The Islamic Center of Irving, one of the largest mosques in Texas, has recently become home to the first Islamic Tribunal hearing cases under Sharia law in the United States.
Members of the Islamic community who wish to bring civil matters in front of the Tribunal can have their cases heard and a judgment rendered based on the principles of the Muslim religious and moral code known as Sharia. No one can be forced to have their case heard before the Tribunal, and anyone who dislikes the ruling of the Tribunal can take their case to U.S. civil court and have it heard by a civil judge. The Tribunal has no authority to hear cases involving criminal activity or child custody and it cannot require the transfer of assets.
Like other mediating bodies, the Tribunal’s judgments are secondary to that of any state or federal court. However, the tribunal offers those who choose to take advantage of it a way to settle their disputes without paying exorbitant lawyer fees or spending untold hours locked in court proceedings. Perhaps the greatest advantage the Tribunal offers to the larger Muslim community, which contains a tremendous number of first-generation immigrants, is a system of justice they understand more completely and can maneuver through more easily than the one offered by traditional U.S. courts.
While another Irving first is definitely news, the Islamic Tribunal, strictly speaking, is not the reason for this editorial. As a community, we should be prepared for the attention the Tribunal will bring to the city of Irving and what may follow.
In the past month, Texas has become relatively famous for anti-Islamic protests. On Jan. 17, thousands of protesters and counter protesters descended on Garland as Muslims held a conference. On Jan. 29, protesters interrupted Texas Muslim Capital Day in Austin with one woman going so far as to commandeer a podium and microphone from the assembly, so her views could be heard loudly.
We should be aware there is a possibility that some of these people may choose Irving as their next target for protesting. If this occurs, they will be followed by news crews with cameras, and for an instant, they will be the face, image and representation of Irving to the world. Whatever economic or marketing damage they manage to do to our city, we will weather it as we have other crises by relying on the strength of our industry and our community.
The mosque is a permanent part of Irving, and the people who worship in the mosque are part of our community. We work together. Our children attend the same schools and run on the same playgrounds. We shop in the same stores and eat in the same restaurants.
No matter what signs are held up, chants are shouted or vitriol is spewed, no one living here today is going to pack up and leave. But the hurt endured by those who share our daily lives should not be overlooked by the rest of us simply because we do not share their religion.
The greater damage these hatemongers inflict on our community could be far-reaching. Children seeing their parents and family ridiculed and their religion maligned might hold onto these images for years to come. In two, five, 10 years, it may well be this community that pays for the folly of those protesters.
So first, let me warn you of something that may never happen. Protesters seeking to limit the religious and social freedoms of others might one day, relatively soon, come to Irving. On the surface they may be protesting a singular idea or religion, but in a greater sense, they are using their freedom speech and freedom of assembly to attack people who have elected to make Irving their home and who have brought with them their unique cultures, talents and personalities to help make Irving a strong and vibrant community.
Secondly, I would ask you to be prepared should this come to pass. Be aware of the harm words can do and the good as well. Be ready with a kind word or friendly gesture towards a friend, coworker or someone you happen to meet along the way who may be hurting because of the unkind actions of others. Whatever you can do in your own small way to lessen the damage done in our community early on will do worlds to heal people’s hearts in the future.