Islam means peace!" "Terrorism is condemned in Islam!" How often have I said these things as a teacher and in churches, synagogues and community centers while speaking on Islam around Tucson and to the media? Too many times to count. I'm not the only one. Across the nation, the refrain is the same. Islam means "peace," literally (in Arabic) and in its teachings. As for whether all its adherents exhibit peaceful attitudes and actions, that's another story altogether. Perceptions of Islam have worsened since 9/11, with suicide bombings, beheadings of hapless victims and attacks on U.S. troops becoming all too commonplace. It's no wonder so many non-Muslims can't distinguish between what Islam teaches and what some of its so-called adherents do. Add to this the widespread ignorance about Islam. Such was not the case for "Christian" terrorists like America's KKK, Ireland's IRA, Germany's Bader-Meinhof Gang, Italy's Red Hand Gang or, worst of all, Germany's Nazis. Their religious affiliations were never an issue. It was more or less understood who and what they were. Why is it different for Muslims? Why do the actions of so few cause 1.5 billion Muslims around the world to be painted with the same brush? Is it just the media, or are we also partially to blame?
The majority of American Muslims are immigrants, many of whom tend to remain isolated with social lives revolving around the mosque.They seldom venture outside this comfort zone, except to go to work, shop or visit friends. Change takes time. Meanwhile, their non-Muslim neighbors don't get to know them well or learn much about Islam except what they see on the news and read in the papers. Religious practices - prayers five times a day in an increasingly secular world, distinctive dress for the women (headscarves) and the celebration of different holidays - cause Muslims to stand out. In a society that promotes conformity, these are all no-nos. In the U.S., many Muslims "go to ground" when terrorist attacks happen, trying to remain as inconspicuous as possible. They say little, hoping it'll all go away and their neighbors will see them for who they are: good, decent, hard-working people with families, trying to make ends meet and adjust to a new country. Unfortunately, these days, a good example is not enough. And because of their general absence from the scene, Muslims have become easy targets for the news and political cartoonists. Fortunately, this is changing. (MORE)