Since last month’s Peter King hearing on Muslim radicalization, life has been extra busy for star witness Zuhdi Jasser, a Phoenix physician who Congressman King called an “ideal” Muslim-American leader.
The Navy veteran told me in an interview yesterday that his small group got 50-60 new members “overnight” after the King hearing. The American Islamic Forum for Democracy works to promote practices of Islam that are primarily spiritual and not political.
While Jasser is now the best-known face, his group is part of a coalition that formed last fall of Muslim-American groups frustrated with Muslim-American leaders and groups they feel are too soft on radicalization and too quick to criticize the United States. Jasser said the King hearing transformed that umbrella group from a loose coalition of six or seven members to a movement of some 30 organizations.
Just days after the King hearing, Jasser’s group hosted a weekend-long young leadership training called the Muslim Liberty Project. Twenty-five Muslims ages 15 to 30 won grants to come and hash out issues related to American Muslim identity, Jasser said. The group aims “to continuously strive for compatibility of Islam with American national identity,” he said, and are bound by a belief in “the Constitution of the United States, its core principle of religious freedom and the separation of religion and state.”
But it’s not clear how many American Muslims disagree with the separation of religion and state, or disagree in a different way than do many Christians or devout Americans of other faiths. Asked why he believes this melding of mosque and state is a real priority for other Muslim-Americans, Jasser said “this is an assumption, because [my critics] will rarely engage me on this issue.”
While King’s hearing brought Jasser momentum, it also brought him a slew of hostile criticism from Muslims, including those who he said launched a Facebook page calling him an “Uncle Tom.”
In truth the Muslim-American community is in the thick of a variety of debates, some to do with theology but many to do with how to partner with law enforcement, civil liberties, foreign policy and sometimes just about sheer partisanship.
Jasser has been in the midst of debate at his very own mosque, the Islamic Center of North East Valley in the Phoenix suburb of Scottsdale. He told me he’s got a public debate April 19 with its imam, Anas Hlayhel, who is also the regional head of the Council on American Islamic Relations. CAIR is a frequent target of critics -- including Jasser -- who say the group is too soft on terrorism and hasn’t sufficiently disavowed radical tatements by some past CAIR leaders.