Scholars’ campaign to protect religious freedom

A leading Muslim organization has launched a new campaign to protect religious freedom in the US. The Islamic Circle of North America (ICNA) wants to blunt Islmophobia by promoting greater understanding of Islam and Muslims. The year-long campaign was kicked off at a conference in New York on Dec. 3. It is designed to tackle fears that intolerance towards Muslims is creeping into the political discourse in an attempt to impact the 2012 presidential elections.

Several Muslim community leaders and Islamic scholars feel American Muslims have a role to play in protecting religious freedoms envisioned by the Founding Fathers. They believe that preservation of religious freedom is as important for the Muslims of today as it will be for future generations.

ICNA wants to remind Americans that Muslims are entitled to the same religious liberty enjoyed by any other US citizen. “The campaign will challenge the stereotyping of Muslims and recurring problem of Islamophobia, by creating broader understanding about Islam and Muslims over the next year,” ICNA’s Vice Amir (deputy head) Naeem Baig told close to 1,000 participants who showed up at the conference. He feared that proponents of Islamophobia desired to remove every Muslim from the US.

Sheikh Hasan AbuNar, a Muslim scholar from Connecticut, said the Muslim community must become a role model for American society. He said conversion to Islam in American prisons was growing at a faster pace. He claimed that 91 percent of those who converted to Islam in prison became law abiding citizens after being released from jail and never returned to the world of crime.

Shiekh Abdul Rehman Khan said the word “Shariah” was widely misunderstood as being related to the religiously sanctioned punishment. He explained that 33 percent of Shariah laws pertained to Muslims’ beliefs, 33 percent to character building, 20 percent to prayers and only one percent to punishments. Referring to the teachings of the Qur’an, Khan said out of 6,236 verses of the Muslim holy book, only 15 were about punishment (for violation of the Muslim code of life).

Imam Shamsi Ali, the Imam of the Islamic Cultural Center of New York, advised the Muslim community to join mainstream America. He believed that this was the best way to defend their rights.

Audience at conference to promote religious tolerance.

Audience at conference to promote religious tolerance.