STATEN ISLAND, N.Y. — Citing what he sees as “religious bigotry” and “hatred,” Ibrahim Ramey, the human and civil rights director for MAS Freedom National – the advocacy arm of the Muslim American Society – penned an open letter today regarding opposition to a plan to build a mosque at the former St. Margaret Mary’s R.C. Church convent in Midland Beach.
Here’s the text of Ramey’s letter:
In Staten Island, New York, there is a ferocious attack, by some members of the community against Muslims who are seeking to purchase a property that would be used as a mosque and an Islamic center. The prospective seller, a local Catholic church, is now under intense pressure to back out of the original plan to sell the property,
while anti-Muslim agitators have converged on the Staten Island neighborhood, claiming that the Muslim organization that is seeking to buy the property is a front group for terrorists, criminals, and other assorted “Anti-American” agents of mayhem and destruction.
Is this really happening in America – a nation that boasts of its religious tolerance and pluralism? Sadly, the answer is, yes.
It does not matter to many opponents of the neighborhood mosque that the national organization supporting the project – the Muslim American Society – is a legal, registered not-for-profit corporation with local chapters in some 35 states. They don’t care that there are no indictments of the organization made by Homeland Security or the Department of Justice. And it makes no difference to them that this same group, while vilified by Islamophobes across the nation, still supported significant material contributions to the largely Christian victims of Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and the tragic earthquake in Haiti earlier this year.
When stripped of all the propaganda, innuendo, and flat-out lies, the issue is simply one of religious bigotry and hatred. In modern America, it is still acceptable for some people to organize to deny the right of a religious community to build a house of worship in their neighborhood, because the house of worship is not a church, or a synagogue, but a mosque.
But the anti-Muslim and religious prejudice display at Staten Island doesn’t represent the views of all Christians and neighbors on Staten Island or all people of faith. Because, throughout the history of this great nation, there have been courageous voices, and institutions, that have chosen a path of tolerance and acceptance of the religious “other” while affirming the right of all people of faith to live together in dignity and mutual respect as children of the same Creator.
Two centuries ago, when anti-Italian and anti-Catholic prejudice took a violent turn in many places in America, leaders from other traditions affirmed the civil and human rights of Catholic immigrant communities. Ironically, the same slander of the “foreign loyalty” of Italian “Papists” is used, unfairly and inaccurately, by some Italian-American Catholics who condemn Muslims for having “allegiance” to foreign, anti-American organizations in 2010.
In the twentieth century, virulent anti-Semitism was confronted by Christians who rejected the ethos of religious intolerance and hatred that targeted Jews and synagogues.
And now, the “Better Angels” of interfaith respect and solidarity are coming together to defend the right of Muslims to build houses of worship, not only in Staten Island, New York, but anywhere and everywhere in America.
Of course, the Muslim American Society is not new to the work of interfaith collaboration for the greater social good: MAS local and national leaders work actively in the leadership of prestigious inter-religious groups, including Religions for Peace, The Interfaith Alliance, Interfaith Workers Justice, the Temple of Understanding, and many other organizations that work for tolerance, interfaith collaboration, and the protection of religious civil liberties for all faith communities. These working relationships are based on mutual respect, and they will not be eroded by either prejudice or fear.
Some Muslim communities are now forced to struggle for our right to freedom of worship, and the freedom to organize places of worship that should be recognized in the First Amendment of the Constitution of the United States of America. We know that we must overcome prejudice and fear, and even racism, just as other religious groups in this nation have confronted the same enormous barriers. But we believe in faith over fear, and justice for all.
And more than this, we believe that the better angels of the interfaith community will stand with us.