Capitol Hill panel discusses Americans’ misunderstanding of Islam

Al-Hibri lamented the false information that she says is fueling American ignorance about Islam. According to Al-Hibri, the Koran is a freeing document that even incorporates the principles of the First Amendment. “Historically Islamic communities have practiced religious tolerance. This is nothing new. It did not start with the United States,” she said.

Dr. James Zogby was exasperated that he was having to have another “conversation” about Islam, as he said that it feels as though he is always having to explain the faith after a crisis due to American overreaction and misunderstanding.

Zogby chalked the current Park51 turmoil up to a misunderstanding perpetuated by various pundits and experts who appear on radio and television, and who write misleading books about Islam — however, when pressed, Zogby shied away from naming names. “What troubles me is that what is at stake with this Park51 story is that it is not about a building and its not about a place,” Zogby said. “It is about the narrative of who we are as a people, and if these guys win, whatever the outcome, but if these guys win then America will not be America anymore.”

When asked why there is so much backlash against the Park51 project, Zogby said it is one of the many symptoms of the current social and economic unrest in the country — which, he says, has been exacerbated by people who do not like having an African-American president. “I think it is part and parcel of the broader social unravelling. I think that is taking place. We saw it begin last summer. I think some of it has to do with the fact that we have elected an African-American president and some folks just can’t accept it,” he said. “There is no question that the economic distress and social dislocation which has occurred is part of it and I think at the same time that eight to nine years of misinformation has taken its toll.”

The topic of sharia featured prominently in the discussion as well. According to the panelists, sharia is the “the way to God,” and moderate sharia differs greatly from the harsh brand of sharia implemented in some Muslim countries. Al-Hibri said, “The word sharia law has been batted around as a threat. I don’t know where this came from. Why is it being discussed in the United States as a threat?”

She continued by suggesting that it is fathomable that the Founding Fathers, specifically Thomas Jefferson, took into account some of the principles in the Koran when they were building the legal framework for the United States. “There is a verse in the Koran that says there is no compulsion in religion — that is the freedom of action,” she said.

The panelists generally leveled a great deal of blame on the media and average Americans for the country’s disunity. In an effort to ameliorate detractors, the panelists encouraged members of the Muslim community to spend September 11 participating in service projects. As Al Maryati argued, the media only focuses on the bad followers of the faith. “The moderate Muslim story still has yet to be told,” he said.

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