Protesting Islam—American Style

*Editor’s note: The article originally stated the protests gathered during Friday prayers, it has been corrected below.

Among the more sinister aspects of the American civil religious tradition is when nationalistic fervor combines with religious persecution. Such a menacing combination was visible last week in Arizona when hundreds of armed anti-Muslim protestors gathered outside a mosque on Friday during prayer.


Anti-religious fervor is particularly invective when it attempts to disrupt the exercise of religion. In this case the intent was to disrupt congregational prayers.

Disruptions of these sorts are nothing new in America. For example, followers of the Hare Krishna movement have longtime faced such opposition during their festivals and congregational practices, particularly at their annual ratha yatra or “festival of chariots” processions. Although this tradition dates to ancient Hindu religious beliefs, a permanent part of the American version invariably involves American protestors trailing the chariots.

The protestors, however, are not simply trying to get a point across; they aim to incite. Not only do these protestors carry U.S. flags and wear “God Bless America” t-shirts, others, come in cow costumes and carry signs with messages such as “cows are for eating,” “Jesus is Lord,” and select biblical verses.

The symbols draw power from a baseline logic that makes America and Christianity synonymous. The foil for this combination is practically everything else. It is not just that the religion is foreign, but un-American as well. Never mind that Christianity itself is a religion from the Middle East or that American transcendentalism was grounded in Indian religious thought; the fusion of country and religion creates a perfect path to tyranny of the majority.

The situation is similar for Islam. Although Muslims have been in this country since its inception, the religion is still viewed as un-American. Research has made it clear that among the slaves who arrived on American shores, a significant number were Muslim. Some of these Africans spoke Arabic and were literate. The religion, however, was stamped out and they were later forced to adopt Christianity.

The cloaking of deep religious beliefs in the garments of nationalism also hides some of the religious force behind the protest. It is invisible because the patriotism stands as code for the cross. The visible part is blunt and overt, with t-shirts and signs attacking the religion.

The Arizona protest ushered in a dangerous turn toward the guerilla. Not only were individuals proclaiming their symbols as they degraded those of Islam, but they were armed too. Here, the First Amendment functioned as a shield for discursive behavior that only the majority can get away with; the Second Amendment ensures that constituents can stay strapped all the while. There is seemingly no limit to the provocation, whereas in-kind reciprocation is inconceivable.

One might only imagine how it would be if Muslim protestors were to appear at church on Sunday morning. As churchgoers in their Sunday bests, with children and families, enter and exit the building, they are greeted with loud music, jeers, taunts, with individuals dawning “Fuck Christianity” t-shirts and holding signs like “Christianity sucks D.” How would the backlash look?

Yet, to get a more accurate comparison, imagine this happening on Christmas eve or Easter Sunday mass. Muslims and other religious groups are expected to tolerate this type of treatment, but it seems doubtful that it would be if the roles were reversed.

Rather than responding to such tactics in turn, the response has been moderate. In some cases, protestors have been treated to bottled water and plates of food; in Arizona one of the mosque members passed out water to both sides of the protest.

Although such compassionate behavior can earn sympathy for Muslims, it should be forthcoming foremost from the religious sector. Religionists of all stripes have a stake in standing together against religious oppression. This goes doubly for Christian leaders, since some of the persecution is happening in their religion’s name. They must not stand by idly while their religion gets hijacked before their eyes. Instead, they must help to ensure the demise of religious persecution, even if it survives as a shape-shift of the Constitution.

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  • About the autor

    SpearIt is a fellow at the Institute for Social Policy & Understanding and author of the ISPU report: Facts and Fictions about Islam in Prison: Assessing Prisoner Radicalization in Post-9/11 America. He is also an Associate Professor at Thurgood Marshall School of Law, Texas Southern University.

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    • Asifa Quraishi-Landes

      According to news reports, this event was planned for Friday evening (protesters were supposed to gather at 6:15 PM), so (ignorantly or not) this was not timed with Friday prayers.

    • Yes this is how Muslim responses to media, anti-islamists bigotry!
      watch :

    • O. Locke

      the sad fact about religious bigotry and hatred is that it is the moslems themselves that can’t stand that people don’t want to be forced into practicing the moslem religion.

      people have the right to protest the subjugation of women in the United States. there is no such thing as “separate but equal”.

      moslems bank on the fact that very few people want to practice a faith founded by a pederast. any criticism of the moslem death cult is called “islamophobia” but that ignores the fact that people have the right to question the practices of people that believe it is appropriate to mutilate the genitals of children, subjugate women, and teach children the koran is a science textbook.

      moslems really need to get over themselves.

      • Aasiyah Sattar

        Firstly, I apologise if I sound rude or arrogant right now, but please before faking any knowledge you think you may have of Islam, can you at least pretend to know that we are called “Muslims”, not moslems, Islamist, Mohammedians or every other idiotic name Americans have created that has no definition. The “twerking and selfies” are about enough for the century. You have no idea how annoying ,stupidity can be for us.
        Secondly, can I force you to pray five times a day, without supervising that you do ? Can I force you to take God’s name before eating, and after eating, when you wake up, entering the toilet, sneezing, or when leaving home ? How about if I force you to fast from before sunrise,for a month and watch you through out the day making sure you annihilate yourself from temptation, anger and spend most of your time in prayer ? If you can do all of what I’ve mentioned after you were forced into Islam without having a permanent Muslim border occupying your home, then I would see you reasons. Other then the fasting, everything else is what a Muslim’s day consists of plus much more..Do you see the idiocy in that statement ? Those are our Laws, if we as Muslims cannot practise those five pillars of Islam we are not Muslms..Please puff and pass..

        • O. Locke

          look, pal.

          I’m not faking anything. the way we spell it where I’m from is moslem. live with that.

          now, you might dislike the fact that someone recognizes when a moslem is forcing other people to adhere to their faith but those are the facts.

          the subjugation of women happens every friday and women from outside the death cult are forced to experience this subjugation if they have the misfortune of visiting one of these ridiculous shrines to ignorance and death.

          now, you actually prove my point. forcing me to spell the name of a religion I don’t practice, find the prophet who married a six year old and raped her when she turned 9 a disgusting amoral degenerate, and you attack me personally because I rightly criticize elements of islam that are repulsive to western sensibilities.

          here’s a clue, pal:

          If you want to attack someone for rightly criticizing the moslem death cult, make sure the person is un-educated on the facts of the death cult and its amoral degenerate of a prophet.

          thanks for your input, pal.