Islam in the United States

Article excerpt

Only in democratic countries are people granted the right to believe what they choose insofar as their beliefs don't injure others or limit the rights of others to believe differently.

Therefore, in a country like the United States, one is free to believe in a deity that talks to a human on a mountaintop and actually inscribes rules with a divine finger on a slab of rock. And one can testify to that belief publicly by wearing medieval garb, growing a beard, and following particular culinary laws. Or one can give token acknowledgement by reducing the garb to wearing a small circle of cloth on one's head, tacking a small container holding a scrap of paper with the divine laws summarized to one's doorway, and acknowledging its presence with a hastily planted "kiss" delivered by one's fingertips. Regular or irregular attendance at religious services depends on the degree of commitment.

One may believe that some 2,000 years ago a virgin was impregnated by a god, gave birth without tearing her hymen (hence perpetual virginity), and raised a god-child. The godchild was killed, buried, but escaped from the cave tomb and ascended physically into a heaven believed to exist just above the earth. One can believe that this divine human being will return to earth and establish a kingdom of true believers. Words attributed to him and words written by some of his early followers provide guidelines for salvation. How one interprets these particular "revelations" moves from the literal and absolute to the conditional and selective.

One may believe that some 1,500 years ago an uneducated Arab received messages from an angel named Gabriel. These messages were recited to others who could write them down. They were gathered after the Arab's death and became the basis of a faith system that in its most extreme forms forbids entertainment, music, art, and games and denies education and public status to women, forcing them to cover their bodies from head to toe. In a more liberalized setting, the pleasures of a nonrestrictive lifestyle prevail and women enjoy pretty much the same liberties as other women in a democratic society.

One may believe that just over 150 years ago an American was divinely guided to the burial place of some sacred golden plates. Under further divine guidance, the finder translated the texts On verbiage that echoes precisely the style of a seventeenth-century English translation of the Bible), and a new religion was born. One might also choose to believe that divine inspiration has not ceased in this group, for when the issue of racial equality was raised during the twentieth century, this faith system, which had barred African Americans from its "Levitical priesthood," suddenly received a new revelation that now admitted them. Revelation and political expedience at times appear to harmonize.

In a democratic society, such freedom to believe or not believe extends to other faith systems, including Asian and Indian religions.

It is important to recognize that, whenever any faith system is tied in with or given the power of government, freedom disappears and the arrogance of power becomes manifest. We see examples of this worldwide. For ten months last year, in Justo Sierra, Mexico, Roman Catholics kept twenty-six Protestant families from their homes--expelling them because they had abandoned "the village's Mayan version of Catholicism." In November 2001 in Northern Ireland, Roman Catholics and Protestants engaged in territorial battles. For twelve weeks, Belfast Protestants harassed Catholic children, some as young as four years of age, who "violated" Protestant territorial rights by walking down a street through a Protestant neighborhood on their way to school. The harassment went beyond screamed obscenities and included the hurling of rocks and urine-filled bags. Meanwhile, Catholic controls in Ireland make it impossible for women to choose abortion to terminate an unwanted pregnancy; they must go to England for the procedure. …