Precinct 333

Tuesday, March 15, 2005

Can Islam Be Accommodated And How?

Daniel Pipes writes an interesting piece today about accommodating Islam in American society. In it he tries to differentiate between acceptable government accommodations of Islam (those which are generally made for religious groups) and unacceptable ones (special privileges not granted other religions). I find it to be a great analysis, though I might argue against him on certain points.

Throughout the West, Muslims are making new and assertive demands, and in some cases challenging the very premises of European and North American life. How to respond?

Here is a general rule: Offer full rights – but turn down demands for special privileges.

Pipes points to two Canadian cases as exemplars of what to do and what not to do.

By way of example, note two current Canadian controversies. The first concerns the establishment of voluntary Shar‘i (Islamic law) courts in Ontario. This idea is promoted by the usual Islamist groups, such as the Council on American-Islamic Relations-Canada and the Canadian Islamic Congress. It is most prominently opposed by Muslim women’s groups, led by Homa Arjomand, who fear that the Islamic courts, despite their voluntary nature, will be used to repress women’s rights.

I oppose any role for the Shari‘a, a medieval law, in public life today, but so long as women are truly not coerced (create an ombudsman to ensure this?) and Islamic rulings remain subordinate to Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms, I see no grounds on which to deny Muslims the right, like other Canadians, to revert to private arbitration.

On the other hand, Muslim demands for an exclusive prayer room at McGill University in Montreal are outrageous and unacceptable. As a secular institution, the university on principle does not provide any religious group with a permanent place of worship on campus. Despite this universal policy, the Muslim Student Association, a part of the Wahhabi lobby, insists on just such a place, even threatening a human rights abuse filing if it is defied. McGill must stand firm.

Pipe is spot on in this analysis. What follows is a list of cases in which he sees the possibility of accommodation and others in which he sees the notion of special "Muslim only" privileges. It is in the latter group that I have some concerns. Take this one, as an example.

Changing noise laws to broadcast the adhan (call to prayer) in Hamtramck, Michigan.

Pipes is dead set against this accommodation. I, on the other hand, don't have a problem with doing this, provided that the same regulations apply to other religions. I miss the sound of the local Catholic church tolling out the Angelus at noon. I miss the ringing of bells on Sunday morning. Surely there is a reasonable approach that can let both the bells and the adhan be heard.

Similarly, I disagree with pipes on this matter.

Allowing students in taxpayer-funded schools to use empty classrooms for prayers in New Jersey.

I think there is a way to do this, but it would require the voluntary cooperation of a teacher who would be willing to cooperate. I know this because I have done it. My conference period runs during the lunch period, and one of my Muslim students asked if she could stay and "hang out" in my room during Ramadan. She got herself all oriented and spent the first day in prayer alone. By week's end there were a couple more who I didn't know well popping in and out of my room at lunch time. They were quiet; I got my work done and they got to pray. Call it a win-win situation, and one that I would have been willing to do for members of almost any religious group on a short-term basis (I don't know about letting Satanists sacrifice a goat in my classroom, or about committing to hosting a full-year, student-led Bible Study). But I do agree with Pipes that there shouldn't be an officially designated prayer room.

This is a great column, and a great place for a discussion to start. As religious diversity increases in the United States, we need to figure out what the lines are for accommodation of different beliefs, practices, and sensitivities. I just wish that Pipes hadn't written it, since he is such a lightening rod because of his other writings on Islam..


Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a
Creative Commons License.