I will now do something I have never done before: defend Muslim-Americans as they gather on Capitol Hill to pray as a public demonstration. Mine is not an easy task, given that I have often expressed in this forum the reasons why Muslim immigration to America should be halted immediately and how the core DNA of Islam promotes violence.
However, on Friday, a crowd of Muslim-Americans gathered on Capitol Hill, and that is a good thing. It is a good thing regardless of the event's eerie timing, given that in the three days leading up to “Islam on Capitol Hill,” Islamic terror suspects were arrested in Dallas, Denver, and Chicago. In addition, two suspects already in custody were charged with plots to attack the Marines at Quantico, and two mystery suspects were being pursued in Philadelphia for videotaping and scouting out the train system. Quite a week for Islamic terror plots on American soil no matter how you slice it (or behead it as the case may be).
The “Islam on Capitol Hill” event turned out fewer Muslim-Americans than expected, with the Washington Post reporting about 3000 attendees. That is a pleasant surprise, given that fewer than 100 persons attended the Free Muslims Coalition's “Million Muslim March” in Washington in 2005, and most of those attendees were members of the press covering the event. Organizers for Friday's Capitol Hill gathering blamed Christian and media backlash for the poor turnout as their press releases and promotional materials had suggested that 50,000 believers would gather and pray on the Hill throughout the day.
Nevertheless, a gathering of 3000 Muslims in Washington to pray together is a good thing for four reasons:
1) Muslim-Americans citizens are guaranteed free speech, free assembly, and free religious expression. A public gathering reinforces the truth that America embraces these freedoms for all of its people.
2) Furthermore, an open gathering of Muslim-Americans engenders a measure of goodwill, bringing the more moderate (we hope) strains of Islam out into the open for all to see. Displaying those moderate strains gives them some credibility with, and visibility to, the rest of the American people.
3) Only with that openness can American Muslims begin to offer any credible critique of their own faith. Change for Islam must come from within its own thinkers and people. Islam cannot and will not be changed from the outside. If there is any hope for a lasting, peaceful expression of Islam in the world, it will come, at least in part, from American Muslims.