The American River Democrats welcomed Yannini Casillas, a representative from CAIR—the Council on American-Islamic Relations—to their March meeting. Ms. Casillas spoke about pre-conceptions, misconceptions, and the nature of Muslims in the U.S. and around the world, and Senate Bill 31, the California Religious Freedom Act.
Casillas opened her talk with “Islam 101.” She said that the Islamic faith is very diverse, and that the largest percentage of Muslims are Asian, with Indonesians being the greatest number. She said the media does a poor job covering the Islamic faith, and that there is a big difference between certain cultures and the Islamic religion. ISIS does not represent Muslims any more that the Ku Klux Klan represents Christians.
Muslims are largely peaceful and diverse, and will adapt to the culture they belong to. The tenants of their faith are prayer, fasting, charity, and pilgrimage. They believe you cannot force anyone to do anything; it is the “hand, tongue, and heart” that will guide people to social justice on earth. Women have rights as well, and repression seen in places like Saudi Arabia and Afghanistan reflect their culture, not the religion. When asked about LGBT rights, she said that everything is between the individual and God; that Muslims are to respect the human, and it is not okay to hurt anyone.
Casillas said that CAIR is working hard fighting the Trump administration’s Muslim ban. She pointed out that even people like Muhammad Ali Jr., the American-born son of the world famous boxer, was detained and questioned by officials. CAIR is training people on their rights, and working with law enforcement officials to fight harassment and vandalism against Muslims.
Particularly concerning are actions by the FBI. There are over 100 cases in California alone of agents coming to investigate Muslim people at their homes and workplaces. They are fishing for terrorist leads, and intimidating people to provide information, threatening to report uncooperative people to ICE agents.
California Senate Bill 31, authored by Ricardo Lara, prohibits state or local agencies from providing or disclosing to federal authorities information regarding a person’s religious affiliation for use in a national database. Though such a database would apply to all religions, the target is clearly Muslims. (Though, of course, any group, including Jews, Hindus, or atheists, could be next.) The bill requires a two-thirds majority vote, but fortunately enjoys some bipartisan support, with a Republican listed as a co-author. It passed two committees unanimously and, as of this writing, awaits a Senate floor vote, before moving to the Assembly. (It requires a two-thirds majority vote because it is an “Urgency Bill” which will take effect immediately on passing.) Casillas encouraged everyone to contact their state representatives to support this bill.
How else can you help? Get to know your Muslim neighbors! Visit an Islamic center, like The Islamic Society of Folsom, and meet the people there. (I have a friend who is a Christian pastor and visits the center on a regular basis, and finds it quite rewarding.) And watch out for hate incidents against Muslims, or any people of a different culture. Women are more often victims of these crimes because they are usually more visible due to their dress. Report these incidents and intervene if possible. If you see a stranger, especially someone who may be from another culture or religion, smile and say hello!
Ken Kiunke, Communications Secretary