It has been said that ignorance and prejudice go hand in hand. If anyone can prove that statement true, it’s Michigan Republican National Committeeman Dave Agema.Following a litany of inflammatory questions about the contributions of American Muslims, some lawmakers have amped up calls for his resignation. While publicly renouncing his bigoted views is important, it is also necessary to reject them because they are riddled with falsehoods.
On Facebook last month, Agema shared a widely circulated blog that highlighted the charity work of the Catholic church before asking a series of mocking questions about Muslims. Some included: Have you ever been to a Muslim hospital? Have you heard of a Muslim orchestra? A Muslim marching band? Have you witnessed a Muslim charity? Can you show me one Muslim signature on the Constitution, Declaration of Independence, or Bill of Rights? Have you ever seen a Muslim do anything that contributes positively to the American way of life?
The questions were intended to be rhetorical, with an implicit answer of “no” resounding after each one. Muslims, Agema believed, had not done any of these things. But a closer examination of history proves that Muslims have done many of them. They are an important and integral part of America’s national fabric and contribute in many meaningful ways to its success and growth.
■ American Muslims have a substantial presence in the health care industry. The Islamic Medical Association of North America, one of many such organizations, estimates that there are more than 20,000 Muslim physicians in the United States. Similarly, an analysis of statistics provided by the American Medical Association indicates that 10% of all American physicians are Muslims. While no Islamic hospitals exist in the United States, per se, several Muslim-based health clinics do. And let’s not forget that the hospital itself is not an American invention — it’s an Egyptian one. For that matter, the father of modern surgery wasn’t an American Protestant pioneer, either, but a 10th-Century Muslim physician from Spain, Abu al-Qasim al-Zahrawi.
■ Criticism over the absence of Muslim orchestras in the United States rings hollow, as well. Few orchestras are comprised exclusively of members from one particular faith, and many are organized along ethnic or other lines. The National Arab and New York Arabic Orchestras are two examples of groups whose members include numerous Muslims. Similarly, marching bands are obviously affiliated with high schools or universities, not mosques or churches, and surely Muslim students make up these musical groups, which, as it turns out, trace their roots back to the military bands of the Muslim Ottoman empire. The violin, too, finds its origins within the 10th-Century bowing instruments of Islamic civilization.
■ Muslim charity groups in the United States are too numerous to catalog, though the Bay Area Islamic Networks Group, the UMMA Clinic in Los Angeles, the Chicago-based Inner-City Muslim Action Network and Dearborn’s ACCESS are examples of groups that provide crucial services and empower the underprivileged. In 2013, the Muslim charity Helping Hand for Relief and Development (HHRD) was rated among the top 10 charities in the United States.
■ Agema is correct, however, to point out that there are no Muslim signatures on the U.S. Constitution, the Declaration of Independence or the Bill of Rights. That’s because the first major wave of Muslim immigration to the U.S. occurred in the mid-to-late 19th Century — nearly 100 years after those documents were written. But the beauty of America is that the rights enshrined in our founding documents protect everyone, regardless of their time of arrival or their religious identity.
■ It’s also the case that Muslim Americans designed the Sears (now Willis) and Hancock towers in Chicago, developed the chemotherapy mechanism that treats brain tumors and revolutionized this country’s original art form: jazz. They also contribute through their service as educators, lawmakers and soldiers and are on the front lines of campaigns to end some of today’s most egregious civil rights abuses.
Alas, there is great irony in Agema’s Facebook post, which leads to one simple question: Would he and his GOP ilk see an increase in Muslim hospitals, orchestras, charities and marching bands as a welcomed sign of the rich and diverse social fabric of America, or would they decry it an alarming indication of some grand Islamic conspiracy to take over the United States?
This piece originally appeared in the Detroit Free Press on January 29, 2013.