Tea Party circles in East Tennessee might seem an unlikely environment for launching a Muslim organization. Will Coley, 31, a Tennessee native, Muslim convert and Tea Party activist, is behind a one-person Muslim outreach project to Tea Party conservatives and libertarians that grew into a Facebook group countering
‘Islamophobia’ (justified anti-Muslim sentiment) on the Right.
Illume Magazine The message: Islam is compatible with an anti-big government or libertarian philosophy. They do not denounce sharia, but defend it within a libertarian framework. “Our approach is different,” says Coley. “We use principles within sharia like maqasid (primary goals) to show their connection with John Locke’s principles of life, liberty and property.”
Coley, whose group Muslims For Liberty, claims this strategy makes an impact. “I have noticed everywhere we go it is about the same,” says Coley. “We talk to 50 people. The five to six that pointed the group in an anti-Islam direction still hate us, but the rest start thinking, researching.”
Muslims for Liberty is currently focused on confronting the most vociferous anti Muslim voices in America, like Pam Geller, Zuhdi Jasser, Robert Spencer and others, and demanding that they prove what they claim. Coley says:
“We have people on our staff with knowledge of Islam, knowledge of fiqh, knowledge of Sharia… We want an opportunity to expose these people for the fraud that they are, and show that they are spreading anti Muslim hysteria for profit in our society.“
So far, most of these so called “Sharia experts” have rejected his invitations which he believes is because they know that if they debate anyone with credentials it will expose them as charlatans.
Most notably, in 2011 Coley persuaded the majority of Tea Party organizations in East Tennessee to take a stand against Islamophobia. After speaking with fourteen Tea Party chapters about Muslim beliefs on liberty and sharia (Islamic religious law code), twelve of them agreed to reject anti-Muslim appeals. They even publically supported a petition opposing a proposed “sharia ban” in Tennessee.
The sudden announcement in the press of anti-sharia legislation in the Tennessee House and Senate changed everything.
“[We] changed the format of the Islam Awareness lectures at the library. Since sharia had become the issue, we decided to devote each week to covering a different area or aspect ofsharia,” says Coley. “We invited two Tea Party groups. One cursed at me, called me names and said I was Muslim and therefore they had no interest in speaking to me or hearing anything my ‘lying mouth’ had to say. The other invited other Tea Party groups.”
“After the lectures, these Tea Party groups took our information home with them. We offered paper, pens, and wrote notes on the board. Then there was a meeting of all the East Tennessee tea party groups, fourteen in all, and they had a vote. 12/2 was the vote, to abandon attacking Islam as a tactic.”