Freedom and Religion

Article excerpt

Byline: Julia Duin

Saturday's open house at Dar Al Hijrah Islamic Center in Falls Church was a gracious affair, with veiled women distributing fliers and roses to crowds of denim-clad Americans arriving for their first glimpse of a mosque.

On white marble floors inside, banquet tables filled with vegetable wraps, breads, cheeses, fruits and honey-soaked desserts awaited visitors, who then were ushered into nearby classrooms to hear about the basic tenets of Islam. Brightly colored posters describing the five pillars of Islam were placed on easels near the entrance, and seekers were urged to help themselves to free literature.

What most visitors did not see in the bookstore behind the mosque were bas reliefs of the Holy Land with nary a sign of Israel but embossed with the words "beautiful Palestine." Or the booklets such as "Christianity: The Original and the Present Reality" suggesting that Jesus was never crucified, that some Christians believed the Virgin Mary was part of the Trinity and that Jesus prophesied in the Gospel of John the coming of Muhammad, not the Holy Spirit.

"It is incumbent on each and every human being to have faith in Muhammad (blessings of Allah and peace be upon him) and follow him alone," stated one of the free books at the mosque.

A key to understanding Islam is knowing how it operates in one way in countries that recognize a separation of church and state. Islam operates in completely another fashion in countries where mosque and state are one, scholars say.

In countries where the culture is an expression of Islam, religion and society have merged. For another religion to exist in a strict Islamic society or for someone to change his or her religion is considered an apostasy, an abandonment of one's heritage and a threat to the religion and to the country.

Such beliefs are behind the charges against the eight Christian aid workers who have been jailed in Kabul on charges of trying to convert Afghans.

"In classical Islamic law, the apostate loses all his civil liberties, his kids are taken away and his marriage is dissolved," says the Rev. Ernest Hahn, a Toronto-based Islamic researcher and Lutheran pastor. "He loses his inheritance and he cannot be buried in a Muslim graveyard.

"So many Muslims try to teach that Islam teaches there is freedom of religion, because Sura 2:256 [in the Koran] says, `Let there by no compulsion in religion.' But that has been supplanted by a saying in the Hadith [supplemental writings to the Koran] that says, `Any person who has changed his religion, kill him.'"

The Koran also states in Sura 3:85 that anyone who desires "a religion other than Islam, never will it be accepted of him," as Islam is the perfect expression of all religions that have come before it.

Inside U.S. borders, Muslim institutions such as the Saudi Academy expansion near Washington Dulles International Airport - not to mention the 1,209 mosques around the country - have absolute freedom to propagate Islam and seek converts.

A case in point is the Graduate School of Islamic and Social Sciences in Leesburg. Set in an office park close to the airport, its 35,000-volume library has one of the largest Arabic-language book collections in the area. It trains Islamic chaplains for an estimated 4,000 Muslims in the U.S. armed forces and offers a master's degree in Islamic studies.

Its Iraqi-born president, Taha Jaber Alalwani, says one goal is to offset the anti-Muslim prejudice he says exists among Americans and Europeans.

"In any library, we find 600 or more books, novels and other things, talking about Islam and Muslims in a very bad way," he says. …