by Waseem Shehzad (News & Analysis, Crescent International Vol. 44, No. 1, Jumada' al-Ula', 1436)
America lectures others about ensuring religious freedoms for minorities yet in its own capital city Washington DC, committed Muslims have been denied this right for 32 years. Imam Muhammad al Asi and a dedicated group of Muslims are forced to pray outside in the snow because the Islamic Center of DC has been occupied by thugs.
The US government and indeed Western governments in general, never tire of lecturing others about guaranteeing the religious rights of minorities. Various governments have even established appropriate bodies such as the “Office of Religious Rights,” to ensure compliance. While assuring the religious rights of minorities is a noble objective, why has this right been denied to law-abiding Muslims for 32 years and in the capital city of the United States?
Committed Muslims who wish to adhere to the teachings of the Qur’an and live according to the Sunnah of the noble Messenger (pbuh) have been denied the right to offer their salah inside the Islamic Center of Washington since March 1983. The masjid administration has been taken over by people who work at the behest of embassies of corrupt Muslim governments. They have clamped down hard on proper adherence to Islamic principles in their societies and they have brought the same oppressive policies to the US and are imposing them on Muslims, many of them born and raised in the US.
Surely, President Barack Obama, Secretary of State John Kerry or Attorney General Eric Holder cannot be oblivious of the brazen denial of the religious rights of Muslims before their eyes on Massachusetts Avenue. The Islamic Center of Washington, DC is located on this busy thoroughfare where a number of diplomatic missions are also located.
Every Jumu‘ah, a group of committed Muslims are forced to stand outside in the bitter cold (or in the blistering heat of DC, depending on the season) to offer their salah on the pavement because the people who have illegally occupied the Islamic Center would not allow them to enter the masjid. This situation has gone on since March 1983. It is now 32 years that these Muslims led by Imam Muhammad al-‘Asi are forced to stand outside. Why?
On March 5, 1983, heavily armed SWAT teams attacked the Islamic Center in the middle of the night and dragged Imam al-‘Asi, his seven-month pregnant wife and young daughter out of the masjid apartment and dumped them some 20 miles outside DC. Imam al-‘Asi and his family were dressed only in pajamas on that bitterly cold winter night. They finally managed to get a lift from a passerby who dropped them off with relatives in Washington. They could have suffered serious health problems because of the bitter cold but for the kindly gesture of a total stranger.
Imam al-‘Asi is the elected Imam of the Islamic Center. It was run through the donations of the community. It was the community that decided in 1981 to elect Imam al-‘Asi to be their imam and not only lead them in salah but also hold discussion sessions so that Muslims can be enlightened about their din and how to organize their lives according to Islamic principles and teachings.
This is not something officials of various Muslim embassies liked because Imam al-‘Asi was forthright in his rejection and condemnation of their un-Islamic and anti-Islamic behaviour. The pack of Muslim ambassadors at the time was led by Bandar bin Sultan, the illegitimate son of then Saudi Defence Minister Sultan ibn ‘Abd al-‘Aziz. (Bandar’s mother was a concubine!)
The SWAT team that attacked the Islamic Center was hired by Bandar, a venal character who has gained notoriety for his foul mouth and even more obnoxious behaviour and conduct. Bandar and the Saudi regime had nothing whatsoever to do with the construction of the Islamic Center in the heart of DC. This beautiful structure was built by a Palestinian contractor in 1954. In his simplicity, he agreed to a suggestion by some people to make the ambassadors of Muslim countries the “trustees” of the Center in case the community was unable to maintain it for whatever reason. Instead of losing the Center to some non-Muslim, the Muslim ambassadors would act as its guarantors.
This was a huge mistake. Not one ambassador was qualified to even enter the masjid; the overwhelming majority still fall into this category. They indulge in many vices expressly forbidden by Islam. It is doubtful whether Bandar ever set foot inside the masjid and even if he did, whether he was in a state of tahara, a basic requirement for setting foot into such sacred space.
Yet, he hired a SWAT team because, technically speaking, the ambassadors were trustees of the Islamic Center. It is doubtful whether Bandar consulted any of the other ambassadors before he hired the heavily armed SWAT team to storm the Islamic Center. Did they observe any of the etiquettes that must be observed, such as taking their shoes off before barging into the premises?
The SWAT team was fed disinformation. They made the scandalous allegation that they suspected there were guns at the Center. Not even a toy gun was found but in such criminal acts, the first casualty is always the truth. In any case, even if guns were found — and they were not — this would not be a crime under US law. The country is awash with guns of all type and calibre. Owning a gun or guns is considered a constitutional right of every American except perhaps of Muslims. Similarly, religious freedom is guaranteed to every American except to Muslims.
The Muslim community went to court. After months of legal arguments, the judge ruled on a technicality that since the papers showed the ambassadors were “trustees” of the Islamic Center, they had the right to refuse entry to any person they did not like. Legal technicality and the criminal behaviour of Bandar bin Sultan in cohoots with ambassadors of other “Muslim” countries are the reasons behind denial of entry to scores of committed Muslims to offer their salah inside the masjid. This is a complete violation of a fundamental Islamic principle and anyone that considers himself/herself Muslim cannot deny another Muslim to pray inside a masjid. The standoff has continued for more than three decades.
Every Friday, a group of Muslims — men, women and children — spread their plastic sheets on the snow outside in the bitter cold and Imam al-‘Asi (or a substitute, if he is away to attend a conference somewhere) delivers the khutbah and leads the salah. This has gone on for 32 years even though Bandar is no longer the ambassador — in fact, he has been banished from any official position in the Kingdom, most likely the result of his disastrous failure in Syria — yet sincere Muslims continue to be denied their fundamental right to offer their salah inside the masjid and interact with other Muslims.
Some Saudi agents have proposed to Imam al-‘Asi and his group of dedicated followers that they could pray inside but they cannot talk to anyone or interact with anyone inside the masjid. Under what law are these people making such derogatory demands? A masjid is supposed to be the House of Allah (swt); it does not belong to any individual, much less a corrupt regime like that in Saudi Arabia. Yet the oppressive policies that have been imposed on struggling Muslims in majority Muslim countries have been brought to the US as well, and the American regime allows such violation of the fundamental rights of Muslims, even those born and raised in America.
How long will this standoff continue? It will continue as long as it takes for committed Muslims to secure their rights. After all, it is a question of a fundamental right. The US government lectures other countries about respecting people’s religious rights but in the very heart of Washington, DC, Muslims, all of them American citizens, are denied this basic right. It is also likely that once the decrepit and corrupt Saudi regime is demolished, perhaps the situation may change. Until then, committed Muslims continue to make a statement with their hands, feet and bodies enduring the bitter winter cold of Washington, DC including snow and rain.
The clash between al-haqq and al-batil is being played out before our very eyes. There is no doubt that the haqq will ultimately triumph; what is unknown is the time factor because that is entirely in the hands of the Lord and Sustainer of all the worlds.