As Jim Wallis, from Sojourners, observed this week: “A sad reality in the past year or more has been our ongoing struggle to engage in difficult conversations — with our longtime friends, with coworkers, or even with family members across the Thanksgiving table.”
“We’ve always had differences around social and political issues — racial justice, immigration, religious identity, health care, guns, etc. — but those divisions,” Wallis stressed, “are starker than ever. Our traditional and social media have become so fragmented and polarized that we find ourselves practically inhabiting a different reality than those we disagree with; we only really hear or engage with the perspectives of those with whom we already largely agree. This is not a tenable situation for our country — or for our families. If we are to maintain meaningful relationships, we need to actively engage in difficult conversations with people we disagree with and find some common ground for the common good.”
My reflection this week is about Muslims in America: American Muslims.
Some time ago a “friend” emailed me that he really feared that Muslim terrorists were taking over the United States. I wrote back that I was more afraid of gun-slinging, radicalized white evangelical Christians. The next day I was “unfriended” on Facebook.
Muslims make up about 1 % of the total US population. Nevertheless, many Americans are suspicious (and ignorant) about Muslim beliefs and motives. President Trump has said he wanted to ban Muslims from entering America. It is impossible however to take America out of American Muslims; and 92 % of American Muslims say they’re proud to be Americans—about the same as the general public. American Muslims reject Islamic extremism by larger margins than do Muslim minorities in other countries.
According to statistics published this week by the Pew Research Center, however, the number of assaults against Muslims in the United States rose significantly between 2015 and 2016, surpassing the peak reached in 2001, following the September 11 terrorist attacks. Hate crimes, intimidation, and vandalism against Muslims have risen significantly. A Pew Research Center survey conducted in early 2017, found that three-quarters of Muslim American adults (75%) say there is “a lot” of discrimination against Muslims in the U.S.
There is a natural human tendency for people to fear what they really don’t know. And most Americans simply do not know Islam or Muslims. President Trump’s divisive rhetoric reflects the dark side of this unfamiliarity. In the long run, however, I remain optimistic. Once more Americans become friends and neighbors with Muslims, anti-Muslim prejudice is bound to subside. We need better information and more inter-religious dialogue and continuing education.
Christianity and Islam are the largest religions in the world. They are both monotheistic religions and share, with Judaism, the Abrahamic Tradition. We all believe in the same God.
Although there are Christian terrorists, Christianity is not per se a terrorist religion. Islam isn’t either. Terrorist groups are EXTREMIST groups. Extremists regularly ignore the actual words written in their scriptures, whether the New Testament, the Hebrew Scriptures, or the Qur’an.
Ever since 9/11, the Council on American-Islamic Relations, prominent Muslims, Islamic organizations, and Islamic scholars have repeatedly denounced extremism, terrorism, and terrorist attacks. Muslim Americans have been successfully integrating into U.S. society. In fact, they are more opposed to intolerance and violence than many other Americans. Nevertheless, ignorance continues to cloud the U.S. public’s perception of Islam. “Jihad,” for example, is a term that is often misunderstood and associated with violent radical militants. According to the Council on American-Islamic Relations, however, the word jihad means to “strive, struggle and exert effort.” It is a central and broad Muslim concept that includes the struggle against evil inclinations within oneself, the struggle to improve the quality of life in society, and the struggle by military forces in the battlefield for self-defense or fighting against tyranny or oppression.
Although there is much hysteria about it, especially among American extremists, Sharia Law, also known as Islamic Law, is primarily about protecting the innocent and upholding Islamic values. Islamic scholars in the United States see no conflict between Muslim values and the U.S. Constitution. American Muslims are proud to be Americans and proud to be Muslims. It takes a long time for prejudicial stereotypes and ignorance to subside. I remember very clearly the revival of nineteenth century Nativist fears among many Americans when the Catholic, John F. Kennedy, became President of the United States in January 1961. There were fears that U.S. Catholic bishops and the pope would soon take control of the USA.
As Americans, from all religious traditions or from no religious traditions, we all need to learn from each other and work together. Our country is going through some critical times. It does no good to promote ignorance and further polarization.
We still do indeed have much to be thankful for. – Jack