A Muslim woman from West Virginia, Asra Nomani, writes in the New York Times (thanks to Steve) about hate in her local mosque. This is the same mosque, and the same woman, that we posted about in February, when she was protesting having to enter it by the back door — only the men could go in the front.
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — Not long ago in my little mosque around the corner from a McDonald’s, a student from the university here delivered a sermon. To love the Prophet Muhammad, he said, “is to hate those who hate him.” He railed against man-made doctrines that replace Islamic law, and excoriated the “enemies of Islam” who deny strict adherence to Sunnah, or the ways of Muhammad. While he wasn’t espousing violence, his words echoed the extremist vocabulary of Wahhabism, used by some followers to breed militant attitudes.
Like others who listened that day, I was stung by the sermon. It stands in chilling contrast to reforms taking place within Muslim communities nationwide. In fact, only months earlier at my mosque, my mother, sister-in-law, niece and I prayed in the main hall, an act of defiance that led to a reversal of the policy that women had to pray in a secluded balcony. Sadly, I have learned that the realization of an inclusive Islam is a fragile thing, even in this country. Americans need not look elsewhere to hear hate-filled rhetoric preached by fundamentalists. It resounds in our own back yards.
Like many small mosques, mine does not have an imam. Instead, a governing board — which appoints its own members — sets policy. An elected executive committee is supposed to decide who will lead prayers and deliver sermons. With infighting, that committee disintegrated over the last year, and went vacant after the board failed to hold elections in November. The board took over managing the mosque. A month before the student’s speech, he and about 10 other men staged the equivalent of a coup. They appointed five in their ranks as the “temporary executive committee” and usurped the board’s power to choose who will lead prayers, preach and make management decisions.
These men rally around strict interpretation of the Koran and Sunnah, which last week entailed a sermon that criticized women working outside the home and called women who have lost their chastity worthless. The group has packed the mosque’s bookcases with fundamentalist publications.
Note that these hardliners rely on a “strict interpretation of the Koran and Sunnah,” and use the Prophet Muhammad to justify their hatred.
It saddens me that these Muslim organizations and my mosque leadership are reluctant to take a strong stand, because ending hate begins at home. If Muslims in America and elsewhere expect religious tolerance, we must ourselves enforce a zero-tolerance policy against preaching hatred and bigotry. At the very least, American Muslims need to follow the lead of the mainstream Muslim Council of Britain, which sent a letter to 1,000 British mosques urging members to oppose extremism and provide “Islamic guidance” to help “maintain the peace and security of our country.”
The goings-on in my small mosque may seem inconsequential, but we are a microcosm of the challenges moderate Islam faces throughout the world. If tolerant and inclusive Islam can’t express itself in small corners like Morgantown, where on this earth can the real beauty of Islam flourish?
Evidently Nomani’s idea of the “real beauty of Islam” has nothing to do with a strict interpretation of the Qur’an and Sunnah. Yet if people like her don’t refute the radicals’ strict interpretations on Islamic grounds, they will never be able to defeat them. This is the great challenge for moderate Muslims, which has yet to be taken up.