Islamic Society of Boston has some questions

Islamic Society's turn to get answers
Boston Globe: By Jessica Masse | January 24, 2007

IT SEEMS that the normal rules of civility and legal tradition no longer apply to Muslims living in America. The mere mention of the words "Muslim" and "Saudi Arabia" in the same breath elicits accusations of "ties to terror" and charges of extremism in a complete reversal of innocent until proven guilty.

For example, in 2005, the Islamic Society of Boston was approved for a $1 million loan from the Islamic Development Bank, with headquarters in Saudi Arabia, to partially fund its ISB Cultural Center in Roxbury. According to the new logic of guilty-by-association, because the ISB is a Muslim organization and the Islamic Development Bank is in the Middle East, the public should be scared.

Yes, the ISB borrowed money from the Islamic Development Bank, which has ties to Islamic countries of all types. But the institution's members are Islamic countries that practice all sects and strains of Islam -- Sunni, Shia, Sufi, Wahhabii, Salafi. The bank finances projects jointly with the United Nations and the US government. The assertion that this enormous, multilateral bank with 20-year ties to the UN promotes a Wahhabi strain of Islam by means of its lending practices is absurd. This paranoid logic argues that if you are Muslim and have any contact with Saudi Arabia you must be a terrorist.

This game of guilt by association is a threat not only to Muslims, but to anyone who is unfortunate enough to be politically unpopular in this atmosphere of fear and insecurity. Such use of fear-mongering tactics against Muslims is the same mean-spiritedness that led to the internment of Japanese citizens during World War II.

Fifty years from now, people will look back on the stereotyping of Muslims with equal shame. As David Cole, law professor at Georgetown University, recently noted in the Washington Post, the administration launched a post- 9/11 campaign of profiling Muslims and those from Arab countries, "calling in 8,000 young men for FBI interviews and 80,000 more for registration, fingerprinting, and photographing by immigration authorities. Not one of those 88,000 has been convicted of terrorism."

The public has every right to ask why the Islamic Society of Boston turned to the Middle East for assistance in funding its $14 million mosque. This requires some knowledge about Islam. For Muslims, obtaining interest-free (sharia-compliant) funding is a religious mandate. Therefore, traditional funding has not been an option. With donations trickling to a halt because of unscrupulous charges of ties to radicalism by groups in opposition to the mosque, the society was compelled to seek assistance funding the partially built structure.

Yes, Muslims sought a loan to pay for part of the expense of building a beautiful mosque and cultural center in the heart of Boston. This is not unlawful. It is not un American. To challenge the Islamic Society of Boston's right to obtain legitimate, ethically appropriate financing on the basis of the location of the bank is denying the society and its religious community the right to do as all other religious communities in America have done -- to raise money to build a place of worship.

The public has questions for Muslims in America and we have responded. We have opened our mosque to the public, taken part in outreach efforts, and worked extensively to foster understanding of Islam and Muslims. We have been answering questions for years and we will continue to do so. However, asking questions and providing answers is a two-way street.

Here are a few questions of our own: What are the true reasons a political advocacy group decided to organize a media campaign and initiate a lawsuit against us? Why are Muslims in Boston, who are without a single structure designed and built as a mosque, sued and defamed when they purchase a vacant parcel of land from the city as part of an urban renewal program, even though 17 other such transactions were made with churches and synagogues? And why, when we have offered to sit down with those people asking questions over the past two years, have they refused to talk to us, preferring to hurl accusations without listening to our answers?

We have been and remain ready to join in the discussion.

Jessica Masse is the interfaith coordinator of the Islamic Society of Boston.

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