Left: Dr. Zuhdi Jasser speaks at a press conference. Right: a Hamas terrorist.
What happens in Syria, Egypt, Iraq or Gaza has an impact every day right here in the Valley [Scottsdale, Arizona].
Even in America, leading Muslim organizations and clerics bully with threats of ostracism those Muslims who dare to dissent. Old-guard ideologues, too, used to monopoly control, make it crystal clear to their Muslim critics: Take us on and we will make an example of you as a traitor to the Muslim community (the ummah).
On July 28, Muslims around the world celebrated Eid al-Fitr (Holiday of the Feast) marking the end of our holy month of Ramadan, a spiritual month of daily fasting from all food and drink. In Ramadan, we focus on scripture, self-reflection and atonement. My family and I attended the holiday Eid prayer service at the Islamic Center of the Northeast Valley of which we are longtime members.
Little did we know Imam Yaser Ali, a Valley attorney, would use this otherwise joyous family holiday occasion to target me in the presence of my wife and children.
With more than 500 local Muslims in attendance, he riled up the crowd, demanding a community "effort" against those Muslims "who go on Fox News and speak ill against our Muslim brothers and sisters … who make the mosques look bad." These individuals, he said, "hate Islam" and "vilify Muslims."
While Mr. Ali never had the courage to say my name, no doubt remained in the mosque, or later on social media, that he was referring to me. He finished his tirade with "they are not from amongst us … they don't represent us; we, the Muslim community represent one another, and we care for our brothers and sisters in Palestine."
Apparently, the Scottsdale mosque's leadership decided, or at the minimum voiced no disagreement, that for Muslims this Ramadan it is not Hamas, al-Qaida, ISIS, Boko Haram, the Muslim Brotherhood, or the evil regimes from Assad's Syria to Iran or Saudi Arabia or even radicalized American jihadists in Syria that deserve targeting from the pulpit, but only a local, reform-minded activist — Zuhdi Jasser.
This imam meticulously described what he knows too well would garner me a death sentence as a munafiq (hypocrite), or murtad (apostate), for the crime of riddah (apostasy, treason) according to the interpretation of Shariah law accepted by Saudi Arabia and most Muslim-majority countries.
What was the crime prompting my metaphorical flogging in the presence of my wife, children and friends' families on this holiday?
A few days earlier I had criticized the radicals of Hamas on national television for their supremacist Islamist doctrine hatched from the Muslim Brotherhood that daily and viciously oppresses the people of Gaza. I urged Hamas to stop the war mongering, refusal of cease fires, and launching of thousands of rockets that victimize Palestinian women, children and families, and I criticized CAIR (Council on American-Islamic Relations).
To Imam Yaser Ali that was worthy of takfir, a declaration of public apostasy. The mosque board and audience responded to his call to action against me, a Muslim he described as of "those who hate Islam," with a resounding "inshallah" (God willing).
In the days to follow, local social media filled with subtle and not-so-subtle threats against me and my family from some rather prominent Valley Muslims.
While the venue was new, the mantra was a cheap rehash of the old, scorched-earth smear tactics peddled by the CAIR. Right after declaring me the enemy of all Muslims, Mr. Ali spoke of the so-called religious obligation to donate generously to CAIR. This was all reminiscent of the May 9, 2014, sermon, visiting CAIR-LA director Hussam Ayloush, who regularly takes to Twitter with other CAIR directors tocall me an "Uncle Tom" and a "monkey," gave across town at the Islamic Community Center of Tempe to slam me as an "Islamophobe."
While CAIR claims to simply be a Muslim civil-rights organization, in response to a U.S. Senate inquiry, the FBI is on record since 2009 that, "until we can resolve whether there continues to be a connection between CAIR or its executives and Hamas, the FBI does not view CAIR as an appropriate liaison partner."
In the meantime, the growth of our reform groups like the American Islamic Forum for Democracy and our coalition of anti-Islamist Muslim groups makes Muslim Brotherhood legacy groups like CAIR livid. Their monopoly on American Muslim voices is in jeopardy so their bullies advance absurd claims like Muslim criticism of Hamas is equivalent to criticism of Islam or all Muslims. The vitriol against our work is only increasing because of our success at exposing their un-American and oppressive ideas, as well as our refusal to be deterred.
Their silence on the terror tactics of Hamas speaks volumes to terror apologia. Why is it that so many abuses of Muslims by Muslims go undiscussed – yet when the Jewish state acts, it becomes an Eid sermon?
All politics are local. Islamism (political Islam) is a mind-numbing, theo-political groupthink that fears and smothers critical thinking. Not only over there but here. Muslims squander this rare opportunity to reject both the evils of Arab fascism and Islamism for a new third path, the path of liberty.
It is heartbreaking to reflect that my family and I have been members of the Scottsdale mosque since long before its construction. Their board asked me to gather interfaith support and speak for our congregation at a rather hostile Development Review Board meeting in November 2001.
I recall having to publicly admonish a Scottsdale City Council member on religious liberty who suggested we "delay the project for a more appropriate time". On Sept. 11, 2002, I authored a paid advertisement in The Arizona Republic on behalf of ICNEV condemning al-Qaida and distancing our faithful from their barbarism. I also taught Islamic history for the mosque youth "Sunday school" until 2008.
What a difference a decade makes.
Intimidation and intolerance, from the bully pulpit by imams like Yaser Ali, are symptoms of a much deeper and broader conflict between political Islam (Islamism) and modernity — and more specifically, liberal democracy. Reform will not come easily. It must come from within, driven by both love for our faith and frank public critique of our leaders.
But it cannot be done without the support of our non-Muslim allies, for universal human rights, freedom of conscience and, indeed, American security hang in the balance.
Dr. M. Zuhdi Jasser is the president of the Phoenix-based American Islamic Forum for Democracy, founded in the wake of the 9/11 attacks on the United States as an effort to provide an American Muslim voice advocating for the preservation of the founding principles of the United States Constitution, liberty and freedom, through the separation of mosque and state. He is the author of Battle for the Soul of Islam. Dr. Jasser served 11 years as a medical officer in the U. S. Navy and was Staff Internist for the Office of the Attending Physician to the U.S. Congress. Jasser was the narrator of Clarion Project's film "The Third Jihad" about the threat of Islamic extremism in the U.S.