According to data released by the Pew Research Center last September, 58% of Americans know little or nothing about the practices of Islam, a percentage that has changed very little since 2001.
When I met with Melissa Matos, director of the St. Louis chapter of Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), a civil rights advocacy group for Muslims in North America, I started the conversation with questions that I hoped were basic, but not misguided.
“Can you clarify the terms Islamic and Muslim?” I asked.
“Islam—that’s the religion,” she said. “A Muslim is the believer, equivalent to a Christian or a Jew. Islamic is what you would probably call an object or an action, but Muslim is just a person.”
Broadening non-Muslims’ understanding of Islam is part of Matos’ job. With thirty-three offices in the United States, CAIR promotes a balanced image of Muslims and Islam and supports victims of civil rights abuse, more often employing intervention and education strategies than legal action.
“Our mission, first, is to educate Muslims about their rights,” Matos said, “that they are here, that they have just as much right as anyone else to fair and equal treatment, to not feeling afraid, being able to do what they want, say what they want to say, just like anyone else has the right.”
“On the other side of that, we work with the St. Louis community at large to demonstrate that Muslims are part and parcel of this state, of this city, of this country, and are hardworking Americans that love America just like everyone else.” (MORE)