By M. Zuhdi Jasser
December 23, 2010
The U.S. Justice Department's decision to file suit against an Illinois school district indicates it is seriously misguided in its approach to American-Muslim grievances. The government claims that the Berkeley district violated the civil rights of Safoorah Khan by not providing reasonable accommodation for her faith. This unfortunate position will have a significant impact beyond this case.
In 2008, the math teacher asked for an unpaid three-week leave in order to perform her Hajj, the pilgrimage to Mecca and a once-in-a-lifetime requirement in the Muslim faith. The district denied Khan's request twice because it did not meet the requirements specified by the union contract. Khan filed an unsuccessful EEOC complaint and then resigned because she felt the priority of her pilgrimage outweighed her contractual commitment to the district.
This Muslim believes that Attorney General Eric Holder's case is misguided and that Khan's request was not reasonable. Strip away the political correctness and all the noise of Muslim victimization, and we are left with a case that most reasonable Muslim employers and employees would find unreasonable.
I empathize with Khan's deep desire to complete her pilgrimage and pray for the day that I can do the same. However, the federal government's intrusion will do far more harm than good by lowering the threshold of what merits action for civil rights abuse. With this case, the government runs the risk of becoming the "boy who cried wolf" and de-legitimizing future requests for reasonable accommodation from Muslims or people of any faith.
In defending Khan's claim of discrimination, the Justice Department is empowering an Islamist mindset that demands special consideration above all others, which is unacceptable in a society where all are equal before the law.
The conflict between Islamism (societies and states based in Islamic law) and classical liberalism (our Western societies based in reason) is among the most important battle of ideas in the 21st century. The detachment of Muslim youth identification from our secular society and the fueling of an interpretation of Islam that is inflexible to an egalitarian society is arguably the most important root cause toward radicalization.
Khan's request would have stepped outside of her contract and made Muslims a privileged class. The interpretation this case demands speaks contrary to the very principles the government is trying to promote. The Justice Department, and now its choir of Islamist groups, has deceptively positioned that Muslims such as Khan "should not have to choose between their religious practice and their livelihood."
Contrarily, I believe that employers should not have to choose between the threat of intimidation from Islamists or the federal government and honoring the onerous demands of any single faith group or individual as a privileged class.
The practice of Islam is central in my own life, but I have never demanded that others give it special consideration on my behalf. To me, my devotional Islam is between me and God and I fear that any government intrusion ultimately fuels theocrats and their movements.
Khan was not given what she wanted and made a personal decision to resign. It is exceedingly difficult to prove that "Islam" demanded that she perform her Hajj in December 2008. The faith only asks that once in her life she perform the pilgrimage. By refusing her leave of absence, the district did not force her to choose between faith and employment.
We cannot continue to allow political correctness to set us down a path that promotes isolation versus assimilation and leaves liberty in a vacuum while Islamism thrives. The framers wanted justice to be blind to faith to avoid creating special rights for a select few.
M. Zuhdi Jasser, a doctor and former U.S. Navy lieutenant commander, is the founder and president of the Phoenix-based American Islamic Forum for Democracy. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Source: Dallas Morning News