‘Too many mosques’ is a good thing

Muslims who attend mosque turn into productive citizens, not terrorists

Monday, March 14, 2011
By Zohra Lasania
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

U.S. Rep. Peter King, who chaired his first congressional hearing last week on “the radicalization of American Muslims,” has revealed his Islamophobic mindset with such statements as “there are too many mosques in this country.”

According to the Hartford Institute for Religion Research, there are about 335,000 religious congregations in the United States. All but 12,000 are Christian. Of these, only 1,200 are Muslim.

But even if there were half as many mosques as churches, so what, Mr. King? What are you afraid of? And what do you know of mosques? Do you know what mosques are and who goes to them?

Let’s take a look. I can speak for my own city.

Greater Pittsburgh has about 10 mosques, including ones in Oakland, Monroeville and Ambridge.

Each of these mosques came into being as a Friday prayer group, then developed into a Sunday school for children and then into a community center, where families gather to celebrate festivals and mourn when calamities befall them.

These centers have raised funds for victims of the Indonesian tsunami, Hurricane Katrina and the earthquake in Haiti, and their young people work in soup kitchens to feed the homeless. They serve all of humanity.

These mosques keep their doors open to people of all faiths and participate in interfaith dialogues. They educate their members to vote, and they invite FBI and law enforcement authorities to their mosques to forge good relationships with them.

These mosques send goodwill gifts to their neighbors and live in harmony among them. Some of their members work for anti-smoking causes and teach young people to stay away from alcohol and drugs with programs funded by government grants.

The people who attend mosques are ordinary people, just like Tom and Mary next door. They work at hospitals, universities and corporate offices — just about any place other Americans work — or run their own businesses.

Muslim women raise children, drive, shop and cook, in addition to working outside their homes. Their children attend public schools and private schools. Some are home schooled.

Yes, praying and teaching children how to pray is a big part of their daily routine. Is there anything threatening about families staying together by maintaining their religious traditions? I can’t think of anything.

So what is Mr. King afraid of? How can he marginalize American Muslims for having “too many mosques”? It’s like punishing someone for being good.

Without these mosques, many Muslims would have been lost souls, undisciplined, bereft of community support, easily picking up the vices that abound around them.

Far from turning into terrorists, Muslims who attend mosque in Pittsburgh or anywhere in America are more likely to stay away from alcohol, drugs and street violence and thus become productive citizens of this country. If any of these mosques were breeding grounds for terrorists, how come we are not aware of them?

Mr. King’s fear is a result of his deep ignorance — ignorance of another’s culture, another’s traditions. What outcome is it that he desires from his hearings?

The most obvious one is that they will go down in the annals of history as proof of the prevailing Islamophobia in this country in the year 2011.

Zohra Lasania is a freelance writer and communications coordinator for the Pittsburgh chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (zlasania@cair.com).