[Hussam Ayloush is executive director of the Southern California Council on American-Islamic Relations.]

After 9/11 I could see the looks, especially when I was with my wife, who wears a head dress. I know it exists. Polls show us many people do hold feelings of prejudice toward Muslims.

Deep inside, people are saying we should subject Muslims to extra searches at airports; some would rather not have a Muslim neighbor. Fortunately, only a small number of people take action based on those feelings.

The growing anti-Islamic sentiment in this country was reflected in the unfortunate use of the offensive term “Islamic fascist” by the president. Regardless of his intentions, and no one can truly know another’s intentions, what matters is it was perceived by Muslims as an unfortunate link between the peaceful teachings of Islam and the evil ideology of fascism.

The concern we have is that such rhetoric alienates the very same people whose hearts and minds we are trying to win – the 1.3 billion Muslims in the world who we need as partners to alienate and challenge the minority of extremists among them.

The looks and the comments you sometimes hear are people making the assumption that Muslims do not belong in America. Compared to the amount of positive remarks and gestures I’ve received from people, those negative incidents are insignificant. I try not to dwell on the negative few. I’d rather celebrate the positive many.

The source of most hatred and prejudice is ignorance, and the only way to fight that is through education. That, unfortunately, takes time and patience. I do have faith that this state of misperception of Islam will come to and end, judging by our country’s history toward all other religious and ethnic minorities.

Yes, there has been an increase of Islamaphobia and an increase in the number of hate incidents against Muslims. However, the bright side of this tragic increase of anti-Muslim sentiment provides and opportunity for Muslims to reach out to their fellow Americans and show them who they truly are and what they truly believe.


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