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ISLAM-OPED: U.S. MUSLIMS SEEK UNDERSTANDING, ACCEPTANCE
By Hadia Mubarak
WORD COUNT: 769
[Hadia Mubarak is a member of the national board of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, the nation's largest Muslim civil liberties group. Mubarak is currently a researcher at American University's School of International Service in Washington, D.C.]
Following the recent publication of an editorial I wrote criticizing America's policy in the Middle East, my inbox overflowed with Islamophobic e-mail messages.
Rather than address legitimate concerns about America's material and diplomatic support for Israeli attacks on Lebanese civilians, dozens of readers tapped out e-mails reeking of hatred toward Islam and Muslims. I was truly alarmed by the intense level of hate expressed by people who do not even know me.
One reader wrote: "I hope Israelis kill EVERY DAMN one of your violent buddies!! THEN the Middle East may finally know peace!. . .From now on Westerners should give Islamics a dose of their own deceit and terror."
Another person wrote: "Surely you must know deep down inside what most of us in this country really think of the ARAB/ISLAMIC world. It's not pretty to say the least."
Several e-mails suggested that I clean my "own house first" before asking anything of Americans. Ironically, as a native-born American, the United States is the only country I call home.
Religious bigotry is nothing new to me. I was only four years old when our next-door neighbor in New Brunswick, N.J., called my mother a "rag head." My mother did not respond to the slur, she just buckled my sister and me into our family's white station wagon and drove us to daycare without saying a word.
I was about 12 when two teenagers fishing at a creek near my parents' house in Panama City, Fla., yelled out to me, "Do you [expletive] with that on?" referring to my Islamic headscarf.
In 2002, I was the last one out of the building when Charles Franklin slammed his truck into the front entrance of the Islamic Center of Tallahassee. He told authorities his act was motivated by hatred of Muslims and that he tried to join the military to kill Muslims but had been turned down.
Growing up in a country in which Islam remains a mysterious, widely-misunderstood religion - stereotyped by images of submissive veiled women and false notions of 'Holy War' - I have become accustomed to the double takes at my headscarf, slurs about my religion or ethnicity and the prejudice produced by ignorance.
This hatred and intolerance is driven by fear and an inability to understand the violence that is plaguing parts of the Muslim world, from the insurgency in Iraq and the current conflict between Hizbollah and Israel, to the battle between warlords and Islamic groups in Somalia.
Lack of political awareness in our society causes many Americans to ignore historical, geographical and socio-economic factors and to conclude that Islam is at the root of the ongoing violence worldwide.
This conclusion ignores core Islamic values derived from Quranic injunctions and prophetic traditions that forbid the killing of civilians and demand that Muslims uphold mercy, justice and compassion.
Unfortunately, many of my fellow citizens have come to define American Muslims through the prism of international events that are completely unrelated to Islam or Muslims in the United States. Consequently, as hostility escalates between the United States and some Islamic nations, American Muslims become the closest targets for bigots and extremists.
The underlying problem is our society's inability to fathom the concept of an "American Muslim." From our attire to dietary restrictions that actually resemble those of Orthodox Judaism, our commitment to Islam is mistakenly perceived as an attempt to hold on to a foreign culture and a reluctance to assimilate. It is as if we are being asked to choose between America and Islam.
Islam is simply a faith, a belief in the mortality of the soul and its ultimate accountability to God, the Creator of the Heavens and Earth. Faith is not derived from a particular culture or the country in which one is born. Faith is a product of one's life experiences, fears, hopes, and the inability to predict or control the future.
Until Muslims come to own a legitimate space in the American public consciousness, our identity and loyalty will always be points of contention. And until Muslims are fully accepted in our society, people like me will continue to feel less and less secure. With every terror attack that takes place anywhere in the Muslim world, I know I will find one more piece of hate mail in my inbox and I will hear the words "go back home" one more time.
Americans of all faiths have a role to play in creating a society based on mutual understanding and interfaith tolerance. How about starting with an e-mail message that promotes true dialogue, not just mistrust and hatred. Send it to: firstname.lastname@example.org