A recent article about a Yermo mosque being burned down reminded me about my time in the High Desert, living and working as an American Muslim.

According to news reports, the mosque was randomly set on fire along with other structures. If the incident was determined to be not bias-related, then it is a relief, and I hope that Muslims in Yermo can find the strength and resolve to rebuild their house of worship, with the support of the local community.

My stay in the High Desert was brief, yet I have fond memories of driving around Barstow gathering news and reporting it for the Desert Dispatch. How can I forget attending Barstow City Council meetings and watching the drama unfold as five council members engaged in heated, and passionate discussions, about the future of Barstow?

During my time in the High Desert, I also clearly remember meeting warm and friendly people who helped me out with my stories and let me in on happenings around town. Being a Muslim, I even got some inquiries about my faith, Islam, and my hijab – the Islamic headscarf.

I like and encourage such questions, just like Yermo’s Ali Mohammed, because there seems to be so much misinformation out there about Muslims and Islam. The Council on American-Islamic Relations, a Muslim advocacy group I now work for, conducted a survey last year highlighting how little Americans know about Islam.

The results were astounding. About 60 percent of respondents said they were “not very knowledgeable” or “not at all knowledgeable” about Islam, while a mere 2 percent said they were “very knowledgeable” about Islam. About 10 percent also said Muslims believe in a moon god.

For the record, Muslims don’t believe in a moon god. I haven’t the slightest idea where that misperception came from. In reality, Muslims have a lot in common with Christians and Jews, who are given a special status in the Holy Book, the Quran, as “People of the Book.” Abraham is the patriarch of the three faiths, and Muslims follow the teachings revealed to Abraham – belief in one God and doing of good, charitable work. Islam also teaches that God sent down many messengers following Abraham, like Moses, Jesus and Muhammad to instill in human beings those moral values. It is a religion practiced by six to seven million American Muslims and over a billion around the world.

[Munira Syeda is the communications coordinator, Council on American-Islamic Relations, Southern California office, and a former reporter for the Desert Dispatch.]


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