Where are the moderate Americans?

By Michael Vicente Perez and Zeba Iqbal, contributors to AltMuslimahMichael: Hi Zeba. The mid-term elections are over and, as predicted, … Continued

By Michael Vicente Perez and Zeba Iqbal, contributors to AltMuslimah

Michael: Hi Zeba. The mid-term elections are over and, as predicted, the Park 51 controversy is also finished. But now it’s time to turn to new controversies. The latest has to do with a new version of “the clash of civilizations.” This time, however, the battlefield is a university swimming pool. Apparently, George Washington University’s decision to grant Muslim women a “women-only” hour at the Lerner Health and Wellness Center reflects some civilizational divide between “America” and “Islam.” I figured you’d have a dog in this fight considering your alumni status. Comments on this one suggest all sorts of issues but one that caught my attention had to do with tolerance. According to one critic, “Westerners” should not have to go so far to accommodate Muslim needs. “We’re doing too much for them,” the argument goes. This one strikes me as doubly offensive: I’m a Westerner and Muslim (the two are not dichotomous) and I believe tolerance requires accommodations, especially those we might not like.

Zeba: Hi Michael. I agree. Tolerance is the ultimate test of a pluralistic society. I’d like to add some perspective to this latest controversy. The administration’s accommodation of this request is not surprising to me. The Muslim Student Association at GW is well established and has been active for over 15 years. During this time the MSA has had a good relationship with the administration. When I was there, MSA-hosted events including Friday prayers, interfaith discussions and breaking-fast dinners during Ramadan were well attended by Muslim and non-Muslim students alike, as well as employees from the nearby World Bank and IMF.

Additionally, for those who are unfamiliar with the campus, GW is a small urban campus of 10 city blocks between F and Eye Streets and 20th and 24th Streets in Northwest DC. In addition to Lerner HelWel’s pool, there is a pool at the Charles E Smith Center a block away. Both pools are open 50 hours weekly (not 20 hours as stated in the article); and Lerner HelWel’s pool is only 3-lanes while the Smith Center pool is 8-lanes. So the controversial swim hour is 1% of the weekly swim time and the 3 lanes used by the women are less than 0.3% of the total lanes.

Michael: Context is important and it’s important for everyone to know that this is, in many ways, is a local issue that should be addressed by locals. It doesn’t have to be a “national” issue unless we make it so. That being said, I’m wondering about the American who sees an issue like this as the beginning of a “Muslim takeover.” First mosques, then pools, then it’s Shariah all over the U.S. I guess I’m wondering how to say to this individual that there is a place in America for this, that it isn’t just about tolerating “others.” I say this because what Muslims want is not necessarily an accommodation unlike the requests and preferences of other American communities.

Zeba: Michael, the last thing we want is to take over! We’ve all grown up with Americans of all creeds, races and religions and love America for its diversity and its religious freedom. As part of that diversity we just want to see ourselves and our beliefs reflected in America’s values. It is interesting to note that in the comments section, several women noted that the women’s hour resonated with them because they valued modesty and privacy and preferred to swim with other women.

Regarding religious accommodation, we, along with our fellow Americans recognize Christmas and are respectful of those who keep Kosher and observe the Sabbath. In most cases, all we ask for is respect and acceptance of simple accommodations that make it easier for us to observe our faith. In no way do we seek to compromise others’ rights. I will say, though, that we as a community need to try and not ‘otherize’ ourselves. For example, in this particular case, I would suggest that the hour is not called ‘Sisters’ Splash’ but maybe just a women’s swim hour as all women are welcome.

Michael: Amen Zeba. I think your point is brilliant. Perhaps if more Americans vocalized their appreciation for things like a women’s only hour at the pool, then it would be harder for the staff at Fox News to claim they speak for America.

Zeba: Michael, you know how the media is always asking for the moderate Muslim voice to speak out? It sounds like we need the moderate American voice to speak out, too.

About

Elizabeth Tenety Elizabeth Tenety is the former editor of On Faith, where she produced "Divine Impulses," On Faith’s video interview series. She studied Theology and Government at Georgetown University and received her master’s degree from Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism. A New York native, Elizabeth grew up in the home of Catholic news junkies where, somewhere in between watching the nightly news and participating in parish life, she learned to ponder both the superficial and the sacred.
  • AKafir

    Zeba,Watch this:This is not culture. These child brides happen across the Muslim world because of Islam, because of the example set by Muhammad, and because Allah allows men to marry and have sex with pre-pubertal girls in the Quran; Read Koran 33.49 and 65.4 to see that.

  • Secular

    Zeba, & Michael shall we also accept and respect the Islamic tradition of polygamy? How about getting married to the ex-daughter-in-law? How about the another tradition of Jizzya? How about the all the hate laws against non-muslims? While you are at it to propagate acceptance and respect for Islamic traditions in the west, why don’t you try to promote acceptance and respect for non-muslims in the 57 Dar-ul-Islams.

  • Secular

    Regarding religious accommodation, we, along with our fellow Americans recognize Christmas and are respectful of those who keep Kosher and observe the Sabbath. In most cases, all we ask for is respect and acceptance of simple accommodations that make it easier for us to observe our faith. In no way do we seek to compromise others’ rights. I will say, though, that we as a community need to try and not ‘otherize’ ourselves. For example, in this particular case, I would suggest that the hour is not called ‘Sisters’ Splash’ but maybe just a women’s swim hour as all women are welcome.
    Zeba, what exactly do you forgo to accommodate the kosher or sabath. Tell me in what way is american laws or way of life preventing you from observing your faith/delusion any more than it is preventing a hindu from observing his faith/delusion. Of course you are compromising my rights to swim at that hour when you guys appropriated the swimming pool all for yourself.

  • areyousaying

    Moderate Americans?They’ve all been branded and demonized as bed-wetting, socialist, Marxist, Communist, Muslim, gay, non-believing liberals by Fox News, GoP theocons and Palin’s inbred teabagger cousins of Fred Phelps.

  • stopwo

    As a non-Muslim woman, I suspect many other non-Muslim women would welcome a women-only pool time. For the last three years, I was a member of a women-only gym in Maryland and loved the atmosphere. I’ve since moved and can’t find a facility like that, which is a real shame. I’m also old enough to remember that when I was a child, many Christian churches viewed what they called “mixed bathing,” co-ed swimming, with suspicion. A certain degree of modesty is not just a Muslim belief. Many women in our overly sexualized society wish we could re-acquire just a modicum of that. I teach teenagers and have heard a number of girls express similar sentiments. I just don’t understand what the fuss is about with this pool policy.

  • halozcel2

    This is the Beginning of Sisters-Brothers Order.It’s written many times and I write once more.Recpect can not be demanded,it’s earned.Indian Muslim Panelist Dear Zeba Iqbal says *Michael,the last thing we want is to take over*You miss the Core Issue.Matter is not Tolerance or Respect.Submission(Desert Rule) is not Compatible with US Constitution and American Values.This is the Problem.

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