A Muslim woman in Dearborn, Mich., lodged a complaint Tuesday against Fitness USA for an alleged civil rights violation involving a fellow gym patron. According to Jodi Berry, executive director of Fitness USA, Wardeh Sultan was praying in front of another member’s locker when the member wanted access to her belongings inside the locker. The inconvenienced patron tried to interrupt Ms. Sultan, but she remained prostrate in front of the locker and an altercation ensued. A manager was called into the locker room to intervene.
Ms. Sultan later complained that the Fitness USA management was unconcerned about the humiliation she suffered when her prayers were interrupted. She stated that the gym personnel were insensitive, rejected her complaints and did not satisfactorily intervene on her behalf. Ms. Sultan further reported that the manager told her, “You have to respect her (the other patron), but she does not have to respect your god.”
The incident is yet another example of special treatment Muslims are increasingly demanding nationwide. Last April, at the Lincoln Park, Mich. Fitness USA location, 200 Muslim women signed a petition demanding separate workout times for men and women, or, at minimum, installation of a divider between the men’s and women’s gym sections. A screen was eventually erected to obstruct the view of the women’s facilities. Another Fitness USA facility recently revised a dress code to allow Muslim women to wear more modest dress while exercising.
Other examples abound. Last week, six imams demonstrated against U.S. Airways for alleged discrimination against Muslims and their religious practices after they were detained and questioned because they had been praying in the Minneapolis airport, loudly invoking Allah’s name and uttering anti-American statements. Recently, Muslim cabdrivers refused to carry passengers possessing alcoholic beverages or accompanied by seeing-eye dogs. Last year, city public swimming pools in Seattle, responding to pressure from Muslims, instituted regularly scheduled hours for exclusive use by Muslims, including a “Muslim Sister Swim.” In June in a Chicago suburb, a Muslim girls basketball team, whose players compete wearing long, blue gowns and hijabs, requested that in competitions with non-Muslims schools, no men or boys be allowed to watch the games.
What is behind this rash of demands for tolerance and accompanying allegations of discrimination by Muslims? Could this be part of an agenda contrived to intimidate non-Muslims into enacting special concessions and privileges for Muslims that subtlety alter American society step by step? Is this the beginning of a militant movement or a cultural jihad toward incremental demands with the ultimate goal of Islamicizing the U.S. and imposing Sharia law?
At the same time, Muslims are alleging with greater frequency and vitriol that a growing intolerance of Islam exists and that the rights of Muslims to speak and worship freely are under attack by Americans. Muslim leaders such as Salam Al-Marayati, executive director of the Muslim Public Affairs Council, insist that Muslims have a right to petition for special accommodation based on their religious beliefs as mandated by the First Amendment. In truth, no requirement exists, either in state or federal statutes, requiring that such petitions be addressed or behavior adjusted accordingly. Further, the locations in question are publicly owned businesses providing services to the general public under behavioral and societal norms accepted by the majority of Americans. These are not private clubs exclusive to Muslim patrons and nothing prevents Muslims from creating their own private clubs to accommodate their needs. If a religion prohibits males and females from swimming together, its practitioners shouldn’t swim in public pools. If devout Muslim girls must play basketball in burkas away from the gaze of boys and men, competitions may be arranged exclusively with Muslims schools.
In the case of gym patrons, how far will the requests go before non-Muslim women are subservient to the whims and demands of Muslims? If a Muslim woman decides to spontaneously pray between the bench press and the treadmill are non-Muslims expected to alter their circuit in order not to disturb her? What if Muslims decide that they are uncomfortable with the immodest attire of non-Muslims exercising around them? Will they eventually demand that all gym participants dress according to a standard that they establish as appropriate? Once a Muslim-approved standard of dress is observed in the gym, would it be extended to cover shopping malls, post offices, other community locations and eventually an entire region?
As for praying in public places, such as fitness centers and airport terminals, to what extent should this be accommodated by American society? Do Muslims really believe that a gym locker room is a desirable and appropriate place for prayer? Can’t they schedule their day to attend the gym between calls to prayer or pray silently or in their cars? Most airports have non-denominational chapels for all religions. Aren’t these spaces more appropriate for vocal and physical attitudes of prayer than a busy terminal filled with passengers? In a post 9-11 world, it is unrealistic to expect that loud proclamations of Islamic faithfulness mixed with condemnations of U.S. policy will not raise suspicion and cause alarm. The tragedy of 9-11 has forever changed the air travel experience and certain behaviors are already constrained in the interest of American security. Is vocal and extreme religious behavior exempt?
Countless others have immigrated to the United States without demanding that we change our society to meet their religious requirements. It’s unfathomable that an orthodox Jewish taxi driver would deny passage to a person eating a ham sandwich or a Jehovah’s Witness would deny service to a passenger carrying a bottle of wine. We have already re-engineered assembly lines (Tyson Foods and Dell Computer) and overturned a city noise ordinance to allow for Muslim calls to prayer. Squiggle graphics on Burger King ice cream cones were discontinued as they allegedly resembled the Arabic spelling of Allah. Under threat of a lawsuit, Nike recalled a sneaker with a heel design that was also similar to the Arabic configuration for Allah and built three playgrounds in U.S. Islamic communities designated by the Council on American-Islamic Relations.
Where will this intimidation and shakedown of Americans and American institutions end? Will racism and bigotry accusations shame us into capitulating and abandoning our vigilance and security precautions? Will we be lured into curtailing our surveillance procedures, weakening the Patriot Act and enacting religious intolerance legislation focusing on Muslims? Muslim charges of victimization and discrimination have already paved the way for a variety of special treatment and dispensations. How many changes must we see on the American landscape and how far must Americans be pushed for concessions before we collectively say, “Enough?”