Supporting Muslims in America


Hassan Shibly

We all know this recent Muslim travel ban was just a shot over the bow.  Trump promised much worse during the campaign, and apparently he intends to deliver.  There has even been talk that we might soon have something resembling a Muslim registry. Some say, if it comes to that, they will register as Muslims.  Though I am sympathetic with this impulse, I will not be able to sign that with integrity.  I am not Muslim.  So, where can I sign now, to let my government know where I stand on religious freedom?

To find out, I visited the local mosque to attend a CAIR (Counsil on American-Islamic Relations) sponsored event: “Unapologetically Muslim and American”.   It featured Hassan Shibly,  Chief Executive Director of CAIR Florida, along with Karen Dabdoub, Executive Director of the Cincinnati Chapter.

The message of the presentation was clear.  Islamophobia is rampant throughout the country.  Incidents range from bullying in school through discrimination in the workplace or in housing all the way to hate crimes.   The presenters advised Muslims to stand up for their rights, to refuse to hide or simply hope that the situation would resolve itself, and to involve CAIR as soon as possible before things escalate.  CAIR is there to help.

They also noted the support Muslims have received from the majority community in America. They described incidents of Muslims praying in airports, for example, protected by Jews and Christians standing silently by to prevent any disruption of their prayers.  They mentioned Madeline Albright, who says she is ready to sign up if that Muslim registry comes to exist.  They also reminded us of the history of immigrant groups coming to America, groups which faced bigotry but eventually gained acceptance, at least from most Americans.

Shibly focused on relations with the government, especially US Customs and the FBI (“definitely not the Friendly Brotherhood of Islam”).

They spent quite a bit of time talking about what to expect on returning to this country from abroad.  Everyone is asked where they went and why they traveled.  Some will be pulled aside for secondary screening. Whereas this occurs for a typical American citizen about 1% percent of the time, Muslims were being pulled aside for this extra scrutiny about half the time, according to Shibly. Shibly’s advice was simple: as soon as they ask anything about your personal political or religious views, assert your rights.  As an American citizen, you have the right to ask for a lawyer to present during the questioning.  If you are a non-citizen,  with a green card for example, the prerogatives of the officials are less constrained, but you still have the right to call a lawyer.  Despite what the officials might say, you are likely to be detained just as long whether you call a lawyer or not, and without the protection of someone familiar with the intricacies of the law and normal procedures, you will be vulnerable.  Karen Dabdoub urged people to text the CAIR office when arriving, before getting off the plane, so that if CAIR does not hear from you within an hour or so, they can know to intervene with Customs to find out what has happened to you.  Thus, a Muslim entering the country can expect to be inconvenienced, but, with proper precautions and the help of CAIR, these inconveniences need not grow into anything more severe.  Nonetheless, foreign students are strongly encouraged to stay inside the country until their education is finished.

Shibly then went on to discuss the FBI, which he described as a government agency that is targeting Muslims, through entrapment and through intimidating people into becoming informants.


Karen Dabdoub

Karen Dabdoub followed up with a hypothetical example of an person who thinks they have nothing to hide talking with the FBI.  The agent might ask a question, and then much later in conversation, ask the same question differently.  If there were inconsistencies in your answers, then they could charge you with lying to the FBI, a crime that can be punished with up to five years of jail time.  (Of course, it is perfectly legal for them to lie to you.) Now, they have something to hold over you, to intimidate you into becoming an informant.

Their advice was the same: ask for a lawyer to be present during questioning.  Whatever the motives of the people in power, the American government is constrained by the Constitution.  Muslims, like all Americans, need to assert their rights under this Constitution in order to maintain them.  If the government tries to intrude into your personal life in any way, don’t try to handle it yourself; call CAIR.  CAIR has a lawyer who will contact the FBI on your behalf.  Shibly recalled one incident where he felt the FBI had a legitimate reason to question his client, but in the others, he told the agent that he would advise his client to not answer any of his questions.  Usually, the FBI would then leave the person alone after that.

All this sounded pretty paranoid to me.  After, the event, I did a little research to find out whether the paranoia was justified.  Interestingly, I found a 2005 article where a freshman at the University of Buffalo named Hassan Shibly was detained at the border, apparently for no reason other than he was Muslim.  I suspect that experience had a role in shaping his career.

In a more comprehensive view, Human Rights Watch clearly supports their complaints:

In a lengthy examination of U.S. terrorism prosecutions, Human Rights Watch, working with Columbia Law School’s Human Rights Institute, said the FBI and the Justice Department have created a climate of fear in some Muslim communities through the use of surveillance and informants.

fbi-newburgh-four-james-c-007I found several accounts of the “Newburgh Four”, a group caught up in an FBI sting operation that Shibly had mentioned.  It appears sordid.  Yes, these guys, all black, all Muslim, all poor, did get caught up in a terrorist plot, but the plot was entirely concocted by the paid FBI informant.  Even the judge who sentenced the defendants was upset by the FBI’s conduct.

 Only the government could have made a terrorist out of Mr Cromitie, a man whose buffoonery is positively Shakespearean in its scope… I believe beyond a shadow of a doubt that there would have been no crime here except the government instigated it, planned it and brought it to fruition.

Unfortunately, one of the men caught up in the scheme was mentally ill, possibly schizophrenic.   Shibly reported visiting him in jail, apparently out of his mind, on suicide watch in solitary confinement, cold, sad and hopeless.

It is hard to see how we are made any safer by such operations.

It doesn’t have to be like this. For example, in Dearborn, Michigan, which has a sizable Muslim population, the local chief of police runs an outreach and informant program that is considered a model by authorities on counterterrorism.  Informally, it appears to employ the same principles of “community policing” that have proven successful in Cincinnati.  You engage the community, treat people fairly, and they help you succeed because they want to live in safety.  It works.  The police chief in Dearborn can cite examples where Muslims have turned in fellow Muslims.

The FBI might pay lip service to building this kind of trust with the Muslim community, and in fact some within the bureau appear to be making a sincere attempt to do that.  However,  based on what I have learned, from Human Rights Watch, from CAIR, and from reliable news sources, that ship has sailed, and the Trump administration is unlikely to ask it to change course.

Following the presentation by Shibly and Dabdoub, there was a question and answer session.  I got to ask my question.  I referenced Madeline Albright’s willingness to sign up if there is ever a Muslim registry.  “But I will not be able to sign that with integrity.  So where can I sign up now to let my government know where I stand?”

My question got a round of spontaneous applause.  The answer was a little vague.  Go to the alerts on the CAIR website and write your Senators and Congressman about the issues that concern us all.

It looks like we will have lots of opportunities to do that.

Trump has expressed surprise that there was so much furor over his executive order.   After all, “We had 109 people out of hundreds of thousands of travelers and all we did was vet those people very, very carefully.”  Of course, he seems to enjoy the drama of it all.

We should not expect Trump’s assault on the Constitution to begin with a massive charge, but with a limited action such as this one.  Regardless of the number affected, we need to guard against anything that “target[s] individuals for discriminatory treatment based on their country of origin and/or religion, without lawful justification.” (item 64, page 13)  .   If we want to preserve our freedoms, we must preserve them for everybody.


Sources of Guidance for Muslims

Interfaith LogoThe essay below is written by Freda Shamma, a member of the Clifton Mosque, whom I met in the most recent series of Interfaith Dialogues.   As Freda describes it, she was raised as a typical American WASP (White Anglo Saxon Protestant).   She was educated, ultimately attaining a PhD in education, and spent her career as an educator.  She converted to Islam almost 50 years ago.  She says, “My values haven’t changed but my understanding of religion has, and I love the real diversity in the Muslim community.”

She brought copies of this essay to the dialogues, and I found it helpful in understanding the point of view of a devout Muslim.  Having been raised Christian, she knows how to explain her faith to Christians.  In the wake of all the banter going around about the nature of Islam, I am pleased to post the words of an actual Muslim.

What are the sources of guidance for Muslims?

By Freda Shamma

It may be helpful to understand the Qur’an by comparing it to the Bible. Much of the Bible is a chronological history of the Jewish people written at various times and by a variety of people. The New Testament is basically a biography of Jesus, in the four gospels, and then a collection of letters and writings by later Christians, attempting to explain their faith. The Qur’an is none of these.

The Qur’an is, first and most important of all, the words of God, and only His words. It is the collection of revelations that God sent to the prophet Muhammad, God’s peace and blessing be upon him, via the angel Gabriel. Angels were created to serve God but have no free will so are incapable of doing anything other than what God says.

The first surah, or chapter is a prayer which God wants people to use, and is given later in this article.

The next chapter begins with “This is the Book: in it is guidance sure, without doubt, to those who fear God.” (The word translated as ‘fear’ does not mean ‘afraid’ but more ‘in awe of’ or those who hate to displease God).

The Qur’an was revealed in stages over a 23 year period (610-632). The majority of the revelations sent to Prophet Muhammad when he was first teaching in Mecca are generally short chapters found in the last part of the Qur’an. At this time the Muslims were few in number and new to the religion. God’s guidance was mainly in the area of belief, the contrast between those who believe and those who do not, and their respective destinies in the hereafter. God describes the believers as those who believe in Him and choose right from wrong, and do good to others, including sharing their wealth. Other revelations give descriptions of heaven and hell, and the Day of Judgment. The mercy and forgiveness of God as well as other of His attributes is also included.

The longer chapters (surahs) were revealed to Prophet Muhammad after the Muslim community was established in the city of Madinah. Much of the revelation in these chapters gives practical details of life between people, i.e. the nature of male and female, the relationship in marriage, dealing with parents, children, neighbors, orphans, non-Muslims, dealing with honesty and justice, even against one’s own family. It also deals with economics, governing, and life in general.

Even the worst enemies of the Muslims among the early Arabs, who were noted for their beautiful language and love of poetry, acknowledged that the Qur’an was the most beautifully written book they could imagine. Any translation is going to fall short of the original. The Qur’an is always in Arabic, the language it was revealed in. For those who cannot understand Arabic, an approximate translation is also included. It is impossible to make an exact translation of something which God has said, since His revelation is on many levels at the same time.

There are two aspects of the Qur’an which often cause a problem for non-Muslims trying to read it. The first is that it is not chronological. The story of Adam and Eve is mentioned quite a number of times throughout the Qur’an, for example. Each time, God asks us to consider a different aspect of the event, in order to be guided in a certain way.

The second problem for many is the repetition. I don’t know the figure, but I jokingly say to my Muslim friends whenever patience is hard to come by, ‘It’s no wonder the Qur’an mentions patience so many times!’ It is a fact that most of what is second nature to us, has come about by repetition. How many of you wash your hands after digging in the dirt? How many times did your mother have to repeat “go wash your hands” until finally it became part of you, and you don’t even think about it? When you are in a stressful situation, what pops into your mind to help you – perhaps the 23rd psalm? Didn’t you have to repeat it many times before it became a part of you? And so God repeats His guidance in many ways, sometimes with a story, sometimes as a simile, sometimes a direct command, sometimes with reference to some historical event or some scientific truth. Look at the way Allah made the bees and their way of getting food and their social organization, and then look at mankind and consider that God will not let us suffer or fail, without giving us the right guidance to be able to change our situation. As the Qur’an says in Surah 14:1: The Qur’an is “a book which We have revealed unto thee in order that thou might lead mankind out of the depths of darkness into light – by the leave of thy Lord – to the way of Him the exalted in power, worthy of all praise.” In this verse God is addressing Prophet Muhammad directly, but reminding us that Muhammad is only able to lead mankind because God has given him the ability to do so.

Muslims depend on two sources of guidance. Foremost is the Qur’an which is the direct words of God, delivered by angel to Prophet Muhammad. As the verses of the Qur’an were revealed to the Prophet, he had them written down. There are still pieces of the original, which were written on leather, existing in the Topkapi Palace in Istanbul. The copies of the Qur’an today are letter by letter exactly the same as the first Qur’an.

The second source of guidance is the example of the Prophet Muhammad, a man who was guided by God to live a godly life. We look to him because God in the Qur’an tells us to follow his example. Sunnah (what he did) and hadith (what he said) show us what Muhammed did, and what he said in the twenty three years of his prophethood. These were also written down during the life of the Prophet, and have been exhaustively researched and verified to make sure no falsehoods or mistakes are in the authenticated sunnah and hadiths.

There is no pope, or priest, or minister to come between a Muslim and God. Everyone is supposed to study these sources of guidance for him/her self. When there are disagreements, or something unusual comes up that requires a thorough knowledge of the scriptures, then Islamic scholars are consulted. During the required Friday noon prayer, any knowledgeable Muslim can give the sermon. Where an Islamic scholar is available, he is usually asked to deliver it.

End of Maghrid Prayer

Worshippers finishing the ṣalāt al-maġrib at the Islamic Center of Greater Cincinnati. Charleston Wang, photographer. Used with permission.

This is the opening chapter or the Qur’an.  It is the prayer that Muslims say at least 17 times every day in the five required prayers.  Notice the similarities to the Lord’s Prayer.

Surah 1: Al Fatiha (The Opening)        The Lord’s Prayer, Matthew 6: 9-13

In the name of Allah,                               Our father, who art in heaven,
the Lord of Mercy,
the Giver of Mercy

Praise belongs to God,                             Hallowed be thy name.
Lord of the Worlds,                                   Thy kingdom come,

The Lord of Mercy,
the Giver of Mercy,

Master of the Day of Judgement.              Thy will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.

It is You we worship;                                 Give us this day our daily bread, and
it is You we ask for help.                            forgive us our trespasses as we
.                                                                forgive those who trespass
.                                                                against us.

Guide us to the straight way                      Lead us not into temptation
The way of those on whom
Thou has bestowed thy Grace,

Not of those who have gained wrath         but deliver us from evil.
nor of those who have gone astray.

Some topics discussed in the Qur’an

Nature of Mankind              Surah 20:120-124

120:    But Satan whispered evil: “Adam! shall I lead thee to the Tree of Eternity and to a kingdom that never decays?”

121:    In the result they both (Adam and Eve) ate of the tree and so their nakedness appeared to them. They began to sew for their covering, leaves from the Garden: thus did Adam disobey His Lord and allow himself to be seduced.

122:    But the Lord chose him (for His Grace): He turned to him and gave him guidance.

123:    He said: “Get ye down all together from the Garden with enmity one to another (Adam and Eve vs. Satan); but if as is sure there comes to you guidance from Me, whosoever follows My guidance will not lose his way nor fall into misery.

124     “But whosoever turns away from My Message, verily for him is a life narrowed down and we shall raise him up blind on the Day of Resurrection.”


49:13     O mankind! We created you from a single pair of a male and a female, and made you into nations and tribes that ye may know each other (not that ye may despise each other.) Verily the most honored of you in the sight of God is he who is the most righteous of you.


2:277     Those who believe and do deeds of righteousness and establish regular prayers and regular charity will have their reward with their Lord; on them shall be no fear nor shall they grieve.

No compulsion in Religion  

2:256     Let there be no compulsion in religion. Truth stands out clear from error; whoever rejects evil and believes in God hath grasped the most trustworthy hand-hold that never breaks, And Allah heareth and knoweth all things.

Business dealings                

2:282.   O ye who believe! When ye deal with each other in transactions involving future obligations in a fixed period of time reduce them to writing…

Fostering, not adoption    

33:5       Call them by the names of their fathers; that is more just, in the sight of Allah, but if ye know not their father’s names, call them your brothers in faith. (One of the rights that Islam gives to the child is the right to know who his parents are.)

Gender Equity

4:1      O mankind! Reverence your Guardian-Lord Who created you from a single person, created of like nature his mate…

9:71    The believers, men and women, are protectors one of another; they enjoin what is just and forbid what is evil; they observe regular prayers, practice regular charity, and obey God and His apostle.


4.135    O ye who believe! Stand out firmly for justice as witnesses to God, even as against yourselves or your parents or your kin and whether it be rich or poor; for Allah can best protect both. Follow not the lusts of your hearts lest ye swerve, and if ye distort justice, or decline to do justice, verily Allah is well-acquainted with all that ye do.

22:39    To those against whom war is made, permission is given to fight because they are wronged, and verily God is Most powerful for their aid.

42:40    The recompense for an injury is an injury equal thereto (in degree), but if a person forgives and makes reconciliation, his reward is due from Allah; for Allah loveth not those who do wrong.


25:63     The servants of the Most Merciful are those who walk on the earth with humility, and when the ignorant address them say (words of) peace.

God is unknowable in His entirety, but He gives us 99 attributes (or names) in the Qur’an, including:

 The Most Merciful, The Most Beneficent, The Creator, The Most Loving, The Most Just, The Most Powerful, The Everlasting Sustainer of All, The Greatest, The One above all, The Most Wise, The All-knowing.