OPIN: US: Muslims should reach out
December 26, 2004 Muslims should reach out
Familiarity will breed understanding, not contempt
By Omar Ahmad
A recent report by Cornell University indicated that 44 percent of Americans would curtail Muslim civil liberties in some way, including having them register their location with the federal government.
Similarly, a survey by my organization, the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), showed that one in four Americans believes anti-Muslim stereotypes. And poll after poll in the Muslim world reveals rampant anti-American attitudes.
This disturbing trend deserves a response from all those who are concerned about the kind of world our children will inherit.
But what can one person do to reverse the hardening of views on all sides of an apparently widening religious and cultural divide in this country and around the world?
Two findings in the CAIR survey seem to indicate the direction we should take. Researchers found that those who had more basic knowledge about Islam tended to have less bias, as did those who had Muslim friends or colleagues.
And consider the fact that the Muslims with the greatest attachment to American values, members of this nation�s Islamic community, are the very ones who know those values best and see them put into practice every day.
Familiarity apparently does not breed contempt. In interfaith relations at least, it leads to greater understanding and a decrease in hostility.
The Quran, Islam�s revealed text, states: �O mankind! We created you from a single pair of a male and a female, and made you into nations and tribes so that you might come to know one another. Surely the noblest of you in the sight of God is the one who is the most righteous.� (49:13)
Muslims appreciate the fact that God did not make us all into cookie-cutter automatons who look the same or believe the same things. Our differences create a God-given opportunity to �come to know one another� in a spirit of mutual respect.
It is this mutual respect that is a prerequisite for true understanding and acceptance. We cannot really accept someone as long as we maintain attitudes of religious, ethnic or cultural triumphalism.
A person once asked the Prophet Muhammad whether love of one�s own people is an indication of unhealthy partisanship. The Prophet replied: �No, but when a man helps his people in an unjust cause, it indicates partisanship.�
In other words, you can love those who share your ethnicity or beliefs, but that love should not be used as an excuse for wrongdoing or intolerance of others.
There are some practical steps we all can take to help decrease interfaith hostility.
Reach out to people of other faiths. Your Muslim co-worker will not be insulted if you ask him or her about Islam. Muslims enjoy a good religious discussion and would rather have you ask difficult questions in a respectful manner than to have you harbor myths and stereotypes. Muslims should also be open to learning more about other faiths.
Speak out against religious or racial bigotry. Muslims are obviously sensitive to Islamophobic bigotry and discrimination, but we also need to be just as sensitive to discrimination against others.
Teach your children to be open and tolerant. It is our children who will inherit a world that is either increasingly divided or one that is moving toward peace and reconciliation.
Despite the depression and powerlessness that can be caused by watching the violence and hatred on the nightly news, we all have a role to play in making this world a better place to live.
The future is in our hands.
Omar Ahmad is a California entrepreneur and is national board chairman of the Washington-based Council on American-Islamic Relations, the nation�s largest Muslim civil liberties group.
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