In a recent Daily Planet story on American Muslims after 9/11, and an excellent editorial in the September 11 Star Tribune (“America paid too high a price for fear”), the writers touch on the important point that “political opportunists” have stoked unfounded fears about Islam; and fear mongering “has become a staple of American political discourse”. Indeed it has, and although I have written on this subject before, its resurgence at this time deserves renewed discussion and analysis.
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To start with, less than 1% of our nation’s population is Muslim, yet, we have created a startling xenophobia about the religion. While our image of Muslims centers on bearded, turban-wearing, armed Middle Eastern zealots — most Muslims do not even live in the Middle East, and most have lives well outside this perceived image. In fact, around 62% of the world’s Muslims live in Asia, with over 683 million adherents in such countries as Indonesia(the largest Muslim country by population, home to 12.9% of the world’s Muslims). Only about 20% of Muslims live in Arab countries. In the Middle East, the non-Arab countries of Turkey and Iran are the largest Muslim-majority countries. Even China has more Muslims than Syria, yet we likely view Chinese Muslims as peace-loving non-threatening people.
The fact is, there are 1.5 billion adherents to Islam around the world (the second largest religion, and 23% of the world’s population). What is often lost in the understanding of the religion by non-Muslims is that its roots trace back to both the Torah and the Bible (both Testaments). All three Semitic religions — Judaism, Christianity and Islam — trace themselves back to Abraham. The very latest DNA genetic studies indicate a close relationship between Muslim Palestinian Arabs and Israeli Jews — so close that it is quite difficult to distinguish one from the other. As for Jesus, the Qur’an tells us that Jesus came to teach the same basic message which was taught by previous prophets from God — that we must shun every false god and worship only the one true God. Jesus is described in the Qur’an as a prophet of God, and a “messiah”.
Sadly, the history of all religions is littered with violence and what we call today “terrorism”. The Qur’an (Koran) was written in the early 7th century, Islam was born…and trouble began not long afterwards. Starting about 1095 brutal campaigns were waged against pagan Slavs, pagan Balts, Jews, Russian and Greek Orthodox Christians, Mongols, Prussians, and others considered “heretics”.
Shortly thereafter, those who were not part of the faith continued to be brutalized in an effort to convert non-believers, and further punish heretics among them. From the 12th through the 16th centuries, the extremists in this religion did not hesitate to burn, hang, torture or in other ways exert their will on non-believers.
If this sounds scary, violent, dangerous, unacceptable it was – and still is today. The problem is these actions were not taken by Muslims, but by Christians! They involved the Christians’ 200 year pursuit of the Crusades, the Inquisition, and the defiling of so-called “heretics” in Colonial America.
The point of this is definitely not – repeat NOT — to disparage Christianity; it is a beautiful, fine, and valued religion which serves over 2 Billion people worldwide (the largest religion on the globe), but rather to make several other observations relevant to Islam today. It is unfair, unwise, and (I believe) un-American to paint all adherents to any religion with the same brush, and is all too common today. Further, all religions have their extremist, radical and fringe elements. And all religions have some examples of egregious – even radical – behavior in their past, and overcoming it is a “requirement of our democracy” as noted in the editorial.
Interestingly, in an August 2011 Gallup Poll, Muslim Americans are the staunchest opponents of military attacks on civilians, compared with members of other major religious groups Gallup has studied in the United States. Seventy-eight percent of Muslim Americans say military attacks on civilians are never justified.
In the end, it is clear that all religions have their extremists, radicals, and dangerous elements. Each has had its own brushes with brutality, terrorism, and battles with other religions. The relationship between Christian, Muslim and Jew is closer than one might imagine. The majority of Muslims do not live in theMiddle East, and live as peaceably as those who practice other faiths around the world. And most importantly, those Muslims who came toAmericabelieved this was a land where they could practice their faith in freedom and without constraint.
With this as a background, it is not surprising that our Founding Fathers, in their wisdom of these facts, made the very first line, in the very First Amendment to the Constitution, a statement that deals directly with this issue:
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof…
(Author’s note: Myles Spicer is not a Muslim)