EvCC event could undermine clear understanding of Islam

As part of its yearlong “Islam in America” lecture series, Everett Community College has invited the controversial speaker and writer Raymond Ibrahim to give a lecture on Thursday. This series of events gives a much-needed boost to the understanding of Islam, but I fear that this particular event will go a long way toward undermining that goal.

Indeed, by inviting a known conspiracy theorist with a history of making unfounded claims about Islam, the college is doing a disservice to the public and risks creating a hostile learning environment for its students. Mr. Ibrahim’s views have been questioned elsewhere. He resigned under pressure from the Library of Congress for using his title of research librarian to promote his arguments. His strategy is similar to that employed by Minister Louis Farrakhan who, in his latest book, used the contents of the Talmud to support his anti-Semitic theories.

Mr. Ibrahim often supports his anti-Muslim theories by taking Islamic teachings and skewing them to support a point. That’s why over 60 Puget Sound area interfaith and community leaders sent a joint letter to the college calling on them to cancel the event.

Despite this, the college has decided to go forward with the event, so in order to enable the reader to attend this lecture from a knowledgeable position, I will address several of Mr. Ibrahim’s misleading claims.

Mr. Ibrahim has suggested that Muslims must be disloyal to America because Islam contains a “mandate for Muslims to be loyal to fellow Muslims and Islam.” In reality, Muslims must obey the laws of the land they live in, unless Islamic law specifically prohibits following a law. They may challenge unjust laws, but only through peaceful, and, in essence, democratic methods.

Moreover, according to a 2007 Pew Research Survey, American Muslims have a positive view of American society and are highly assimilated. Indeed, American Muslims work as paramedics, firefighters and police officers, and more than 3,700 American Muslims serve in the U.S. armed forces.

Nonetheless, Mr. Ibrahim has argued that when devout Muslims move to America, “this invariably will compromise what many of them profess to be their ultimate priority: living in accordance to the divine laws of Allah.” The 2007 Pew Survey challenges this assertion, showing that most American Muslims believe that Muslim immigrants “should try and adopt American customs, rather than trying to remain distinct from the larger society.” And nearly two-thirds don’t see a conflict between “being a devout Muslim and living in a modern society.”

Not only that, but devout Muslims who regularly attend mosque are more likely to participate in politics and to see Islam as compatible with the American political system than less religious Muslims, according to the Muslim American Public Opinion Survey conducted by researchers at the University of Washington and Harvard University. Plainly, American Muslims don’t see a conflict between living in America and practicing Islam.

Another of Mr. Ibrahim’s unfounded claims is that “Islam is to be at perpetual war with the non-Muslim world, until the former subsumes the latter.” This claim can be rejected on its face: There are more than 1.6 billion Muslims on Earth and clearly the vast majority of them are not engaged in a violent battle for domination.

Still, there are many people, including Muslims, who engage in terrorism and I join Mr. Ibrahim in wholeheartedly condemning all terrorist attacks, regardless of who commits them.

However, a narrow focus on acts of terrorism committed by Muslims contributes to the false impression that Muslims are the leading perpetrators of terrorism. In fact, a 2005 FBI report on terrorism shows that between 1980 and 2005, only 6 percent of U.S. terror attacks were committed in the name of Islam.

In addition, American Muslims are victims of both terrorism and hate crimes. More than 50 Muslim first responders and office workers were among those killed in the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. In the last six months, there have been 10 documented anti-Muslim hate crimes in the Northwest alone.

It is misleading claims such as Mr. Ibrahim’s that cause American Muslims to be looked upon with such fear and uncertainty. The reader would do well, when evaluating his lecture, to ask whether his claims would be acceptable if they were made about Jews, African Americans, Mormons, or any other minority group — and whether it would be appropriate for a college to give a platform to someone known for making such claims.

Arsalan Bukhari is executive director of the Washington State chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), the nation’s largest Muslim civil rights organization. He may be contacted at abukhari@cair.com.

Correction: The original version of this commentary incorrectly stated the sponsor of the lecture. The event is hosted by EvCC’s Humanities Center.

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