In late 2010 it was announced that the Muslim community in the small city of Murfreesboro, Tennessee was planning to build a mosque. At that time, there were 104 churches and no mosques within the city. CNN covered the unveiling of the plans and the fallout that ensued. In a televised special on the topic, CNN looked at both Muslim Americans’ and their neighbors’ reactions to a mosque being built in this small town. Both Muslim and non-Muslim Americans had strong reactions to the news. Muslims who were interviewed saw this as a “dream come true”, while non-Muslim Americans viewed the potential of a mosque in their community as a threat. Non-Muslims interviewed in the report made statements such as, “I’m not saying we hate them, I’m just saying we don’t need them here”, or “Something of this nature (is) being shoved down our throats”. During a community meeting one woman said, “We all know they are trying to kill us, it’s like everyone is afraid to say it”.
Some in the town filed a lawsuit to prevent the building of the mosque. A few not only protested but torched construction equipment working in the area where the mosque was being built. In a close knit, small city like Murfreesboro, the prejudicial reactions people have when a mosque is being built by neighbors in their community are astounding. Another incident occurred in Joplin, Missouri where arsonists burned a mosque to the ground. Muslims’ identity and place within a community are seen as such a potential threat that some feel the need to take violent actions.
Masjid or mosque is the place of worship for the Muslim religion. In the Middle East, mosques are a very common sight, being located in almost every neighborhood. Most non-Muslims have a restricted or over simplified view of the function of these places of worship. Mosques are not solely a place of prayer, but also serve as a place for community learning, socializing, community, celebration, etc.
It has been ten years since the September 11th attacks on the Twin Towers in New York City. Every year since that event, fear of Islam has increased more and more in America. It is unfair to equate Muslim Americans with the terrorist groups that perpetrated this event. This is a narrow-minded and biased viewpoint. There have been other individuals and groups of people within America who have conducted heinous acts but these acts are not considered to be reflective of their community at large or of Americans in general.
According to a Cornell University study, nearly half of Americans believe that civil liberties of Muslim-Americans should be restricted. Those persons who claimed to be highly religious and those with strong political party affiliation (such as Republicans) were more likely to have these constrained viewpoints. 44% of the roughly 800 interviewed said that there should be restrictions on Muslim-American civil liberties.
Europeans have many of the same biased views of Muslims within their countries. This comes from a misunderstanding of who Muslims are and where they come from. Muslims have lived in Europe for centuries, migrating mainly from countries that had been European colonies such as Pakistan and India in Asia and Morocco and Algeria in North Africa. The social and economic composition of the Muslim community differs significantly between America and Europe. American Muslims are generally middle class citizens, while in Europe the majority of Muslims are working class citizens. There are large populations of Muslims in Europe and yet even with this mass concentration, only a few Muslims have been able to obtain leadership positions within their country’s governments. The leaders in power end up becoming the voice of authority and even they are divided over when and where to integrate the Muslim identity. This has resulted in a huge right wing populist movement that plays on the fears of local residents. Those involved in this faction state that mosques and minarets are symbolic of the hostility and ill intent of Islam.
According to the Gatestone Institute, nearly half of all Europeans believe there are too many Muslim immigrants in their countries. As a result, there are growing tensions between the Muslims and non-Muslims. A study conducted in the European Union found that 55% of Muslim respondents stated they felt strong discrimination in their communities. An example of this growing hostility was seen recently in Sweden where there was a nation-wide referendum vote that banned the building of minarets.
This deep rooted aversion to Muslim religious expression in the non-Muslim communities of Western nations is in direct contradiction to their supposedly inclusive, melting pot culture. There is not a lot of difference between the extremes of anti-Islamic behavior and the recent protests by upset Muslims throughout the Middle East who demonstrated against an anti-Islamic film created in America. Both cultures claim to be morally or socially superior, but have very limited tolerance or understanding of each other.