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John L. Esposito: Getting It Right About Islam and American Muslims

American Muslims deserve a break. There are as many as 6 million to 8 million Muslims living in the United States and contributing to the country as doctors, engineers, artists, actors and professionals, but for a decade many have found themselves and their religion wrongly equated with the acts of terrorists like Osama bin Laden. Many have been the victims of fear, suspicion, prejudice, Muslim-bashing, unlawful surveillance, illegal search, arrest and imprisonment.

Efforts to build Islamic centers and mosques in New York, Wisconsin, Kentucky and Tennessee have been equated with building monuments to terrorism. Prominent American public figures and politicians — including Bill O’Reilly, Sarah Palin, Rep. Peter King and Newt Gingrich — openly spoke against Muslims and encouraged unfounded social suspicion of them. The net result is an increase in anti-Islam and anti-Muslim bashing, witnessed in the hysteria that has led to a movement across some 20 states in America to ban sharia.

Today’s historic changes, the death of Osama bin Laden and the Arab Spring offer an opportunity to redress anti-Islam and anti-Muslim bias (Islamophobia) and to reaffirm that American Muslims, like other mainstream Americans, desire a secure and democratic America. Despite the fact that American Muslims years have had to explain that neither they — nor their religion — sanction terrorism.

Major polls have consistently shown American public opinion of Islam plunging. The furor over the proposed Islamic center (Park 51) in New York City resurfaced hostility toward Islam and Muslims. According to the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life, large minorities said they could not think of anything positive to say about Islam. In one study, 38 percent of Americans have an unfavorable view of Islam, compared to 30 percent who reported a positive view. Another study conducted by The Washington Post found Islam’s unfavorable image creeping up to 49 percent among Americans.

This fear and hostility has been reinforced by the American public’s basic ignorance and misunderstanding of Islam: The Pew Forum’s September 2010 survey of religion literacy found that only about half of Americans know that the Quran is the holy book of Islam. It also found that less than a third know that most people in Indonesia — the world’s most populous Muslim nation — are, in fact, Muslim. What many did know and fear were stereotypes based on misinformation.

Mainstream American Muslims have too often been equated inaccurately with terrorists and people who reject democracy. Muslim Americans cherish the freedoms guaranteed by the American Constitution as much as others and, as the Gallup World Poll of 35 Muslim countries reported, like all Americans, majorities of Muslims globally desire democracy and freedom and fear and reject religious extremism and terrorism.

Failure to recognize and appreciate these facts continues to feed a growing Islamophobia in America that threatens the safety, security and civil liberties of many American Muslims despite the fact that, as Gallup and Pew polls have shown, they are as educationally, economically and politically integrated as other Americans. It is time to remember and act on the words of President George W. Bush in calling upon all American to distinguish between the religion of Islam and the acts of a fraction of Muslims who commit acts of terrorism and President Barack Obama’s words reminding Americans that: “the United States is not — and never will be — at war with Islam. … Bin Laden was not a Muslim leader; he was a mass murderer of Muslims. Indeed, al Qaeda has slaughtered scores of Muslims in many countries, including our own.”

It’s time to turn a deaf ear to our preachers and politicians of hate and get it right with our American Muslim fellow citizens.

John L. Esposito, the author of ‘The Future of Islam,’ is the founding director of the Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding at Georgetown University. Sheila B. Lalwani is a research fellow at the center.

Original post: Getting It Right About Islam and American Muslims

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2 Comments »

  1. Lovin this movement.. I honor, respect & have love for many different beliefs & even sects. That is mainly due to the fact that I was raised around plenty of them. Some people that do not have any religion & consider themselves religion-less & think religion is a disease, I actually respect their frame of thought, mainly because a lot of them are scholars & revolutionaries in search for the truth. But some professors, & teachers I honored, loved & respected my whole adolescent life are moving towards the revolution, but they’re going into it full on so drastically that their motives are turning from being revolutionaries to “antagonistic’aires”. This is in combination with full on attacks on Islam.. They don’t realize that if they even get what they want from this, which, is for us to revolt as Muslims, we will simply be put in concentration camps, similar to the Japanese intellects during WW2. Anyway, this was just some food for though for now. I am not rereading this, so sorry for the typos or sentence frag’s. As always, 1 muthafLunkin love!
    Peace!

  2. The end of the article is a little arrogant calling for people to ignore their preachers and politicians of hate while not calling on Muslims to ignore the Imams and Islamic spewers of hate. After all it is this group of people that got this entire mess started in the first place. In the end most of the discrimination and fear that Muslims are encountering is a direct result of the actions that groups of hate filled Muslims have perpetrated. You cannot blame people for reacting to a situation, however, American reactions are mild compared to the reactions that occur in various Muslim dominated countries. For example, the Mosque protests are just that protests and people taking civil action. How many Muslim’s have been killed over the Mosque issue? Look at the Koran burning: how many people died over that and how much property was destroyed? Do I think that people should be critical of their leaders be they preachers, politicians, or academics? Yes I do, but if one side is going to ask the other side for an introspection of beliefs and actions then the people doing the requesting need to follow the same course of action.

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