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Nathan Lean: Answering Dave Agema’s questions about Muslims

Dave Agema is a Michigan representative to the Republican National Committee. He has come under fire for making anti-gay and anti-Muslim remarks.

Dave Agema is a Michigan representative to the Republican National Committee. He has come under fire for making anti-gay and anti-Muslim remarks.

Nathan Lean answers Dave Agema’s silly questions, proving that ‘ignorance and prejudice go hand in hand’:

Have you ever been to a Muslim hospital? Have you heard of a Muslim orchestra? A Muslim marching band? Have you witnessed a Muslim charity? Can you show me one Muslim signature on the Constitution, Declaration of Independence, or Bill of Rights? Have you ever seen a Muslim do anything that contributes positively to the American way of life?

Nathan Lean: Answering Dave Agema’s questions about Muslims

By Nathan Lean, Detroit Free Press guest writer

It has been said that ignorance and prejudice go hand in hand. If anyone can prove that statement true, it’s Michigan Republican National Committeeman Dave Agema.

Following a litany of inflammatory questions about the contributions of American Muslims, some lawmakers have amped up calls for his resignation. While publicly renouncing his bigoted views is important, it is also necessary to reject them because they are riddled with falsehoods.

On Facebook last month, Agema shared a widely circulated blog that highlighted the charity work of the Catholic church before asking a series of mocking questions about Muslims. Some included: Have you ever been to a Muslim hospital? Have you heard of a Muslim orchestra? A Muslim marching band? Have you witnessed a Muslim charity? Can you show me one Muslim signature on the Constitution, Declaration of Independence, or Bill of Rights? Have you ever seen a Muslim do anything that contributes positively to the American way of life?

The questions were intended to be rhetorical, with an implicit answer of “no” resounding after each one. Muslims, Agema believed, had not done any of these things. But a closer examination of history proves that Muslims have done many of them. They are an important and integral part of America’s national fabric and contribute in many meaningful ways to its success and growth.

■ American Muslims have a substantial presence in the health care industry. The Islamic Medical Association of North America, one of many such organizations, estimates that there are more than 20,000 Muslim physicians in the United States. Similarly, an analysis of statistics provided by the American Medical Association indicates that 10% of all American physicians are Muslims. While no Islamic hospitals exist in the United States, per se, several Muslim-based health clinics do. And let’s not forget that the hospital itself is not an American invention — it’s an Egyptian one. For that matter, the father of modern surgery wasn’t an American Protestant pioneer, either, but a 10th-Century Muslim physician from Spain, Abu al-Qasim al-Zahrawi.

■ Criticism over the absence of Muslim orchestras in the United States rings hollow, as well. Few orchestras are comprised exclusively of members from one particular faith, and many are organized along ethnic or other lines. The National Arab and New York Arabic Orchestras are two examples of groups whose members include numerous Muslims. Similarly, marching bands are obviously affiliated with high schools or universities, not mosques or churches, and surely Muslim students make up these musical groups, which, as it turns out, trace their roots back to the military bands of the Muslim Ottoman empire. The violin, too, finds its origins within the 10th-Century bowing instruments of Islamic civilization.

■ Muslim charity groups in the United States are too numerous to catalog, though the Bay Area Islamic Networks Group, the UMMA Clinic in Los Angeles, the Chicago-based Inner-City Muslim Action Network and Dearborn’s ACCESS are examples of groups that provide crucial services and empower the underprivileged. In 2013, the Muslim charity Helping Hand for Relief and Development (HHRD) was rated among the top 10 charities in the United States.

■ Agema is correct, however, to point out that there are no Muslim signatures on the U.S. Constitution, the Declaration of Independence or the Bill of Rights. That’s because the first major wave of Muslim immigration to the U.S. occurred in the mid-to-late 19th Century — nearly 100 years after those documents were written. But the beauty of America is that the rights enshrined in our founding documents protect everyone, regardless of their time of arrival or their religious identity.

■ It’s also the case that Muslim Americans designed the Sears (now Willis) and Hancock towers in Chicago, developed the chemotherapy mechanism that treats brain tumors and revolutionized this country’s original art form: jazz. They also contribute through their service as educators, lawmakers and soldiers and are on the front lines of campaigns to end some of today’s most egregious civil rights abuses.

Alas, there is great irony in Agema’s Facebook post, which leads to one simple question: Would he and his GOP ilk see an increase in Muslim hospitals, orchestras, charities and marching bands as a welcomed sign of the rich and diverse social fabric of America, or would they decry it an alarming indication of some grand Islamic conspiracy to take over the United States?

Nathan Lean is a researcher at Georgetown University and the author of three books about the Middle East and Islam, including the award-winning “The Islamophobia Industry: How the Right Manufactures Fear of Muslims.” His newest volume, “The Changing Middle East,” is scheduled for publication this fall.

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  • Nur Alia binti Ahmad

    The shovel has no effort. The shovel is a tool of the gardner. in the same way, the Qur’an isn’t going to feed a hungry person, it is a tool, along with the logs, and the fire, and the pot and the water, and the cook who use Islam for the good intention to make a meal for the hungry person.

  • Lynchpin

    Just to confirm – the shovel is analogous to the religion, and the gardner is analogous to the person? If so I am in 100% agreement.

  • Cengiz_K

    But that would mean to belittle the shovel’s efforts, wouldn’t it? 😉

  • Nur Alia binti Ahmad

    The conversation was lost…but people don’t contribute to society because they are religious…hopefully.

    Hopefully a person uses religion as a means to contribute to society.

    I don’t like when Muslims claim all these things is attributed to Islam, because they aren’t.

    To me it is like saying because you used a shovel to plant a tree, the tree grew because of the shovel, and not the gardner’s knowledge based on years of experience.

  • Lynchpin

    Faiths don’t invent or contribute things, people do. Was your question focused on what people of the Catholic faith have invented/contributed to society?

  • Seeker

    That clears it up. Thanks. I believe I did learn about taqiyya from a non-Muslim source over the course of an internet debate. The possibilities of beating Muslims into a corner are then endless.

  • Tanveer Khan

    I think Sir Timothy either replied to the wrong person or misunderstood your comment.

  • Seeker


  • Tanveer Khan

    O I C

  • Tanveer Khan

    I don’t get why he gas to say “U know Y” instead of “You know why”.

  • Nur Alia binti Ahmad

    All you did was put Arabic words to what I said. If I were writing solely to Muslims, it is how I would have written it.
    However, there are 2 things I have learned in life that gets me through it.
    One of them is…’never defend a lie’.
    When someone asks ‘What did Islam being to the world’…the answer is ‘it is a contributing factor in some people to invent things to make life better for us’. Without the ‘noun’ Muslim, there is no invention, no progress, no music, and…no contribution.
    Islam doesn’t invent, write music, poetry and prose, build hospitals, schools, laboratories…however people inspired to do the right thing by Islam do.
    In the same vein, Islam doesn’t commit terrorist acts, people do that having a sorted view of our religion. This is why we don’t apologize ‘in the name of Islam’, we condemn, and denounce in the name of humanity.
    We don’t imply that we ‘own’ the violence, no more than a artist who paints a nude woman owns a rape that the criminal claims inspired him to do it.

  • “I hate when Muslims feel the need to defend us against unwarranted attacks against Islam. ” Why?

    “Islam is NOT to totality of a Muslim.” Linguistically this is not true. In reality I know what you say.

    “but no human, concerned with the progress of humanity should allow his religion to be the sole basis of his morals and ethics.” Then if not the foundation of morals and ethics for one who believes in a faith exactly is religion?

    “In FACT, there is no such thing as “Muslim” … jurisprudence, or contribution to life.” These things are called fiqh and Mashii’at (literally the writing…as in the tablet) respectively.

    I agree that we should not let the hostility of another totally dictate our actions in response, but it is the limit. The mustahab is mercy.

    The human actions is what you wish to emphasize, and I agree with you.

    I am not refuting your statements as to your intention. I just do not want others to misread what you say as that Islam needs to be subverted to humanism in order for it to lead to a logical discussion of actions between humans of all or no faith. If that is indeed what you mean then you may correct me in turn.

    As I do not speak for you, and you do not speak for me, you have that right, but I for one take the rejection of myself as a tribal entity (or national) ethnic, or even political, as submitted to the ethics and morality of Islam and not the other way around.

    This is not to say that I am no longer a white, midwestern human being bound by my human and contractual and honorable obligations to the American political system, the people, and indeed the human race as a whole. But I do believe this based on my Islamic faith and the fact that I am a muslim.

    The whole need to separate the two and deny your muslimness in the face of these realities is exactly the wedge they wish to place.

    I may be one of those you speak of, as I defend Islam in the face of lies, and in fact see your existence as in of itself refutation of his comments, as you are an obvious contributing member of human society.

    I also have one-upped your comment, as I agree with you in essence. My points are nuance. I hope you do not find them in offense.

    Muslim is a noun, made up of an adjective, a verb, and another noun. To see the muslim human as a monolithic entity of irrelevance to American society is absurd of course, and I think you make that point well.

    إِنَّ الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا وَالَّذِينَ هَادُوا وَالنَّصَارَىٰ وَالصَّابِئِينَ مَنْ آمَنَ بِاللَّهِ وَالْيَوْمِ الْآخِرِ وَعَمِلَ صَالِحًا فَلَهُمْ أَجْرُهُمْ عِندَ رَبِّهِمْ وَلَا خَوْفٌ عَلَيْهِمْ وَلَا هُمْ يَحْزَنُونَ

    The action, and not the designation is of course the criteria Allah himself (royal he) uses, both in this world and the next.

    But of course I have to admit, I know this why? For no other reason than islam itself.

  • Razainc_aka_BigBoss
  • HeGG

    You’re welcome.

    And apparently, Fatah was wrong. The woman who tragically died was a Muslim, but the police & media did release her name:

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