Muslims and American Politics: Creating Unity from the Inside Out 6

For about two days, our friends, neighbors, and colleagues asked us questions about Islam. They wanted to know if it really was against our religion to stand for the flag. We had an oppor¬tunity to talk to our fellow Americans about what Islam is and what being a Muslim means.
I tried to make good use of our time by talking about Islam and Qur’anic interpretation in a political science seminar I was taking. The group of about twenty students all had questions for me, as they all knew I was Muslim. Our class met once a week, so by the time we met, about a week after the incident, the situ¬ation had been resolved. I nevertheless brought up the event dur¬ing the beginning of class when we talked about current events. My classmates could tell I was excited, and they took advantage of my openness to ask questions: “Is it blasphemous in Islam to stand for the American flag? Have you ever refused to stand for the flag?”
I told them that it is written in the Qur’an that we must all read the Qur’an for ourselves and interpret what each passage means for ourselves. If our interpretation was wrong or if we felt someone else’s was wrong, we are supposed to let God deal with that on Judgment Day. “That’s why I can’t say that Mahmoud Rauf is being a bad Muslim,” I told the class. “It’s between him and God.” I explained that I had no problem standing for the flag but could see Raufs point that, in Islam, one is not supposed to worship anyone or anything besides God and that standing for the flag may amount to such worship for someone who is really devout. I added, though, that the Qur’an instructs Muslims to respect their country’s laws, and, if they can’t do that as Muslims, they should move. “I don’t think he’s trying to be a troublemaker. I think he really feels that way.” Other students compared the situation to that for members of the Jehovah’s Witness faith who are protected by the Constitution in not stand¬ing for the flag under freedom of religion stipulated in the First Amendment.
An older woman in our class, a nontraditionally aged student who had come back to school, asked me, “Is there anything that would offend a Muslim as much not standing for the American flag offends some Americans?” I thought about that for a minute, and then said, “If someone went into a mosque during prayer time and disrupted the prayer session, that would be seriously offensive to Muslims.” The class took this information in. They were interested in that answer.
When we met again a week later, we all let out a little nerv¬ous laughter in revisiting the topic. Because by now, a week later, two Denver radio station disc jockeys had done just what I had said: they had disrupted prayers at the Denver mosque by blasting music. It was as if someone had overheard our conver¬sation and had been looking for something that would even the score against Muslims. Though the DJs’ acts were humiliating for American Muslims, Muslims did not lash out at the radio sta¬tion. Mosque representatives, as they had politely asked the DJs to leave the mosque, also gracefully pursued their grievances with the radio station. Much good came out of the event in the end, with the radio station agreeing to apologize publicly for a period of time, to conduct seminars on Islam for their employees, and to set up an internship program for Muslim college students interested in going into broadcasting. Besides that though, my political science class bonded over this issue and learned more about each other. In many ways, though the perception of Islam by some may have become more negative, I’m glad Rauf, who will now be playing for the Vancouver Grizzlies, challenged the NBA on standing for the flag. Not because I agree with what he did but because it gave Americans the chance to talk about Islam and the role of religion in America.

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