Islam Day draws heat for isles
POSTED: Friday, May 15, 2009
Hawaii already designates April 8 as Buddha Day and March 21 as Baha'i New Year's Day. Good Friday is even enshrined as an official state holiday, with public offices closed.
So state Rep. Lyla Berg thought that marking Sept. 24 as Islam Day would not be out of line in Hawaii, with its multicultural fabric. But her seemingly innocuous resolution has attracted worldwide attention—and a flurry of phone calls and e-mails, including threats to boycott Hawaii.
The state Legislature has recognized various days with religious connections:
Asian Lunar New Year Commemoration Week
Baha'i New Year's Day
Father Damien De Veuster Day
Makahiki Commemoration Day
* Official state holidays
** Recognized by resolution, not in Hawaii law
Passed unanimously by the state House and overwhelmingly in the Senate on May 6, the resolution (House Concurrent Resolution 100, House Draft 1) recognizes the "rich religious, scientific, cultural and artistic contributions" of Islam and the Islamic world. It does not have the force of law. Congress passed a similar resolution on Oct. 15, 1979, honoring the 14th centennial of Islam.
But in the post-Sept. 11, 2001, era, Hawaii's move has touched some nerves. While Berg's office has received many positive calls and e-mails, she said, her staff has also been berated by an equal number, mostly from out of state.
"By acknowledging Islam, there's an assumption that means we support terrorists," said Berg (D, Hahaione Valley-Aina Haina), who introduced the resolution with Rep. Faye Hanohano (D, Pahoa-Kalapana). "I was hopeful we would have an opportunity to become more informed on what the religion is about and the people who are connected with it, so that we don't make the broad generalizations that are happening now."
Gov. Linda Lingle told a radio interviewer that her office had received "a lot of angry calls from the mainland saying, 'We're not coming to a place that's having an Islam Day.'"
"Here we are, in a very difficult economy, and it was just unnecessary," said Lingle, who had no authority over the resolution. "It didn't make any sense. You know it's going to get this kind of attention."
As of yesterday the Hawaii Tourism Authority had received 14 e-mails and one phone call protesting the resolution. "Hawaii has always been known to be a tolerant and respectful place," said Mike McCartney, HTA president, adding that his agency has no position on the resolution.
Sen. Josh Green (D, Milolii-Waimea), one of just three senators to oppose the resolution, said it violated the separation of church and state, a view shared by the American Civil Liberties Union of Hawaii.
Many articles making the rounds on the Internet decry legislators for singling out Islam alone for praise, but a review reveals that at least 10 days with religious overtones have been recognized by the Legislature.
Confucius Day and Islam Day were marked with resolutions, which do not become part of state law or recur annually. Others, such as Buddha Day, Hawaiian Makahiki Commemoration Day and Father Damien De Veuster Day, were recognized in bills that became law, although they are not state holidays. Christmas and Good Friday are official state holidays.
Muslims are a tiny minority in Hawaii, roughly 4,000 residents, but they feel welcome here, said Hakim Ouansafi, chairman of the Muslim Association of Hawaii, who asked Berg to introduce the resolution.
"Fortunately for us, we're inundated with calls of support and encouragement, not just now, but after 9/11," he said. "This is the Aloha State. We live together, respect each other, love each other. We know that no people should be judged based on the actions of a few."
The terrorists behind the 9/11 attacks have continued bombing campaigns in Muslim countries, he noted. "It's a common enemy, and it's killing more Muslims than non-Muslims," Ouansafi said. "The Pakistan army is in full war against the terrorists on behalf of the world."
He said the Hawaii Legislature's move is helping build a bridge to Muslims, generating positive comments about America from viewers and readers of Al Jazeera and Al Arabiya, major Arabic-language news organizations.
"It's reaching the far, far corners of the world in a positive manner," he said. "The legislators have done in one resolution more to plant seeds of understanding than anyone could dream."
But Sen. Fred Hemmings (R, Lanikai-Waimanalo) said the resolution went too far. He did not realize other religions had been similarly recognized by the Legislature, but he believes Islam should not be included.
"None of those other religions have a good portion of their followers supporting and perpetrating worldwide terrorism," Hemmings said. "This is a war against civilization in the name of one religion."
"In World War II a great number of German nationals were opposed to what the Nazis were doing," he added. "Nevertheless, the Nazis were doing it in the name of Germany, and they were held accountable."
The initial version of the Hawaii resolution designated Nov. 21 as Islam Day, like the congressional resolution. But it conflicted with Makahiki celebrations, Berg said. So Ouansafi suggested Sept. 24, A.D. 644, the date the prophet Mohammad reached Quba, marking the birth of Islam. A few bloggers claim it was a clandestine effort to mark Sept. 11 on the old Julian calendar, but Ouansafi dismissed such conspiracy theories, saying he had never heard of the Julian calendar until now.