Of late there has been a fair amount of anti-Muslim bigotry expressed in the newspaper and especially in the blast e-mails that circulate all too commonly in the community. Because I have Muslim friends and colleagues, who are good people, I have become increasingly vexed. Since bigotry is in large part a product of fear and ignorance, I thought it would be useful to examine some of the statements that appear in these writings.
"They need to prove that they are not terrorists." Aside from the impossibility of proving a negative, the idea is that because ISIS and 9-11 bombers were Muslim, Muslims in this country need to prove that somehow they aren't likely to commit similar mayhem. Holding American Muslims responsible for the hideous acts of those groups is akin to imputing guilt to Christians in this country for the violent acts of various white supremacist groups who cloak their activities in the veil of Christianity. The 9-11 bombers weren't even practicing Muslims -- they didn't worship at mosques, they drank alcohol and went to strip clubs and slept with prostitutes. Islam, like Christianity, is a very diverse religion. Both religions are interpreted in a variety of ways depending on the context and the point of view of the one doing the interpretation. We can't be held accountable for the rantings of some fringe actor.
"You don't hear the Muslim leadership speaking out against the radicals, so they must be supporting them." Maybe we're not listening hard enough (or it isn't being reported enough). Every significant international and regional Islamic organization, and the religious leaders in Arab countries representing all factions of the Islamic faith, have spoken unequivocally that ISIS has nothing to do with Islam. Their violence has been universally condemned.
"They're not Christian." Of course not. They're Muslim. We don't seem to be all that bothered by our neighbors of the Jewish faith, the Hindus, Buddhists and other religious groups in our communities; why are we so bothered by the Muslims? Christianity, Judaism and Islam have a common trunk from Adam and Eve through Moses to Abraham, after which the divisions occurred. The Quran mentions Jesus and Mary frequently and with the utmost respect (one of the books of the Quran is named for Mary).
"They're not real Americans." Loyalty to Allah above the Constitution is an issue that is frequently raised. First, Allah is simply the Arabic word for God. Second, this issue was resolved after it was raised during the Kennedy campaign in 1960 (fear was expressed that Kennedy would follow the teachings of the Pope instead of the Constitution). Muslims vote, they hold office (including in Congress), they pay taxes, and they serve in the military. Thousands of American Muslims have served in Iraq and Afghanistan, 14 have died, four are buried in Arlington National Cemetery, and two have been awarded the Bronze Star for heroism. It doesn't get much more American than that.
"They want to impose Sharia law." Even if a locality with a Muslim majority wanted to do this, it couldn't happen. Localities can pass only laws that are to some degree authorized by the state and in are accordance with the state constitutions, and none of these laws could violate the United States Constitution. The protections we enjoy under the Bill of Rights will always be supreme.
"They want to change our culture." They want only to be free to practice their own culture. There will continue to be issues in which the individual freedoms (such as religion) will clash against the majority culture, but we have been dealing with these issues since the founding of our country and we will handle these issues as well. They don't want to make you wear a hijab or pray 5 times a day, but they want to protect their right to practice these important religious beliefs.
Perhaps we should look to our own religions for guidance. Deuteronomy 10:19: "You are to love the foreigner, because you were foreigners in the land of Egypt." Leviticus 19:34: "You are to treat the resident alien the same way you treat the native born among you -- love him like yourself " And perhaps the most important passage of all, Matthew 22:39; "And the second is like it; 'Love your neighbor as yourself.'"
Our Muslim neighbors came to this country for many of the same reasons our ancestors did -- seeking economic opportunity, an education, and to escape violence (often on the basis of religion). They are good citizens who are living the American dream just as we are. We would not tolerate such bigotry expressed against other religions or ethnic groups; we should not tolerate the bigotry that is being expressed against the Muslims in our community.
Think about that before you forward the next email you receive. To remain silent is to be complicit.
Clark Gillett, M.D., is a Columbus family practice physician.