WASHINGTON: Muslims in America are here to stay, says Assistant US Attorney General for Civil Rights Thomas Perez, telling those who urge Muslims to ‘go home,’ “this is their home.”
Addressing a large Muslim gathering in the US capital, Perez also pledged to “use every tool at our disposal” to ensure equal opportunities for all Muslims living in America.
“The North American Muslim community is thriving, probably more so than any other place in the world,” said Pakistan’s ambassador, Sherry Rehman, while addressing the same convention.
“They are turning negative stereotypes on their heads through their eagerness to participate; to become engaged citizens in North American society, economically, socially and politically,” she said.
Tens of thousands of Muslims from around the United States gathered in Washington this weekend for the 49th annual Islamic Society of North America convention, "One Nation Under God: Striving for the Common Good."
Held so close to the US presidential election, scheduled on Nov. 6, the convention focused on Muslims' civic engagement, urging Muslims to participate in the elections. Speakers also underlined the importance of interfaith harmony, both for Muslims in America and for minorities in Muslim majority countries.
Rabbi David Saperstein of the Union for Reform Judaism, Cardinal Theodore McCarrick of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops, Congressman Keith Ellison, and Rev. Jim Wallis of Sojourners urged all faith-based communities to address issues of common concern, such as poverty, discrimination, and human rights abuses.
Assistant Attorney General Perez acknowledged that since 9/11, discrimination against Muslims had become more mainstream, such as arson attacks on and protests against mosques, burning of holy books and refusing building permits to Islamic centres.
There were also discrimination against Muslims in work places and Muslim kids at schools, he added.
But the American mainstream also doubled its efforts to counter these prejudices, said Perez, referring to an earlier speaker, Imam Majid, who said that for every American who opposed the construction of a mosque, “there are two who favour it.”
Perez quoted from a recent survey which said that 82 per cent Muslims in the US were satisfied with their lives. While 22 per cent said they had encountered offensive treatment, 37 per cent said most Americans “go out of their way to help” them.
Acknowledging that employment discrimination against Muslims had become “a huge problem,” Perez said the Department of Justice was determined to overcome this problem.
Recently, the department settled a suit in New York City, forcing the employers to provide equal opportunities to Muslim Americans.
“People should never be forced to choose between their jobs and their faiths,” Perez said. “We will also continue to fight bullying of Muslim kids in schools. We also have a message for those who tell Muslims to go home, ‘this is their home, the United States of America.’”
Perez said the Department of Justice acted promptly when it heard that an FBI and a DOJ training facilities were stereotyping Muslims and ensured that “we do not repeat these mistakes.”
Perez also noted that when county officials and a chancery court prevented Muslims from building a mosque in Rutherford County, Tennessee, the Department of Justice forced them to change their decision. Now the Islamic Centre of Murfreesboro was functioning normally and also held Eid prayers as scheduled, he added.
Ambassador Rehman focused on common misconceptions about Islam.
To those who believed Islam was incompatible with freedom, she said that Islam had always advocated for basic human rights, the most fundamental of which was freedom.
For those who said that Islam was only for men, she quoted from a recent survey, showing that most Muslims want their women to work outside the home and 59 per cent of Muslim-American women actually work.
Islam, she said, also opposed religious discrimination and guaranteed that non-Muslims living in a Muslim society practice their faith without hindrance.
Ambassador Rehman rejected the suggestion that Islam was a religion without mercy, noting that on average Muslims gave more donations to charities than any other group.
Those who believed Islam could not thrive in the modern world were proved wrong by American Muslims who were among the most successful religious groups in America, she said.
Similarly, she said, “Islam and democracy are intertwined, always have been and always will be.”