U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Missouri Richard Callahan visited the Islamic Foundation of Greater St. Louis last night to address the fears and frustrations of Muslim Americans who worry they are being racially profiled and wiretapped -- and to assure them that the Missouri Legislature's attempts to ban Sharia law from being considered in state courts here could face Constitutional challenges.
Seated in front of a large Muslim audience during a town hall-style meeting at the Ballwin mosque, Callahan anchored a panel that included fellow federal attorneys (one of whom was Muslim American), as well as three members of the FBI.
The tenor of the night was polite and respectful, but several members of the crowd expressed anger over what they perceive to be rising trends of Islamophobia in America over the past couple years, citing people burning the Koran and communities banning mosques as examples.
"There is a worse kind of Muslim hatred recently," said Adil Imdad, one of the event's organizers. "Especially in the last two years, Islamophobia and fear-mongering have been spreading like wildfire, and it's causing a lot of stress for our youth."
The problem is now hitting a little closer to home, said Imdad, pointing to three bills currently circulating through the state legislature that seek to limit Sharia law (Islamic law) in Missouri courts. Sharia law could come into play in rulings considering child custody or prisoner rights for Muslims. As we've reported, the bills have become a source of controversy.
Callahan responded by hinting that, should anti-Sharia legislation get passed by the Missouri Legislature, it could be overturned by the federal courts. "The Department of Justice has a good history of challenging laws passed by state legislatures," he said. "If some laws are passed, I think you will see challenges by the federal government on the constitutionality of them."
Audience members also pressed Callahan to respond to instances of being detained and questioned on return trips to America. They asked why the media doesn't seem to cover hate crimes against Muslims, whether their phones are being tapped, and why women wearing hijabs seem to receive automatic pat-downs from TSA agents at airports.
"We come back to the United States and become personae non gratae," said an audience member, addressing the FBI representatives on the stage. "We are detained endlessly for the stamps on our passports."
Zia Faruqui, the Muslim American attorney on the panel, spoke to the crowd using several Arabic phrases, encouraging them to avoid hiding. He defended the justice system, citing 50 prosecutions in recent years against people charged with anti-Muslim crimes.