Religious freedom theme of North Jersey Muslims' annual brunch

| Mar. 27, 2011

Dubai Initiative Fellow Karam Dana is quoted in news about the results of his research as co-principal investigator of the Muslim American Public Opinion Survey.

By: Melissa Hayes

When Mohamed Younes selected “Religious Freedom and Tolerance” as the theme for the American Muslim Union’s annual brunch it was long before New York Congressman Peter King decided to hold hearings on “radical Islam.”

Younes, president of the union, said the luncheon at the Glenpointe Marriott in Teaneck Sunday came at the right time.

“It just happened to be the right subject for the right moment,” he said.

Younes, who founded the Paterson-based grassroots organization in the hopes of serving the American Muslim community and promoting equality, told the roughly 500 attendees that religious freedom is a Constitutional right.

“With the wave of hate speech we hear too much these days, I hope it does not destroy the fabric of our nation and to turn one American against the other,” he said. “We need to put the doubt behind us for good in order to participate and to contribute with the well-being of America, our homeland.”

Politicians, former judges and state officials including Bergen County Executive Kathleen Donovan, state Sen. Brian Stack, Sen. John Girgenti, U.S. Attorney Paul Fishman, Bergen County Prosecutor John Molinelli, as well as representatives from Homeland Security and the FBI sat alongside community members and religious leaders from various faiths.

Sen. Loretta Weinberg, D-Teaneck, jokingly thanked the Muslim community for welcoming a short Jewish woman with open arms.

“It is important for us to grow understanding with one another and to continue the dialogue,” she said.

On the theme of religious freedom, Ambassador H.E. Youssef Zada, of the Consul General of Egypt, noted that during the recent protests in Egypt, it was Christians who guarded the Muslims as they prayed in Tahrir Square.

During the four-hour event, many speakers referenced the House Homeland Security Committee hearings earlier this month.

U.S Rep. Bill Pascrell, Jr., D-Paterson, said he didn’t have a problem with the hearings because he “knew there would be no evidence presented at the hearings that would embarrass anyone in any shape or form from the Muslim community.”

“This is the greatest country in the world because people from all over the world came here. That’s what makes it great. We have to protect that,” he said. “It’s tough to get to the dining table, but there’s a place there once you get there. Every group has had to fight through this.”

Pascrell said King was invited to the luncheon but was unable to attend.

While everyone shared messages of acceptance, not everyone shared Pascrell’s view on King’s hearings.

Deborah Jacobs, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey, disagreed with Pascrell’s view.

“These hearings are just the most recent example of a troubling pattern of unwarranted scrutiny on American Muslims,” she said.

Jacobs said that unfortunately in America, the oppressed groups are the ones who must fight to bring about change.

“It falls on you to redefine American Muslims in the eyes of the public,” she said.

Keynote speaker Karam Dana, a faculty member at Tufts University and a post-doctoral fellow at the Center for Middle Eastern Studies at Harvard University, spoke about the results of a Muslim American Public Opinion Survey, which he co-authored.

The survey, which questioned 1,410 Muslim-Americans, is the largest of its kind and Dana said it answers many of King’s questions about Islam, because it specifically asks about religion.

He said the data show that Muslims who regularly attend events at their mosques, in addition to daily prayers, are more likely to be involved in politics and their communities.

His research also found that 93 percent of American Muslims surveyed felt airport security measures target Muslims. He said 30 percent did not associate with a political party, which is higher than other ethnic groups.

He said many Muslims supported George W. Bush and Republican candidates prior to the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, but then felt that the party was pushing them out and rather than switching to Democrats, chose not to be affiliated at all. He said politicians should embrace the Muslim community.

“Empirical data show that Muslims are great citizens, they participate more in American politics when they attend the mosque, so mosques are no different from a Catholic church, a synagogue, in my opinion,” he said. “If we honor our own individual identities and respect our differences we will continue to make this a great country.”

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For Academic Citation: Hayes, Melissa. "Religious freedom theme of North Jersey Muslims' annual brunch.", March 27, 2011.

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