On Faith: Equality for all religions

Why is Islamophobia sweeping our nation?

Cite any poll today about Islam and Muslims in America, and the results are alarming. A recent poll by TIME magazine found that 46% of Americans believe Islam is more likely than other faiths to encourage violence against nonbelievers. And a recent ABC News/Washington Post poll found that 49% of Americans have an unfavorable opinion of the Islamic faith.

Every day the level of anti-Islamic and anti-Muslim rhetoric in America is rising proportionally. Most of us who watch television news witnessed the rage on the faces of Americans holding anti-Islamic slogans on the anniversary of 9/11. The images were disturbing.

From Temecula, Calif., to New York, there is fierce opposition to projects to build mosques. Attempts to curtail the history of Islam in our nation's school textbooks are being proposed. Ostensible "documentary" films are inflaming sentiments and causing fear. Hate crimes, prejudice and discrimination against American Muslims are on the rise.

What has been happening in America lately?

Why are we seeing a spike in Islamophobia more so than shortly after 9/11?

As an American and a Muslim, I am very concerned about what is happening in my country. This is not the forward-thinking America I grew up in, am proud of and love dearly. Today, America is supposed to be a land of tolerance that embraces pluralism, multi-ethnicity and many religions. We have recorded enough incidents of intolerance, violence, and discrimination in our history. We shake our heads in disapproval on how we treated Catholics, African slaves, Native Americans, and Japanese Americans. Are we repeating history?

American Muslims have heard the arguments against their faith; most terrorist attacks are conducted by Muslims, thus Islam must be a violent religion. It is unfair to lump more than a billion peaceful followers together as being violent or more prone than followers of other religions to carry out attacks of terrorism. No religion, including Christianity and Judaism, is free of extremism.

Misquoted and taken out of context, passages from the Koran have been used as proof that Islam is violent.

Who said, "I did not come to bring peace, but a sword?"

According to Matthew in the New Testament, it was Jesus but most people might have answered Prophet Muhammad.

The Old Testament says: "You shall destroy all the peoples ... showing them no pity." (Deuteronomy) A similar Koran verse is being used against Muslims yet only Islam's divine book is referred to as espousing violence. Manipulating religious texts to serve extremists views can be extracted from any of the three divine books, and this can become deadly when sinister agendas are involved.

For American Muslims, 9/11 was a double-edged blade. We felt the pain and cried over the tragedy, and at the same time, we felt the anger and disappointment knowing that the perpetrators acted in the name of Islam. When the Twin Towers fell, American Muslims were also among the innocent victims. When the rescuers were dispatched, American Muslims were among the heroes. When our nation called upon its men and women to defend the homeland, American Muslims took to its defense.

Some say that American Muslims have not decried the tragedy of 9/11 enough. I say otherwise. They have severely condemned that as well as other acts of terrorism but their voices have not been given fair time in the mainstream media. Boisterous sound bites that are fanning Islamophobia are getting more coverage than the mainstream civil voices that call out for clarity and fairness.

It is a bit ironic; the religious principle set by our Forefathers "to worship our Creator in the way we think most agreeable to His will" is today being challenged by some people from extending such rights to their fellow citizens. Just as the Pilgrims and Puritans set sail to practice their faith freely in America, many Muslims also left their native lands seeking to practice their religion freely, and to live a life of dignity in America, and yet, they are being meet by some with prejudice and animosity.

Muslims have no political objective to dominate the world, nor do they wish to impose Islamic law (Shariah) on America. Had Muslims wanted that they would have remained in a Muslim country.

Despite the Islamophobia in America, I have faith in my country and in my fellow citizens that the voices of justice and equality for all will forever be defended.

FATMA SALEH is a board member with the Islamic Educational Center of Orange County in Costa Mesa.

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