As a Muslim American, I strongly condemn the atrocious attacks on the diplomatic facility in Benghazi, which resulted in the murder of four Americans, including Ambassador Chris Stevens, and the continued violence throughout the Middle East. Contrary to the images that have been replicated around the world, Islam is a religion of peace and does not justify attacks against innocent people.
As this violence proliferates abroad we must ask ourselves a question: How is this affecting the image of millions of Muslim Americans who live here in the U.S.? The American public continues to view Islam through two basic lenses: First, there is the 9/11 lens that brings to mind images of religious fanatics and terrorism, and second, the disrespect to Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) lens, in which communities throughout the Middle East have responded violently to parodies or insults of the Prophet.
The American public needs to better understand the Islamic faith and what it stands for by getting to know their Muslim neighbors, approximately 7 million of whom live in the United States. If they did, they might realize that the Islamic faith prohibits any Muslim from criticizing or making fun of any other religious figure such as Jesus, Buddha or Moses.
Like Jews, Christians and Hindus, the vast majority of Muslims in the world practice their faith peacefully while devoting their lives to worshipping God. No practicing Muslim would advocate violence in any form in response to cartoons or films, no matter how offensive. What is important to note here is that the fundamental elements of our faith are grounded in the belief and respect of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) and an insult on his noble personality is injurious to more than 1.5 billion Muslims across the globe. Images of terrorists and extremists are being used by politicians and hate groups alike to misrepresent Muslims and propagate religious intolerance.
All good Muslims live their lives in accordance the teachings of the Prophet, who was known for his tolerance and self-restraint, even when he was faced with mobs that threw trash on him. In fact he prayed for the recovery of a sick woman who was known to have been throwing garbage on his path.
It is incumbent on Muslim Americans who live in this country to correct the myths and educate our fellow citizens about who we are and what we stand for. Muslim Americans respectfully uphold the United States Constitution which guarantees the rights of freedom of speech and freedom of religion, which enables every citizen to practice his or her faith freely.
Those who take offense to the film, as I do, should follow the examples of another Prophet, Jesus Christ, who is revered and respected in the Quran. Jesus practiced humility and kindness even as he was faced with those who wished harm upon him. He demonstrated great forbearance, as Prophet Muhammad did.
Let’s not forget that a handful of religious extremists here in the U.S. produced and disseminated this film, provoking religious extremists abroad. At the end of the day extremism is our enemy. A great American, Dr. Martin Luther King, once said, “The ultimate weakness of violence is that it is a descending spiral, begetting the very thing it seeks to destroy. Instead of diminishing evil, it multiplies it.”
Hate undermines the righteousness of our cause. Muslim Americans are devout in their faith toward God and at the same time they are good citizens who believe in and are willing to defend America and its freedoms.
In response to the recent rise in anti-Muslim hate groups and the demonization of Muslims in the media, the Islamic Circle of North America has embarked on a campaign to explain our Islamic faith to the American public. The ongoing campaign is traveling to 36 cities with billboards, PSAs, town hall meetings, college campus seminars, and a 24-hour hotline inviting people to ask questions about Islam and engage in positive discourse.
We still have a long way to go, and the violent protests in the Middle East only reinforce the need for Muslim Americans to reach out and talk to their neighbors. Our American community needs to address the elephant in the room which is that millions of Americans are being discriminated against, simply because of their religious affiliation.
To make matters worse, extremists in the United States continue to prey on Americans’ Islamophobic fears, doing so for personal and political gain. As a result, we are calling on members of our Muslim community and on our fellow Americans to stand together and defend our right to religious freedom as citizens of the United States of America and as guaranteed by our Constitution.