Issues with religion in America
In part, America was founded by people seeking religious freedom. The larger context, people were seeking freedom of belief. Larger still is people sought individual freedom. Our Founding Fathers crafted that into a workable framework though it took many years to overcome flaws that people like George Mason saw from the beginning. Slavery and racial discrimination should have been dealt with from the beginning and it was not. Eventually, Americans corrected that in law and we’re still trying to correct it in behavior and practice.
Religion is just one category of beliefs that are protected under the American system. However, at no time is any religion permitted to rise on the pedestal above the Constitution that protects everyone from the imposition of religious beliefs.
If one studies the history of religion, it is a subset of the study of humankind. Humans invented mythology and supernatural ideas in the course of developing coping behavior. Humans had to cope with understanding life and death and the associated cycle that accompanies that.
Some people found it comfortable to adopt a rigid set of beliefs. Jews chose the Moses Bible. Christians invented the New Testament. Muslims invented Islam, etc. If people feel a need to do those things, Americans protect their right to do so.
However, the Constitution, the supreme guide for Americans will not permit any religion to trump assurance of freedom from religion as well as a right to it.
Muslims, Christians, Jews and all others can have a peaceful life in America, so long as ambition is kept in check.
“Under suspicion: American Muslims search for identity 10 years after Sept. 11
By Marc Fisher, Published: June 11
Hungry to be just one of the guys after immigrating to Texas, Palestinian Fawaz Ismail asked everybody to call him “Tony.” The nickname put people at ease at his Dallas high school, where Tony switched from soccer to football and picked up a bit of a Texas twang.
He remained Tony when he moved to Northern Virginia to expand his family’s flag-selling business. The name made him feel as American as his Falls Church store, Alamo Flag, a patriot’s paradise brimming with Stars and Stripes banners, pins and stickers.
Then came the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, the day Tony became a foreigner again. That afternoon, people started pouring into Alamo Flag, many wearing sunglasses to hide their crying eyes. Ismail sold thousands of American flags in those days of fear and unity, and he gave away thousands more.
But soon after the twin towers fell and the Pentagon burned, Ismail felt his adopted homeland pushing him away. He decided to push back. He sent Tony into permanent exile, taking back his given name. Now, a decade later, his name is a daily message to his fellow Americans: They must deal with him for who he is — a Muslim who loves his country and proudly sells its banner.
“A lot of people use a nickname to make it easier for Americans to pronounce,” he says, “but now, I don’t care. They’re going to have to pronounce my name. It’s not that hard — Fah-wahz.”
There was pride in that decision but also a real and still-growing anger — at Americans who assume that anything Islamic is shorthand for terrorism; at the older generation of American Muslims, whose immigrant, old-world version of Islam paints them as rigid and intolerant; and at people who accept him if he’s Tony but recoil at a name such as Fawaz.
“It’s hard hearing your faith put down all the time as this scary, evil thing,” he says. And hard to endure the cloud of suspicion that American Muslims feel has grown rather than dissipated over the past decade.
Like most American Muslims, Ismail, who is a buff and hale 50, is not particularly religious. He likes to listen to tapes of Koranic chants at night to relax. But in the past few years, he has struggled with the reality that some Americans take one look at him and think, “Hmm, is he really one of us?”
“I pay my taxes. I love this country. You want to talk about patriotic? I am the definition,” says Ismail, who became an American citizen as a teenager. “I sell the best flags, made in the United States, not in China like a lot of stores sell. I’m all about moderation — man, I like Fleetwood Mac.”
Late at night, Ismail has a cup of chamomile tea with anise seed to try to get to sleep. It can be a struggle, just as it is for many of his Muslim friends.
“I see them with their sleeping pills and antidepressants, and I know how hard it is,” he says. “I smoke because I’m stressed. Sometimes I wish I was born a Swede.”
As Ismail talks, his 20-year-old son, Talal, pops in to say he’s heading over to the the mosque — in the basement of a Best Western on Route 7 — for Friday prayers. Talal, in T-shirt, jeans and earrings, is a drummer in a metal band — “progressive metal,” his father qualifies — and works at the flag store.”