Below is an extended version of the speech given by Hassan Shibly to the Hillsborough County School Board on February 28th 2012 in response to the hateful tactics of Terry Kemple, David Caton, and their followers
Respected board members and community leaders, I would like to begin by thanking you for this opportunity to come and share our thoughts as people of diverse faiths and beliefs standing united for a diverse, tolerant, & welcome community.
Since my credentials to speak on behalf of Islam and Muslims has been put to question despite having the overwhelming support of the Tampa Muslim Community, Imams, and Mosques, I am happy to share with the board my credentials.
I have studied Islam at prestigious Abu Nour University, in Damascus Syria, where I have also taught several courses on Islam and conducted academic research that has been presented at conferences of the leading international Islamic universities, including al Azhar. I also am the director and editor in chief for the publishing house of the largest traditional Islamic seminary in North America. I have also been am Imam for over 7 years and currently lead the Friday sermons of many of the major Tampa-area mosques. In addition to obtaining several certificates in Islamic studies, my teachers have granted me permission to teach Islam, and they have been granted permission from their teachers, in an unbroken chain tracing back to the Blessed Prophet Muhammad peace be upon him. Recently, the Tampa Muslim community has appointed me as executive director of Florida’s leading Muslim civil rights organization. Half the mission of CAIR is to clear misconceptions about Islam and thus my position requires a high degree of academic knowledge on Islam. In addition, I have a law degree and am a Florida licensed attorney.
What we have learned tonight, is that those who actually personally know myself or CAIR and have worked with us, have had nothing but good things to say about us. And yet those laying attacks against us and using legal terms without understanding their context or meaning and promoting guilty-by-association and guilt-by-false-accusation, have never once visited our office or open house or had any personal experience with us. Nor have they ever reached out to us.
Rather they have gotten their misinformation from known extremist anti-Muslim websites that target CAIR because we are the largest Muslim Civil Rights organization. And as you heard from about 50% of the comments, the protestor’s problem is first and foremost with Islam. This is not about myself or my organization.
Over the course of the past few weeks, our local community has been visited by a small, but vocal minority that has insisted on spreading untruths and misinformation about the Muslim Americans living here in Hillsborough, and the religion of Islam. We have heard nothing but lies, guilt by association, and innuendos.
It is utterly shocking that Terry Kemple and his group can waste so much taxpayer resources throwing out blatant lies and defamation, and the board has the patience to put up with it.
I only wonder how long the board would have patience, had the hateful rhetoric and conspiracy theories been against other minorities, like people of the Jewish faith.
I have been reluctant to come and say anything so as not to set a bad precedent for other minorities. Should every leader of every minority be forced to stand here and defend against common misconceptions against themselves? Do we expect African Americans, Japanese, Jews, the Catholics and other minorities to defend against the xenophobic conspiracy theories leveled against them? Nonetheless, we have come today to show you that those who promote fear and hatred of what they consider the “other” do not speak for the majority of your constituents.
Tonight you have heard from a number of commenters who have shared with you their thoughts and views about the involvement of Muslims in our community, the commitment we all share to upholding the law, defending the liberties established in our constitution, and condemnation for the unfortunate stereotyping and hurtful accusations hurled at Muslims like me living peaceably--and proudly as practitioners of Islam, but also as proud Americans, with the pledge in our hearts to one nation, under God, with a sworn commitment to liberty and justice for all of our citizens and residents.
You have also, so far heard demagoguery and hurtful comments today, and in past days, about all three: Muslims, Islam, and proud Americans. Because you see, in my eyes, and in the eyes of the vast majority of Muslims across our great land, to practice Islam, to be a Muslim, means to be a proud American. We see no difference, because by definition our religious values are the same as American values. My opponents disagree with this and thus have targeted me and even ascribed false quotes to slander me. Muslim extremists have called me an infidel for teaching respect of diversity, Anti-Muslim extremists have called me a terrorist. When extremists on both sides are not happy with you, that is a sign you are doing good work.
Again you heard today that “CAIR is a terrorist organization.”
If half of the accusations against myself and my organization CAIR were true, our country’s federal agents and the Justice Department would have put me and the 32 offices nationwide away a long time ago. The fact that CAIR was never indicted is enough to show CAIR has never committed any wrong doing.
Some who have appeared before you have said “What’s the point in teaching a religion that caused the twin towers to fall down.” or “ “Cair (and Muslims) want to bring Sharia Law to abolish the constitution in America”. Tonight you even heard accusations that Muslims call “death to infidels” after our call to prayer.
For ten years now, Muslims have heard and dealt with these accusations. For a decade since 9/11, we have stood tall, silently, and held in the tears in our eyes out of the love for our countrymen--by which I mean our fellow Americans. And that is because of the Islamic value of compassion, to not simply turn the other cheek, but to understand why we were slapped in the first place. And that’s why we’re here today, to bridge the gap forming in our society and bring about understanding. That’s not only the Muslim community’s mission here in Hillsborough, but as the leading Muslim organization, CAIR’s mission too.
It is sad that none of the anti-Islam protesters who have camped weekly here in Hillsborough, or even you Dr. White, despite leaving you several messages, took the time to give me a phone call, visit my office, get to know me, the Muslim community, or CAIR. Dr. White, you seemed worried that “we still do not know what was said in the presentation” and yet you never came to the open house we just head where I gave a very similar presentation.
Muslims understand, all too well, that because of 9/11, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the spectre of a nuclear Iran, we need to show people that we’re proud to call America home, that CAIR, and the Muslim experience can be and are American experiences. That knowing each other, is the key to working together. That’s why a few weeks ago, CAIR sponsored an open house at a local area mosque, that was well-advertised, and well-attended by those in the community of other faiths, or no faith, but not a single protester present today attended.
I fell in love with Florida the first time I visited here with my parents as a young child. Disney World, the beaches, the warm weather--these are a part of who I am as a Floridian, and an American.
As a 501c3 organization, CAIR must open its books to the public for at least two weeks of the year-We are funded by the local Muslim community to represent them, clear misconceptions about Islam, and fight prejudice and bigotry. Let there be no confusion: our donors, our members and our staff come every walk of live imaginable in America. Many are not Muslim--most of our staff & interns are not and were not raised in a Muslim home. We have no intention to indoctrinate, only to educate--and therefore fulfill Islam’s first commandment, Iqra, to read and learn in the name of God, about our history, our traditions, and our mutual love for America--from sea to shining sea. To make this a better community for all our Children.
Fighting Islamophobia is the new civil rights battle of our century.
We cannot let those that make a living out of promoting hatred and are working to undermine the great principles found in the Bill of Rights.
The protestors ought to have more faith in our kids, in our teachers, in our schools, in our government and community leaders and recognize how outrageous and un-American the anti-Muslim demagoguery has been at the past few school board meetings .
The hatred we have seen come out at the past few school board meetings, only highlight the importance of giving our children a rich and diverse education, which simply cannot be attained through textbooks alone.
Teaching about world faiths and clearing misconceptions surrounding them, is very different than peaching.
We live in a world where there is so much conflict because people fear what they know.
It is sad that we see the same McCarthy era witch-hunts that many religious and race minorities faced in America’s past, now unleashed against wonderful leaders of the Muslim community.
Such individuals attack mainstream Islam and Muslims, under the guise of attacking Radical Islam.
When nearly 1 out of 2 Americans who do not know a Muslim think Muslims should wear special ID cards, like Jews had to do in Nazi Germany, then we know it is critical that we raise the next generation of Americans to know and respect their Muslim neighbors, as they ought to respect all neighbors.
The fact is it is difficult to fear and hate another human being once you get to know them.
We should be ashamed that our school board meetings are being used to attack an entire religion and community.
I pray that the time and energy being used to divide us, would instead be used to help the poor community, feed the homeless, tutor our children, clean our environment. Then we truly would have a better community. Let us start by getting to know each other. Do not let those promoting fear and hatred raise a flag of victory over our community.
Thank you for your time tonight, and may God bless America. Good night.