Category Archives: Faith

Muslim Americans Post-9/11: Religious Persecution in the Land of the Free

An integral part of the ethos of American history is the story of the pilgrims who traveled to America on the Mayflower. These heroic figures fled England to escape religious persecution, risking the wilds of the New World to pursue the freedom to follow whichever religion they wished. This perception of religious freedom as being one of the founding ideals of this country is accentuated by the United States Constitution. The first line of the First Amendment reads, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof…” ( Following September 11, 2001, however, this ethos and the spirit of one of the most revered laws of the land was directly violated and assaulted in a manner that was reminiscent of violence against African Americans almost half a century ago. Muslim Americans unjustly faced discrimination and prejudice for their religion in the name of protecting a country that espouses freedom of religion and protection from such heinous acts.
Immediately following the terrorist attacks of 9/11, Islamic groups around the world began condemning the acts and disassociating the extremists who had carried out the acts from true Islam. Within a few hours of the attack, every major Islamic organization in the United States issued a joint statement. One part of it read, “American Muslims utterly condemn what are vicious and cowardly acts of terrorism against innocent civilians. We join with all Americans in calling for the swift apprehension and punishment of the perpetrators. No political cause could ever be assisted by such immoral acts” (Council on American-islamic relations). A joint statement was also issued by representatives of the 57 nations in the Organization of Islamic Conferences. “Such shameful terror acts are opposed to the tolerant divine message of Islam, which spurns aggression, calls for peace, coexistence, tolerance, and respect among people, highly prizes the dignity of human life, and prohibits the killing of the innocent” (Council on American-islamic relations). Leaders of predominantly Muslim countries throughout the globe also spoke out against the attacks, as did Islamic religious leaders. The stance of the majority of the Muslim world was clear.
This did not, however, stop the Islamophobic rhetoric from spreading in the United States. Famous Christian evangelical ministers spoke out vehemently against Islam. Franklin Graham delivered the invocation and sermon at George W. Bush’s first inauguration and was most recently in the news for claiming Barack Obama was an evil Muslim. Following September 11, he described Islam as “a very evil and wicked religion” (Peek). Jerry Vines, another prominent evangelical, was the president of the Southern Baptist Convention. He described the Prophet Muhammad as a “demon possessed pedophile” and asserted that “Allah is not Jehovah either. Jehovah’s not going to turn you into a terrorist that’ll try to bomb people and take the lives of thousands and thousands of people” (Peek).
Political leaders also made blanket anti-Muslim statements. Saxby Chambliss, a representative and future senator of Georgia, said that the best homeland security measure would be to “turn loose” local law enforcement and “let him arrest every Muslim that crosses the state line” (Vest). John Cooksey was a representative in Louisiana during September 11. He would later work in an ophthalmologist clinic in Baton Rouge. During his time in office, he stated, “Someone who comes in that’s got a diaper on his head and a fan belt wrapped around that diaper on his head, that guy needs to be pulled over” (Vest). Popular political talk show hosts Sean Hannity and Bill O’Reilly both compared the Qur’an to Mein Kampf, and Michael Savage demanded a complete ban on Muslim immigration and construction of mosques, claiming these measures were necessary to save the United States (Peek).islamophobia-11
The FBI received 481 reports of hate crimes against American Muslims in 2001, the vast majority occurring after September 11. This was a 1,600% increase from the year before and is an incredibly conservative figure as it does not account for any unreported hate crimes or crimes that local law enforcement dealt with without reporting a hate crime to the FBI. Crimes included assaults, vandalism, arson, violent threats, and shootings. There were definitely 12 murders following September 11 with the sole motive being discriminatory, but there may have been as many as 19 or more (FBI).
Frank Roque was the first man to commit homicide in retaliation to September 11. His first victim, however, was not Muslim at all. He was a Sikh who, wearing the traditional Sikh garb of turban and beard, was mistaken for Muslim. He was outside of his house gardening when Roque shot him. He would then go on to murder three more innocent people, only one of whom was actually Muslim. When Roque was arrested, he was quoted as saying, “I stand for America all the way. I’m an American. Go ahead. Arrest me and let those terrorists run wild” (Peek).

Mark Stroman was the second man to commit homicide in retaliation to September 11. Both of his victims were Muslims. The first was working in the convenience store he owned when Stroman burst through the door and shot him. Stroman would say after his arrest, “I did what every American wanted to do but didn’t. They didn’t have the nerve” (Peek).
Following 2001, hate crimes against Muslims have been between 100-200 crimes a year. While significantly lower than the number of crimes committed in 2001, levels have yet to come anywhere close to returning to pre-September 11 numbers. As one of the primary stories that forms the American mythology is of religious freedom, and the founding document that is held in such high regard contains religious freedom in a prominent position as the beginning of the First Amendment, one has to wonder what it is these anti-Islamic Americans are trying to protect. The political leaders, talk show hosts, and murderers all talk of protecting America and standing for America, but if it is not a land of freedom they are fighting for, what is it? If every citizen could answer this question truthfully and understand the fallacy of persecuting a religion in the name of America, maybe hate crimes against Muslims would finally end once and for all.

Works Cited:

Peek, L. A. (2011). Behind the backlash: Muslim Americans after 9/11. Philadelphia: Temple University Press.

Council on American-islamic relations, “American muslims: One year after 9/11” (report, Council on American-islamic relations research Center, Washington, DC, 2002).


Jason Vest, “Exit Jesse, Enter Saxby,” The Nation, November 12, 2002.




Religion, Peace, and Fire

Throughout much of history, religion has had a role to play in conflicts. It often has been used to legitimate violent acts, such as the brutal colonization of Latin America by the Spaniards, the Spanish Inquisition, or the Crusades, all done in the name of Catholicism. Religion also has often been the actual cause for conflict, as seen in the numerous wars in Europe following the Protestant Reformation. Many religious leaders and organizations, however, have protested vehemently against wars and all of the horrors associated with them, using a variety of different tactics. One case of this involves the Buddhists of Vietnam during the Vietnam War and self-immolation. Their goal was peace, and their method was fire.
Self-immolation is the voluntary destruction of one’s own body (in whole or in part) for religious reasons. Goossaert explains the reasons for doing this as being “mostly for transformation into a bodhisattva or Buddha, but also for more mundane aims, such as raising funds, thanking a patron, or conveying a political message.” The methods for destruction usually involve fire, such as burning a part of an arm or finger, but there have been cases of self-immolation by drowning or allowing wild animals to attack. Fire is the most common method, however, probably due to the spectacular nature of it (Goosaert).Self-immolation(Image retrieved from Daum and Curran)
The most famous case of self-immolation in Vietnam was also the first associated with the crisis that culminated in what is known as the Vietnam War. Thich (Venerable) Quang Duc, a Buddhist monk, doused himself in gasoline and lit himself on fire in Saigon on June 11, 1963. He was surrounded by approximately 700 other monks and nuns, as well as media he had invited. This resulted in Malcolm Browne’s famous photograph and sparked worldwide indignation (Daum and Curran).
Thich Quang Duc’s self-immolation was an act of protest against the suppression of Buddhist religious leaders and their followers by the minority Catholic government in South Vietnam, led by President Ngo Dihn Diem. In August, 1963, two months after Quang Duc’s self-immolation, President Ngo Dihn Diem declared martial law and began raiding Buddhist pagodas. Due in large part to Quang Duc’s act, international opinion had taken a turn for the worse in regard to the government in South Vietnam. Thus, when South Vietnamese security officials asked President John Kennedy what the U.S. response to a coup d’état would be, he decided there would be no repurcussions. President Ngo Dihn Diem regime fell and he was assassinated in November, 1963 (John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum).
Self-immolation by Buddhists would continue as an act of protest throughout the Vietnam War. While Buddhist monks would discourage people, both publicly and privately, from using self-immolation to further the cause of peace, they held those who went through with it on a pedestal as martyrs who had sacrificed themselves for a worthy cause. Cases of self-immolation even spread to American protestors as the war progressed.
Many of those who sacrificed themselves left notes, allowing a glimpse into the reasoning behind such a drastic measure. Nhat Chi Mai, who burned herself alive in 1967, wrote an open letter to the government of the U.S.A. Part of the letter reads, ““I offer my body as a torch to dissipate the dark, to waken love among men, to give peace to Vietnam, the one who burns herself for peace. I am only an ordinary Vietnamese woman, without talent or ability. But I feel pain every time I look at the situation of my country. I want to say that the empty words you have been using, ‘to defend freedom and happiness for Vietnam’, have lost all their meaning…” Nguyen Tuong Tam, burning himself in 1963, wrote a letter that exemplified how desperate many of these Buddhists were. ““History alone will be my judge. The arrest and trial of all nationalist opponents of the regime is a crime which will force this nation into the hands of the communism. In protest against this, I take my life” (Park).
Self-immolation blends the concepts of religion, politics, and desperation together in one drastic, spectacular measure. Each individual did it for reasons of varying emphasis on each concept until finally making the decision to take their own life. This shows that protests against the war and U.S. involvement were not limited to college campuses in the United States. They were on the very streets soldiers were fighting to control, and they were often seen globally. Religion still had a role to play in that conflict, and it appears it will have a role for years to come.


Works Cited:

›Daum, P. S., & Curran, T. (2011). Thichquangduc. InEncyclopedia of the vietnam war: A political, social, and military history. Retrieved from

›Goossaert, V. (2009). Burning for buddha: Self-immolation in chinesebuddhism (review). Harvard Journal of Asiatic Studies69(1), 221-225. Retrieved from

›Park, B. C. B. (2004). Sociopolitical contexts of self-immolations in vietnam and south korea. Archives of Suicide Research8(1), 81-97. doi: 10.1080/ 13811110490243796

›Vietnam, diem, the buddhist crisis. (n.d.). Retrieved from

Religious Responses to WWII

World War II marked a turning point in the history of the entire world. Entire governments collapsed to be replaced by more liberal systems supported by the funds of the Marshall Plan. Europe was divided between the East and the West, setting the stage for international politics for the next fifty years and beyond in the form of the ideological Cold War of the United States of America and the Soviet Union. These radical changes came at a hefty fee. Millions of soldiers and civilians died across several different continents, and whole populations were murdered in the Holocaust, the most horrific campaign in recorded history. How did people respond and react to these atrocities? I will examine the role of faith in these reactions using two separate examples on two different continents: conscientious war objectors in the United States and the Existentialist movement in Europe.

During World War II, if a person was drafted, there were only so many ways to avoid joining the military. One of these ways was to claim to be a conscientious objector to war. This meant that one’s conscience forbade that person from killing. The claimant would then undergo a thorough and stringent examination by the local draft board to ensure the claimant was actually a conscientious objector and not just a draft dodger. The objection could come from a variety of reasons, such as political or ethical. Most objections, however, came from religious reasons. In lieu of military service, these individuals would work at Civilian Public Service camps, allowing them to provide support for the war effort without actually committing any violence, an option the vast majority was willing to take, conforming to the American bravado of the period while maintaining their religious beliefs. This work took the form of acting as park rangers, working in mental hospitals, planting trees, working on dairy farms, and even acting as subjects in medical experiments. Approximately 12,000 people worked in the Civilian Public Service camps, 7,000 of whom were members of the Church of the Brethren and other Mennonite groups (


Many objectors volunteered to participate in this effort, another testament to how many of these people supported the war but felt they themselves could not commit violence. Norman J. Whitney was a conscientious objector who objected for religious reasons. He was a Quaker, a teacher, and a writer. He volunteered at several Civilian Public Service camps, primarily acting as a counselor for other conscientious objectors. Raymond and Helen Binford, both Quakers, were also objectors who volunteered with the Civilian Public Service. Raymond was the president of Guilford College in High Point, North Carolina. After working there for 19 years, he took a leave of absence to serve as the director of a Civilian Public Service camp and was accompanied by his wife (


This patriotic approach to the war and religion was very different from the European movement of Existentialism that followed the war. The war was far away from American soil but was often quite literally in the backyard of Europeans. The horrors of the war and the Holocaust had created a chasm in the perceived humanity of Europe. The beliefs of the past century were obliterated: that Europe was intrinsically unique and superior, the ideals of nationalism, and that humanity was on an upward trajectory towards perfection. Philosophers such as Jean-Paul Sartre and Albert Camus provided answers in their world view called Existentialism. They claimed that all grand, transcendent ideas like God and religion were human inventions. If these things did not exist, then it was up to mankind to take personal responsibility for things such as ethics and meaning. Many Europeans, and soon some Americans, felt that this world view provided the answers to the questions that had been created by the sheer destruction and massacre that was World War II.

Works Cited:

The civilian public service story: Living peace in a time of war. (2014). Retrieved from

Manuscript collections in the swarthmore college peace collection that relate to conscientious objection. (2007, 03 19). Retrieved from


Religion and the Civil War

The Civil War was the bloodiest and deadliest war in American history as far as American casualties. In many cases, brother fought brother and neighbor fought neighbor. In almost all cases, those who once were fellow countrymen fought each other. What drove these men and women to throw themselves so fully behind a cause to be willing to fight against, and often kill, these people who before were their friends and compatriots? There are many factors and answers to this complex question, but one of note is the role of religion.triumph

““…never in the course of my observation, or in my reading of human history, had I seen the hand of Providence so signally manifested as the events of this war.” Prominent abolitionist Lydia Maria Child wrote these words in a letter to a friend concerning her brother’s death (1863). By “Providence”, Child was referring to a deterministic view of life as designed by a higher power. Under this belief, every choice and action of every person is pre-determined, leading to an end result of Heaven on Earth and a utopia for the rest of eternity. This was a prominent belief amongst many Christian denominations in the early years of the United States. With this letter, Child articulated a view that was widely held across the Union. Freedom and equality for all was part of God’s final plan. This war was just another pre-determined step towards the final utopia. The victory of the Union and the abolition of slavery must happen for the sake of faith. Through this rhetoric, there very much was a melding of the political and the religious of the minds of the people.

Where did this melding begin? Robert Bellah, in his article “Civil Religion in America”, describes a phenomenon he calls civil religion. This phenomenon is essentially what today we call nation-building. In the present day United States, the only thing that ties all Americans together is the fact that all Americans have some sort of affiliation with a geographical territory demarcated by imaginary lines. In order to mobilize this population, it becomes necessary to create more of a sense of unity. Civil religion accomplishes this, metaphorically, with the scriptures of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, the prophets of the Founding Fathers and the Presidents, and the holy sites of the Liberty Bell and Washington, D.C. (1967). President Lincoln, who claimed to be Christian but never affiliated himself with a denomination, often saw the Union in an almost mystical light as the torch-bearer of this pre-determined path towards freedom and equality. In his second inaugural address he said, “…if God wills that it continue until…every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said ‘the judgements of the Lord are true and righteous all together’” (quoted in Bellah, 1967, p. 106). This creation of civil religion, placed with the Christian faith of many of the citizens, and coinciding with the Civil War, may have created this sense of a holy war against the South.P32019292e

There were also other religious movements that may not have been entirely caused by the Civil War but did coincide and may have been encouraged by the horrors people were witnessing. Another prominent abolitionist, Lucretia Coffin Mott, exemplified one of these movements in a letter concerning the death of a family member. She said, “I feel at times as if in spirit she may be nearer to us than we imagine” (1864). She went on to discuss how her entire life, she had been taught that Heaven was a place that was far away and impossible for anyone to reach short of a moral life and eventual death. She began to question this, however, after he family member’s death, claiming her faith was above “sectarian theologies and speculations” (402). This hints towards a religious perspective outside of institutional control. The notion of faith above all is reminiscent of the Roman Catholic and Grandfather of Existentialism, Soren Kierkegaard. Mott may have read Kierkegaard or one of his many students, or she may have arrived at the conclusion on her own. Either way, her doubt in institutional religion and confidence in her own faith is clear, just as it was for many other thinkers of that period.

Works Cited:

Bellah, R. N. (2005). Civil religion in america. Daedalus, 134(4), 40-55. Retrieved from
Child, L.M. (1863). Letter from Lydia Maria Child to Sarah Blake Sturgis Shaw. In Letters of Lydia Maria Child, 172-174. Boston, MA: Houghton, Mifflin & Co., 1883.
Mott, L. C. (1862). Letter from Lucretia Coffin Mott to Martha Coffin Pelham Wright. In James and Lucretia Mott: Life and Letters, 402-403. Boston, MA: Houghton, Mifflin & Co., 1884.