(This is Part 2 in a continuing series on American mosques. Read Part 1, “Mosques in America: Religious liberty vs. national security.”)
WASHINGTON – Author, professor, attorney and constitutional law instructor Karen Lugo has a way to tell if an American mosque is radical.
It’s a method supported by Muslims.
In fact, it’s their idea.
The notion is timely because there has been a mosque-building boom in America ever since Sept. 11, 2001.
And those are only the ones we know of, because many apply at city hall as cultural or community centers, Lugo told WND.
Why the boom since 9/11?
According to Robert Spencer, the New York Times bestselling author and director of Jihad Watch, 9/11 “was a great victory for Islamic supremacists, because they were able to use it to portray all opposition to Muslim Brotherhood mosques and Shariah initiatives in the U.S. as ‘backlash’ and ‘Islamophobia,’ and clueless dhimmis who were anxious to show they weren’t ‘racist’ or ‘bigoted’ fell into line.”
“Free people in a few cities opposed Muslim Brotherhood mosques, as well they should have. But they were demonized and marginalized, and mosque construction proceeded apace,” he said.
And the mosque-building business looks like it will only grow because, according to the Pew Research Center’s analysis of State Department data, the 38,901 Muslim refugees that entered the U.S. in fiscal year 2016 is the most ever recorded since that information first became available in 2002.
Now that a rapid proliferation of mosques is a new reality in America, many have questions about their new neighbors.
While not all mosques may become havens or breeding grounds for terrorists or radical Islamists, they usually serve as “centers of gravity” for jihadi rings, according to Philip Haney, a former subject matter expert on Islam for the Department of Homeland Security.
Haney told WND that mosques are typically where the radicalization of Muslims occurs in the United States.
So, how can average Americans tell what kind of mosque is moving into, or is already in, their neighborhood?
Lugo, the author of the new book “Mosques in America: A Guide to Accountable Permit Hearings and Continuing Citizen Oversight,” told WND of a simple but elegant answer to those questions, created by reform-minded Muslims seeking to assimilate into the American way of life.
She described how a document from a group called the Muslim Reform Movement can be used as a litmus test to determine if a mosque’s leaders have a radical, or Islamist, outlook.
“Muslims for reform are begging us to help them,” emphasized Lugo.
“They are asking for our help to keep the Islamists from oppressing them even in this country.”
One of the group’s leaders is Zuhdi Jasser, a Muslim doctor from Phoenix and former lieutenant commander in the U.S. Navy who has become known for criticizing radical Islam and calling for a separation of mosque and state.
The group has published a declaration of its principles.
Lugo told WND that reform-minded Muslims have presented the declaration to mosque leaders to see if they agree with the principles, as a way of determining whether they have a radical ideology.
Basically, it determines whether the leader would put strict Islamic Shariah law above U.S. constitutional law on a variety of issues.
And, that’s something any American in any neighborhood could do, if he or she wanted to learn the ideology practiced by a local mosque.
Lugo said the declaration stresses primarily “separation of mosque and state, freedom of speech, freedom of religion in clear terms, and finally, equal rights for women.”
Some of the key points from the Muslims for Reform Declaration:
- We reject violent jihad.
- We stand for the protection of all people of all faiths and non-faith who seek freedom from dictatorships, theocracies and Islamist extremists.
- We stand for human rights and justice. We support equal rights and dignity for all people, including minorities.
- All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. Muslims don’t have an exclusive right to “heaven.”
- Men and women have equal rights in mosques, boards, leadership and all spheres of society.
- We are for secular governance, democracy and liberty. We are against political movements in the name of religion. We separate mosque and state.
- We are loyal to the nations in which we live. We reject the idea of the Islamic state. There is no need for an Islamic caliphate.
- We oppose institutionalized shariah. Shariah is manmade.
- We reject blasphemy laws, which are a cover for the restriction of freedom of speech and religion.
- We believe in freedom of religion and the right of all people to express and practice their faith, or non-faith, without threat of intimidation, persecution, discrimination or violence.
Lugo described how, after hearing media reports singing the praises of “wonderful” new mosques in Southern California, she and her friends decided to find out for themselves.
“We knew whether there was leadership in a mosque that was really encouraging assimilation or was more adherent to a Shariah system and something other than American constitutionalism” by using the declaration, she said.
“When I stand up and talk on behalf of Muslims who are here and want to be American like Zuhdi Jasser, and he says he really fears that his children are going to be more encouraged to become radical Muslims than patriotic Americans, we have a problem.
“What are we not doing to help protect and encourage the Muslims that do want to assimilate and be patriotic Americans?” she asked.
Lugo would like to see President-elect Donald Trump “bring these kinds of Muslims in as advisers when he begins to talk about how to vet refugees.”
Noting that the Shariah threat discourages assimilation, she suggested that when Trump develops his policies and talking points he listen to “these kind of Muslims, who are very, very clear on the differences between a moderate reform Muslim and an Islamist who has a Muslim Brotherhood agenda.”
Lugo sees moderate Muslims as an ignored asset for policymakers and their reform declaration as a tool that could have even wider applications.
“It works. It works,” she insisted. “I mean, there’s a whole different level of receptiveness in the public square and in city halls when it’s a matter of asking for help for people who are really struggling to apply our Constitution, to live by it, to promote it. And we’ve been ignoring them.”
The problem, as she sees it, is the moderates have fallen into a political no-man’s-land.
“Many on the right say: ‘You’re not real. We can’t trust you. There aren’t enough of you.’”
“Many on the left say, ‘You’re not real Muslims. You can’t be trusted. You betrayed your faith,” explained the author.
“So,” she continued, “they are people who exist in kind of an awkward spot in between camps and they have very little support. And yet, as (author and Muslim reformer) Ayaan Hirsi Ali says, they may well be the key to our success and the only solution that we have.”
That’s because local and state governments are effectively powerless to shut down a mosque because it promotes the kind of beliefs and practices that conflict with the Constitution.
“State government does have some interest in health safety and welfare, and certainly has police power, but, generally, unless there’s a concern about financing or material support for terror, or a concern about radicalization activities, those kind of things are going to be covered by federal laws,” explained Lugo.
However, unless there is evidence for support for terrorism, even the federal government is limited in its ability to investigate a mosque for radical beliefs.
Lugo explained that’s because of “a case which is known as the Supreme Court’s definitive ruling on the fact that courts and government may not question the validity of a religion.”
She said the case of the United States vs. Ballard established that the government and the courts may not decide whether any given group that claims to be a religion is a real religion or not.
It means that the contents of a group’s religion cannot be examined or evaluated by the courts or the government.
“However,” the constitutional expert explained, “the government can question the sincerity (of a professed religion.) So, if you’re using religion as a scam, if you’re selling things or doing something that makes it is clear that there is no real sincere belief, that’s something the government can question.”
Still, that means virtually any religious beliefs are protected.
“As I wrote in the book,” recounted Lugo, “we even have a Jedi religion in the state of Washington, whose followers avail themselves of our religious protections because they convinced the court that their belief scheme was constituted in religion.”
What does that have to do with Shariah?
“They (the courts and the government) can’t look at the structure of a belief system and analyze it at all,” she explained. “So, when you get these Shariah cases in court and they complain about American law versus foreign law or Shariah law, the courts are not allowed to wade into theological discussions or evaluations.”
WND asked, could a mosque be investigated if a community asserted that it was using its religion as a cover to promote a political agenda, such as asserting the superiority of Islamic law over U.S. law?
“Not without a statute,” Lugo replied. “In the past, in the Cold War era, we did have some laws curtailing rights of association and speech, laws that targeted communist activities, so there were restrictions.”
On the other hand, a belief in elements of Shariah might be legally used to screen potential radicals from entering the country.
“If a legislature or Congress were to look at elements of Shariah and declare they were anti-constitutional and to apply them, say, when it comes to vetting refugees,” posited Lugo, “that’s an entirely different question than asking the government and the courts to initiate an inspection of a religious belief system.”
The bottom line, Lugo implied, is it is really up to communities, rather than the government, to keep tabs on whether a local mosque is radical or not.
And, if a mosque is radical, it also up to the community to try limit its influence.
Information and public awareness are key.
First of all, Lugo recommends local religious leaders become discerning.
She cautions that Christian and Jewish leaders should be on guard against “being co-opted into some of the agenda of the Islamists, by sharing platforms with them, by giving their imprimatur, by having their pictures taken and friendship with these people that have an agenda of Islamism, or who are turning towards the Muslim brotherhood.”
Lugo said people should be wary when they learn of such seemingly innocuous initiatives as living like a Muslim for 30 days or efforts to remove St. Valentine’s Day from the school calendar.
“In Minnesota, they had a program called ‘One nation, many states,’ with a Christian minister and a Muslim imam both pitching the superlative merits of Islam, to the denigration of Christianity, in a public school setting. It was after hours, but it was a public school.”
“So,” she explained, “those kinds of things should be immediately confronted. Stopped before they even happen.”
But that’s not all. Lugo said parents should become proactive.
“Ask for a balanced and an alternative presentation immediately. We did that in Southern California, immediately got in and established a record as to what kind of challenge this is to our traditional customs, our traditional values, what it is to be exceptional as an American. And we have to teach that and reinforce that as we go because many have forgotten it.”
Lugo continued, “If you look at communities where there are radical mosques, or radical mosque leadership, you have a lot of activities that are manifested in the schools and in various community programs, and they usually can be confronted with balance if people know what to look for and stand up with a positive, constructive message of, ‘This is who and what we are.’”
She suggested people invite local mosque leaders to discuss and debate the merits of what it is they are proposing.
“And draw them out so that it is a fully aired debate on what their values are. And have follow-up questions. And don’t just allow them to conduct a recitation of talking points that really become more of a disguise for what it is they are trying to accomplish.”
Lugo concluded that the problem is more cultural than political.
But, she suggested with a trace of optimism, so is the solution.