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Understanding Islam in America

Growing up Muslim in America has become challenging, especially since our nation is engaged in conflicts in countries with predominantly Muslim populations.

The rhetoric about Muslims has become nasty. It is everywhere you look on every form of media, every channel, every website, the newspapers and the radio. These reports are painting bright red targets on the backs of every Muslim in the world. It is fueling daily events of harassment, discrimination, vandalism and violence against Muslims.

After the recent attacks across Europe and the way the media and politicians inform the public, many now use Islam interchangeably with “terrorism.” After the attacks in Paris in November, at least two dozen governors said that they will not accept Syrian refugees in their states. Presidential candidate Donald Trump said that if he was president he would kick every Syrian refugee out of America and that Muslims should wear ID badges. Ted Cruz said that Muslims should be sent to countries with a majority of its populations being Muslim; just last week Cruz said police should patrol Muslim neighborhoods.

Islamophobia is the dislike of, or prejudice against, Islam or Muslims. Islamophobia is what it is called today but the fear and dislike of Muslims did not begin with 9/11 like many think, it started long before that with a long tradition of labeling the Islamic faith as “un-American” and portraying Muslims as a threat.

According to Encyclopedia of Minorities in American Politics from 1790 until 1952, a legal prerequisite for American citizenship was being white. This law limited citizenship to only immigrants who were white and excluded not just Muslims but American Indians, Asians, slaves and free African Americans.

Until 1944, American courts were allowed to use Muslim identity as a reason to deny citizenship. According to Liberty GB, “A 1942 Michigan Court denied a Yemeni man, Ahmed Hassan, citizenship because “It is well known that they [Arabs] are a part of the Mohammedan world and that a wide gulf separates their culture from that of the predominately Christian peoples of Europe.”

In the name of fighting terrorism, law enforcement and investigative officials have targeted Muslim people and their communities in countless cities in the United States. The Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 (also known as AEDPA) began the monitoring of Muslim people and their communities. In one part of the legislation, police would monitor Muslims activities while another part would deal with the deportation of Muslims (proof or no proof) to terrorist activity.

After the 9/11 terror attacks, the focus intensified. Most recently, Homeland Security’s Countering Violent Extremism (CVE for short), adds more fuel to the fire for furthering expansions and continual monitoring on Muslims.

In a survey done recently this year from the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding, shows that although Muslims are facing more violence towards themselves than ever, they are some of America’s most model citizens.

According to Mic, “In a land founded on religious freedom, Muslims are among the most religious and patriotic citizens: 42 percent of Muslims attend services regularly compared to 45% of Protestants. And 87 percent of Muslims say religion is important to their lives, compared to 94 percent of Protestants. When it comes to identifying as a patriot, 85 percent of Muslims “have a strong American identity,” just like 84 percent of Protestants. They are also just as likely as other Americans to identify strongly with their faith — 89 percent of Muslims, 84 percent of Jews, and 95 percent of Catholics and Protestants shared the sentiment.”

The fear of Islam is deeply rooted in American history and firmly woven into American politics and everyday life. Whenever a terror attack takes place in America, before suspects are even named, many turn to place the blame on Muslims.

In 2007 138 of the world’s most powerful Muslim clerics, scholars and intellectuals from all branches of Islam came together and put aside their differences, to write a letter to the world’s Christian leaders. The letter called for peace among the world’s Christians and Muslims.

In the 15 pages filled with Qur’anic and Biblical scriptures, argues that the most important points of Islam and Christianity are identical, love of one (the same) God and love of thy neighbor.

Before engaging in battle, the Prophet Muhammad instructed his soldiers:

“Do not kill any child, any woman, or any elder or sick person.”

“Do not practice treachery or mutilation. Do not uproot or burn palms or cut down fruitful trees. Do not slaughter a sheep or a cow or a camel, except for food.”

“If one fights his brother, [he must] avoid striking the face, for God created him in the image of Adam.”

“Do not kill the monks in monasteries and do not kill those sitting in places of worship.”

“Do not destroy the villages and towns, do not spoil the cultivated fields and gardens and do not slaughter the cattle.”

“Do not wish for an encounter with the enemy; pray to God to grant you security; but when you [are forced to] encounter them, exercise patience.”

“No one may punish with fire except the Lord of Fire.”

“Accustom yourselves to do good, if people do good, and to not do wrong even if they commit evil.”

As you can see, these prophetic traditions reveal a rather striking irony: by targeting women and children, mutilating human bodies through the use of fire and explosives, do not strike in the face and bombing civilian houses and places of worship, the men and women who are doing these terroristic acts, are not Muslim. They have effectively disobeyed every command of the Prophet Muhammad.

Aref Ali Nayed, a leading Islamic scholar and one of the letter’s authors said, “The world is a garden, we can focus on the weeds or we can focus on the fruit. And we are choosing to focus on the fruit.”

by Mackenzie Nestor

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