The new Islamic Center of Murfreesboro finally opened its doors in August after a two year feud with a few concerned citizens. Some of the members of the Islamic Center have lived in Murfreesboro for over thirty years and always felt at home; that is until they needed a larger mosque. A soon as they broke ground, they became the subject of protests, vandalism, arson attacks, and a bomb threat, as well as being dragged into the courts to defend their religion. The source of the contention was summed up by Joe Brandon, the attorney representing the anti-mosque contingency, "We don't want Sharia law."
Sharia law refers to the rules in the Quran that cover a wide range of topics, such as fasting, prayer, pilgrimage, trade, inheritance, marriage and divorce. It's the most sensational parts that get the most publicity, i.e. men's right to unilaterally divorce or cutting off hands for a robbery. Of course, the Bible has many extreme rules in it too (stoning adulterers and rebellious children to death) and, like the Bible, Sharia is interpreted and followed to varying degrees by Muslims. Never-the-less, the word "Sharia" conjures up fear in the hearts of those who are bracing for an all out jihad.
Take the case of Samar Ali, a young Muslim woman who now works in the Tennessee Governor's office. Born and raised in Tennessee, Samar became a voice of calm and reason while she was an undergraduate at Vanderbilt University in the aftermath of the September 11th attacks. (She was so popular she became the Student Body President). Samar went on to Vanderbilt Law School, was a White House Fellow, and clerked at the US and South African Court of Appeals. To add to her international experience, she spent three months in as an intern for the Islamic International Arab Bank where she was exposed to Sharia compliant finance. Sharia?! Sound the alarm!
The Tennessee Tea Party and several Republican county groups have characterized Ms. Ali as a Sharia "specialist" and demanded that Governor Haslam (the Republican who appointed her) immediately remove her from her post. The Chairman of the Williamson County Republican Party, Kevin Kookogey, said, "To date, the Haslam Administration has displayed an unfortunate ignorance to the threat of Sharia. They seem willing to accept the claims and defense of the Muslim Brotherhood at face value, refusing to even consider that, perhaps, those bent on destroying Western Civilization might just be infiltrating our institutions."
The fact that the US Constitution prohibits an official religion does not alleviate concerns that Muslims like Ms. Ali and members of the Islamic Center of Murfreesboro will attempt to force Sharia law in small towns across the country. "We don't want a Constitution-free zone in Rutherford County, Tennessee," said attorney Joe Brandon, who now considers Sharia law in Murfreesboro "a probability." This would be quite a coup considering only 0.6% of Americans are Muslims and the vast majority of them say they have no interest in changing US laws. In Turkey, where Muslims comprise 99% of the population, they recently voted to not make Islam the national religion.
This type of prejudice isn't exactly a new phenomenon. During the "Cold War' in the 1950s, communist sympathizers were sniffed out and often prosecuted. In World War II, Japanese Americans were rounded up and put in detention camps. German Americans were viewed with suspicion and endured mistreatment during both World Wars. And anyone with a British accent was probably watching his back during the Revolutionary War. It's human nature to distrust anyone who bares a resemblance to those we are fighting. While Jesus tells us to love our enemies (Matthew 5:44), most of these aforementioned people were never our enemies; they simply had a different ethnicity or religion.
Many of the most vocal opponents of Muslims and Sharia are Christians, and yet Jesus himself didn't seem to have a problem with those who had a different faith. The 2nd great commandment is to love our neighbors as ourselves and, when asked who our neighbors are, Jesus answers by telling the Parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10: 25 - 37). The Jews considered Samaritans to be their enemies; however, the Samaritan is the good neighbor and, therefore, the very ones we are called to love. That parable may have been told over two thousand years ago in the Middle East, but the message is just as relevant today in Middle Tennessee.
Jeff Fulmer lives in Middle Tennessee and is the author of "Hometown Prophet." You can download his e-book, "As a Christian, Why the GOP Doesn't Speak for Me," for free by signing up at his website, http://www.hometownprophetbook.com/.