Reflections on Being Muslim in America
By Kate Horner
Muslims in the United States and throughout the Western world increasingly find themselves defending their faith as they live in fear of retaliations for acts of terror that have nothing to do with them or their faith as they know it. Their fears are not unfounded. In the United States anti-Muslim rhetoric from public figures has been on the rise in 2016 and hate crimes against Muslims are at their highest levels since 9/11.
CNN recently interviewed prominent members of the Muslim American community about what it’s like to be Muslim in America today. Their answers, similar to remarks from Muslims elsewhere in the world, are a sobering reminder of the emotional toll, and real-world consequences, of xenophobic language.
Those interviewed talked about how difficult and tiring it is to have to constantly defend their faith, especially in the wake of a terrorist attack. The actions and teachings of ISIS are far from Islamic; in fact, they fundamentally go against the teachings of the Quran. Yet Muslims are often expected to respond and apologize on behalf of their faith when ISIS commits an act of terrorism. Saba Ahmed, president of the Republican Muslim Coalition, says, “It’s not fair to blame all 1.7 billion Muslims for the acts of a few terrorists.”
As Actor/Writer/Producer Aasif Mandvi points out, focusing on Islam also distracts from dealing with the real problems. Most recruits join ISIS not because of a religious conviction, but because they are poor, disenfranchised, angry, and see no way out. In fact, several recent acts of terrorism, as in Orlando and Nice, were committed by individuals who, although they pledged allegiance ISIS or ISIS claimed responsibility for their attacks, were not religious according to their families and friends. By demonizing Islam and using it as a scapegoat, we neglect to address real, underlying causes for the rise of terrorism; playing into ISIS’s propaganda of a war between Islam and the West.
While Islamophobic voices are often the loudest, they cannot overpower the countless voices of unity and reason in America. When two Youtube personalities strolled down the streets of New York together, one dressed in traditional Hasidic Jewish attire and the other in an Arabic-style Kheffiyeh, they were expecting the worst. The reactions they received surprised them.
Instead of angry epithets and harsh judgment, bystanders looked on in amazement. Some took out their phones to snap a picture of the pair. Others shared their reaction on camera: “What do I think? I think there is only one god and they should be best friends”, a man in a Jewish neighborhood said of the two friends. A Muslim-American onlooker stopped the pair for a quick Facebook photo, saying “this is the best thing I can see . . . if they work together and they act together, this is life. We are all cousins.”
We must continue to lift up messages of unity, equality, and freedom. They describe the America our founder’s dreamed of, the one we all want to live in.