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The Mosque At Basking Ridge: A Morality Tale? (Part 4)

by Hugh Fitzgerald

The Guardian report continued:

Around the time the hearings began, some residents received an anonymous piece of mail. Inside was a letter entitled “Meet Your New Neighbor”, and a CD containing a recording of a radio interview in which Chaudry had offered some mildly nuanced opinions on Israel, Hamas and Hezbollah. “Here in Basking Ridge, on the surface, we see the serene, grinning academic Ali Chaudry, always willing to help us better understand the version of Islam he wants us to know,” the letter read. “Scratch the surface a little and an uglier picture emerges.”

The author of the letter… cited the term taqiyya, an obscure theological concept that Islamophobes often twist to suggest that Muslims are encouraged to lie about the true nature of their violent beliefs.

“So, welcome to the neighbourhood, Ali,” the letter concluded. “Let’s ask Ali about those Koranic verses regarding Jews and Christians in your Koran. Why are so many terroristic acts propagated by Muslims? Is it something they are taught in your mosques and at home? And what will you teach in your new Liberty Corner mosque? You wouldn’t lie to us, would you? Taqiyya is wrong, right?”

‘Taqiyya” is, in Islam, the religiously-sanctioned deception by which a Believer can protect himself or his faith from persecution. It is permissible to lie both about your own beliefs, and about what Islam teaches. It was practiced by some of Muhammad’s Companions, then taken up mainly by Shi’a trying to avoid persecution by Sunnis, but it has long been used by Sunnis as well. Taqiyya is not, as the Guardian writer seems to think, “an obscure theological concept that Islamophobes often twist to suggest that Muslims are encouraged to lie about the true nature of their violent beliefs.” Far from being obscure, it is probably the best-known of the defenses used by Muslims, and no “twist” is needed from “Islamophobes” to suggest that “Muslims are encouraged to lie about the true nature of their violent beliefs” — that’s exactly what taqiyya, well known to all Muslims, is about, sanctioning (and encouraging) Muslims to lie precisely “about the true nature of their violent beliefs.” The reporter needs to do a little more investigation into the widespread use, over time and across space, of “taqiyya,” and the lies it sanctions.

And why is the question asked “about those Koranic verses regarding Jews and Christians” not legitimate? Shouldn’t Mr. Chaudry be asked about the 109 verses in the Qur’an that command Muslims to wage Jihad against Jews and Christians, or not to take them “as friends,” or the verse that describes them — and all non-Muslims — as “the most vile of creatures”?

Just as the author of the letter accused Muslims of deception, the Islamic Society, in its lawsuit, alleged that many of the neighbours were presenting a false front, using preservationist sentiment to disguise their real, less respectable fears. “The key thing to remember,” said Adeel Mangi, an attorney for the Islamic Society, “is that these complaints are commonly used as a smokescreen.”

The Basking Ridge case is about real complaints about violations of zoning rules. They are not made up to be a “smokescreen” for anti-Islam views. Several of the people most involved were former supporters of Mr. Chaudry; the community was proud that he was a Pakistani-American and their neighbor. It was he who started to turn the zoning complaint into a “religious dispute.” The proposed mosque was to be built on a residential street. There was the disproportionate size of the proposed mosque for the plot on which it was to be built. There was the problem of not having enough parking spaces. There was the matter of a deliberate undercounting by Mr. Chaudry of the likely number of worshippers. There was the fear of noise and commotion, seven days a week, from before sunrise to after sunset, by visitors intent on reciting their five daily prayers. None of that had to do with religion.

Sure enough, the transcripts of the dozens of hearings [39] held by the town’s planning board, which run to nearly 7,000 pages, contain no mention of sharia, the Muslim Brotherhood or other rightwing hobgoblins. Most residents swore that religion had nothing to do with their opposition. But the Islamic society’s lawyers suspected – and would later allege in court – that their opponents were showing another face when they talked to each other on the internet.

In December 2015, a few days after a Muslim husband and wife killed 14 people in a terrorist attack in San Bernardino, California, and shortly before candidate Donald Trump proposed a “total and complete shutdown” of Muslim immigration, the town’s planning board voted to reject the mosque.

So what? Either the planning board had valid reasons — the size of both the mosque and its parking lot, the before-sunrise to after-sunset noise and commotion of visitors on a residential street — to turn down the application, or they did not. It is admitted that there is no mention of sharia or the Muslim Brotherhood, nothing about Islam at all, in the 7,000 pages of transcripts. There is no evidence of anyone on the planning board making any anti-Islam remarks on private e-mails. There is no evidence that the zoning decision was influenced by the San Bernardino shootings, which are mentioned to unfairly suggest a post hoc, ergo propter hoc connection. And the only reason for the reporter to bring in Donald Trump is to hint absurdly at some kind of link between anti-Muslim remarks made by Trump after the zoning board’s decision, and the decision itself. But how could the planning board have been influenced by Trump’s remark made after the board had made its decision? Or is the Guardian reporter simply trying to paint a picture of an anti-Muslim atmosphere abroad generally in the land? Is he suggesting that anger over the San Bernardino shootings in 2015 influenced the planning board that had been raising objections since 2012?

At Caratzola’s urging, the town government also adopted a new ordinance that raised the minimum size of the plot required to build any new house of worship – which would effectively prevent the Islamic Society from building on its own site in the future. The Islamic Society quickly filed a lawsuit against the township, alleging the opposition was a “well-funded machine” that was “substantially grounded in anti-Muslim animus.”

The lawsuit particularly highlighted Caratzola’s role as a ringleader of the opposition. In a letter to a local newspaper, she accused the Islamic Society of “slander” – and invoked the concept of taqiyya to suggest that Chaudry’s mosque proposal was not what it seemed. “Many people and groups in the Muslim community,” she wrote, “are trying to quash what we so fervently cherish in America – the freedom of speech.”

Since the mosque application had been objected to in part because of the inadequate size of the building plot, given the real number of expected worshippers arriving in their cars (as determined, in part, by Lori Caratzola’s inspired surveillance of those arriving at the existing prayer hall), it is likely the new ordinance was adopted to make clear the minimum size of any plot of land required for a house of worship, where before there had been some ambiguity. For example, the minimum plot size might now be determined, based on the expected number of worshippers, and the parking spaces they would need.

The Guardian:

The Islamic Society also claimed it had the constitution on its side – specifically, the first-amendment protection of the freedoms of religion and assembly. And Chaudry could call upon a powerful ally: Barack Obama. Under his administration, the Justice Department intervened on behalf of Muslims in many mosque disputes, including a highly publicised case in Murfreesboro, Tennessee, where the construction of a mosque was opposed with lawsuits, protests and an arson attack. It was able to rely on a powerful legal tool: a law, originally passed with bipartisan support in 2000, that specifically bans local governments from discriminating against religious organisations when it comes to land use.”

The enforcement policy “reflected the fact that Islamophobia is a real problem across America”, said Tom Perez, who handled the Murfreesboro case as a director of the Civil Rights Division. (He is currently chairman of the Democratic National Committee.) “I think as you see the proliferation of social media, the world has gotten smaller,” Perez told me. “People who harbour these extreme views have a virtual platform to spread their hate.”

“Islamophobia” is not a “real problem across America”? What is a real problem is the name-calling by such uninformed people as Tom Perez, and their contemptuous dismissal of all intelligent and text-based (Qur’an, Hadith, Sira) criticism of Islam as  “Islamophobia.” What exactly are the “extreme views” he worries about? Is it “extreme” to point out the 109 verses in the Qur’an that command warfare against the Infidels (as in 9:5 and 9:29)? Is it “extreme” to note the verses calling on Muslims to “strike terror” in the hearts of Infidels (as in 8:12 and 8:60)? Is it “extreme” to let people know that in the Qur’an Muslims are called the “best of peoples” (3:110) and Infidels called the “most vile of creatures” (98:6)? Isn’t it “extreme,” rather, to believe in all of those verses as coming from Allah, as mainstream Muslims do? Tom Perez says that “People who harbour these extreme views have a virtual platform to spread their hate.” The sentiment fittingly applies not to critics of Islam, who are often silenced when charged with Islamophobia, but to Muslims themselves, whose “extremism” is merely part of mainstream Islam.

First published in Jihad Watch.


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