-defined strategy to Islamize American society and replace the Bible with the Koran, the cross with the Islamic crescent, and the church bells with the Athan." The group called Operation Save America made notices before the prayer event that they would be going to DC to "storm the gates of hell to defeat the false god of Islam with the unsheathed Word of God and to set people free from the monstrous tyranny and bondage of this religion birthed in the deepest pits of hell."

Christian evangelist Lou Engle said Friday prayer on Capitol Hill "is much more than a nice little Muslim gathering. It's an invocation of spiritual powers of an ideology" that "doesn't have the same set of values that our nation has had."

Such statements reveal the extreme intentional ignorance of the anti-Muslim hate groups in the Christian extremists of America. Any honest comparison between Christian and/or American beliefs and values and Islam would very easily reveal much more similarity than difference – the same God (so to what "spiritual powers" is Engle referring?), and many common moral and ethical values. Perhaps the Christian radicals are seriously confused about just what values the American nation has had, or what Christianity itself espouses. The ridiculousness of "Abortion is Murder!" and "Homosexuality is Sin!" being themes at a protest of Muslim prayer epitomizes the foolishness of the Christian right. They spread a message of hate and exclusion loudly, obnoxiously, and sometimes violently, in clear contrast to the behavior of Christ (peace be upon him), whom they claim to follow. They strive to create division, dissension, and fear as a cover for the lack of truth in their messages.

A few lessons can be taken from the humble gathering of Muslims for prayer on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC – lessons about how scarily extreme some of the Christian right has become, about how much ignorance of Islam and Muslims doggedly persists in the West, and about the power of the Muslim congregational prayer. A gathering with estimates from 1000 to 8000 is nowhere near an unusually large Friday prayer crowd in a worldwide context, but even that small unity of Muslims in America's capitol at a publicized event has anti-Muslim extremists alarmed. Various exaggerated and incorrect anti-Islam propaganda is spread on the Internet claiming that birth rates of Muslims in European countries compared to non-Muslim birth rates have proved the statistically inevitable demise of Christianity, apparently in attempt to rouse anti-immigration sentiment and crimes of violence against Muslims in the West.

Yet that propaganda supposes nothing about the actual practice of Muslims, instead regarding Muslims more as an overwhelming invading inferior race than followers of a religion. Pure numbers arouse their hysterics. However, Muslims recognize the truth that the power of Islam is its practice – being Muslim in name is nothing compared to living Islam, regardless of numbers. When even a small number of people gather together and strive with one another along the right path, amazing things can happen.

Author of this article: Masooma Beatty
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