Op-Ed: One Local Offers a Different Reaction to Club's Choice of Speaker
Hamza Khan argues for a non-confrontational reaction to the Chevy Chase Women's Republican Club's choice of Fred Grandy as a scheduled speaker next month.
Correction, Aug. 23, 3:45 p.m.: The original title of this op-ed referred to Hamza Khan as a Republican. That was incorrect. He is a Democrat. Chevy Chase Patch sincerely regrets the error.
Original Post, Aug. 23, 11 a.m.: Editor’s note: This is an opinion piece submitted to Chevy Chase Patch by a member of the community. As an opinion piece, it does not represent the views of Patch.
On Sept. 24, Fred Grandy, a former GOP congressman from Iowa who played Gopher on "The Love Boat," will be speaking in Chevy Chase to a group of Republican women [as reported on Patch on Aug. 17] about what the group has termed on Facebook as “the Islamic threat to America.” The Facebook event page was created by Jeanette Radford on behalf of the Facebook group representing the Republican Party in Montgomery County. The event itself is sponsored by the Chevy Chase Women’s Republican Party. It is not clear if the Montgomery County Republican Party itself endorses this event beyond sharing it with its membership on Facebook.
Two of my Republican colleagues in Montgomery County, Habib Bhutta and Daniel Zubairi, are Muslims. Both have served with distinction in their political party, and Daniel has run for office before. Both are well-respected by their peers within the MDGOP, and after conversations with my GOP counterparts in college politics, it is clear it is not the view of the Republican Party of Maryland that there is an “Islamic threat” to the United States.
When I was in college, I belonged to a rather interesting group of Muslim Americans who took it upon themselves to convince Middle America that the eight million Muslims living here as legal residents and citizens pose no threat to our country’s values and ideals. Yes, it is true that there are instances of crime and terror associated with the Islamic faith here in America. But those few and far between, and there are far more Muslims serving honorably in our military than there are Muslims criticizing and denigrating the United States from within our borders.
I can speak to you from personal experience that the Muslim community of America, after ten years of living under a social and legal microscope, has greatly matured. It is not uncommon for Muslim youth to join their ROTC at college—(I know two Muslims that have, and they are serving our country honorably at this very time), or for mosques across the country to sponsor interfaith events, or for Muslim community leaders to cajole their members to join political discourse in America.
Here in Montgomery County, those truths are very self-evident. Muslims are currently celebrating the month of Ramadan, when Muslims fast from dawn till dusk to teach themselves chastity, humility, and patience. In the evening, Muslims gather to break their fasts with a communal meal, called an iftar. Mosques and community centers around the state have taken this time as an opportunity to invite our elected officials and government agencies to join us for a dinner and to talk about what ways Muslims can give back to Montgomery County, and in what ways we already have.
This September, I will be joining a group of visiting religious leaders from Cairo, Egypt, on a tour of the United States as they learn about Islam in America and how our Muslims here are making a positive difference in our society. This is important because 10 years ago in September, I was a high school freshman walking out of French class when Al Qaeda operatives crashed the first of two planes into the World Trade Center.
Back then, Muslim Americans were not nearly as organized and willing to confront the lurking monster in our closet: extremism. Today, I can attest to the fact that we, as a religious community, have matured beyond our years, and that as Americans, we have never been stronger in faith or optimism for our country or our state.
Indeed, there are challenges still facing us. A large number of Muslims in America are still immigrants who grew up under unimaginable brutal regimes, leaving many of them mentally and emotionally scarred beyond recognition just underneath surface. We have not developed the psychological counselling capacity within our community to help such people adjust to American society and overcome their personal trials. Further, we are still failing as a community to properly identify and deal with the root causes of extremism in certain sectors of our community. These are serious challenges, and ones that I hope we can all come together as Marylanders and Americans to talk about.
But on the positive end, here in Montgomery County, the Muslim community has raised more than 10,000 pounds of food for the hungry and needy in our greater community this year alone. Muslim community leaders, including myself, have been pushing our congregations to create social programs to help Muslim youth have a place to grow as individuals healthily after school, away from the dangers of sitting alone at the home, surfing the Internet. That’s where a lot of extremists of all stripes in America get their start: loneliness.
There is no threat to America from Islam. Muslims can and are adding to our national discourse on political and social issues in healthy and positive ways. And as our community grows and the presence of the totalitarian regimes that drive many Muslim immigrants to either have no political opinion, or to have extreme ones, are driven out, we will begin to see even greater and more visible contributions to our greater society.
I do not fault my Republican colleagues in Chevy Chase for wanting to talk about Islam—it is the world’s fastest-growing faith, and one of the fastest-growing by conversion in the United States, as well. But I question the sensibility of such an event that ponders The Threat of Islam to America. Could there be another avenue to voice one’s worries? This is, by the way, not bigotry on the part of the GOP—it is sincere concern for the well-being of our country, albeit not the way I would have chosen to share it.
While one of my Democratic colleagues from District 39 is organizing a picketing operation in response to this event, I have a less confrontational solution: I invite the GOP leadership of Montgomery County and Maryland, the organizers of this event, and Congressman Grandy and his wife to join me and other Muslim leaders, both Democrat and Republican, sometime before the end of Ramadan for an iftar dinner. As a fellow citizen, and a Muslim who is passionate about public service, I want to hear for myself their concerns about my religion and its practitioners in America. All I ask in return is that they promise not to criticize my cooking. Happy Ramadan.
Hamza Khan is the former president of the Maryland Federation of College Democrats. He is also a former president of the Alpha Epsilon Pi Fraternity, and is the only Muslim to ever be president of a Jewish Fraternity.
He is regularly sought out by religious leaders, government contractors and news journalists about queries regarding Islam and Islam in America.