“Anti-Sharia” rallies will take place in nearly 30 U.S. states on Saturday, according to the group spearheading the effort.
ACT for America, a national grassroots anti-Muslim organization designated by the Southern Poverty Law Center as an extremist group, claims its “March Against Sharia” events are an effort to protect Muslim women and children from Islamic law. The group asserts that scattered incidents of honor killings and female genital mutilation in the U.S. are evidence that Sharia, a system of Islamic jurisprudence, is slowly creeping into American society.
“We must ensure that every woman and child enjoy the protection afforded by the U.S. Constitution,” the group writes on website.
The organization’s stated intent of “protecting” the country from Sharia law betrays a basic misunderstanding about what Sharia actually is, as well as the tireless work of Muslim activists to end practices like FGM in the U.S.
Spreading false information about Sharia actually has negative consequences for American Muslims ― including the “Muslim women and children” that ACT for America claims it is trying to protect.
HuffPost reached out to prominent Muslim American women to hear their reactions to ACT for America’s claim of having their best interests in mind.
‘These Individuals Cannot Speak Authoritatively About My Rights As A Muslim Woman’
“These individuals cannot speak authoritatively about my rights as a Muslim woman,” said Daisy Khan, executive director of the Women’s Islamic Initiative for Spirituality and Equality.
ACT for America claims to be “committed to protecting women and children,” but its tactics tend to have the opposite effect on Muslim women, said Rana Abdelhamid, founder of the Women’s Initiative for Self-Empowerment.
“Its rhetoric and actions empower bigots who target Muslim women and put us all at risk in the face of this type of extremist violence,” Abdelhamid said.
“We want to feel safe,” she added. “We want to be able to walk down the street and not feel like our lives are at risk because we choose to practice our faith, a fundamental human right. We also want hate groups to stop using us as an excuse for their bigotry.”
“If a fundamental shift is to occur in Muslim women’s rights, the initiatives undertaken must be bold enough to work within Islam and not in spite of it.””
Islamophobia isn’t just a social problem ― it’s a profitable business. A 2016 report by the Council on American-Islamic Relations and the Center for Race and Gender at UC Berkeley found that the anti-Muslim propaganda industry is worth over $200 million.
Act for American organizers reject the terms “Islamophobic” and “anti-Muslim,” saying their complaint lies only in extremist fringes of the faith.
“The left will try to make this about hate, saying this is anti-Muslim,” Scott Presler, one of the organizers of Saturday’s event, told right-wing news site WorldNetDaily. “No, who is affected by FGM more than Muslim women? We are working for human rights and to protect Muslim women everywhere.”
But Brigitte Gabriel, the group’s founder, has been quoted as saying, “Every practicing Muslim is a radical Muslim,” according to The New York Times.
For Gabriel and other anti-Sharia “activists,” Islam, itself, is the problem.
“Who gets to determine what Muslim women's best interests are?"”
Amani Al-Khatahtbeh, founder of MuslimGirl.com, said even the term “anti-Sharia” is little more than coded language for anti-Muslim bigotry. This rhetoric, she said, “motivates acts of hatred” against Muslim women.
“We are still reeling from the news of two Muslim children being harassed on public transportation when three non-Muslim allies intervened to their defense and had their throats slashed,” she said. “For ACT for America to claim that they have Muslim women’s best interest at heart is not even ironically humorous, it’s just perverse.”
Scholar and activist Donna Auston posed a fundamental question.
“Who gets to determine what Muslim women’s best interests are ― actual Muslim women, or known proponents of rhetoric and policies which do considerable harm to the lives of Muslim women in the U.S. and around the globe?” she said.
“I don’t need anyone to speak for me ― especially persons who do not have a fundamental respect for my humanity and my autonomy ― and neither does any other Muslim woman,” Auston said. “We speak for ourselves.”
“People like Brigitte Gabriel depict Muslim women in America as oppressed and in need of help in order to serve their own political agendas,” said filmmaker Nadya Ali, whose 2014 documentary “Breaking Silence” addressed Muslim women’s experiences of sexual assault.
The rhetoric of groups like ACT for America, she said, “reduces our sovereignty as individuals who are capable of making decisions for ourselves and our own communities.”
““I don’t need anyone to speak for me ― especially persons who do not have a fundamental respect for my humanity and my autonomy”
Ali noted that practices like FGM and honor killings, though present in some Muslim-majority countries, are rooted more so in culture than in religion. “Muslims that practice these horrific things may say that they are doing them because of religion. But when you reference the Quran, Hadith, and Shariah law, there is nothing to back up their claims,” Ali said. “These practices do not, in any way, reflect what Islam or Islamic law teaches.”
Khan noted: “If a fundamental shift is to occur in Muslim women’s rights, the initiatives undertaken must be bold enough to work within Islam and not in spite of it.”
‘If The Public Wants To Help Muslim Women, How About Actually Listening?’
Muslim women working to affect change in culture, politics and religion already know this to be true.
“There is no shortage of Muslim American women who do not need anti-Muslim zealots claiming to save us from a religion that has empowered us all to be who we are today,” said Linda Sarsour, an activist and one of the organizers of the historic Women’s March on Washington.
From “politicians like Ilhan Omar to academics like Dalia Mogahed to mental health providers like Kameelah Rashad to those working on women inclusion and integration in mosques like Sister Aisha Aladawiya and Hind Makki to vocal activists and survivors of FGM like Maryam Saifee to anti-racism trainers like Margari Hill to civil rights attorneys like Zahra Billoo,” Sarsour said, there are endless examples of Muslim women promoting their own empowerment without the help of ACT for America.
“If the public wants to help Muslim women,” Al-Khatahtbeh said, “how about actually listening to them?”