There is a problem in our midst. The problem is that fear is running rampant and this fear is clouding our better judgment. Our fear is causing us to stereotype Muslims, implicating all Muslims in the militant activities of a few. The only real way of overcoming this problem is for non-Muslims in America to get to know Muslims. Unfortunately, there aren't that many Muslims living in America, which makes it difficult to get to know Muslim people as people. There are only about 2.5 million Muslims living in America -- about 1% of the population.
A recent Time Magazine cover story highlights this problem. Only about 37% of Americans have met or know a Muslim. And if you don't know people, that leads to fear. It also leads you to embrace stereotypes. It also allows you to become susceptible to demagogues who use something like the Cordoba House/Park51 Islamic Center as a political tool. The author of the Time article notes:
Islamophobia in the U.S. doesn't approach levels seen in other countries where Muslims are in a minority. But to be a Muslim in America now is to endure slings and arrows against your faith — not just in the schoolyard and the office but also outside your place of worship and in the public square, where some of the country's most powerful mainstream religious and political leaders unthinkingly (or worse, deliberately) conflate Islam with terrorism and savagery. In France and Britain, politicians from fringe parties say appalling things about Muslims, but there's no one in Europe of the stature of a former House Speaker who would, as Newt Gingrich did, equate Islam with Nazism.
All of this leads me to my report on the Iftar Dinner held last night at the Islamic Association of Greater Detroit mosque and community center last night. I along with others who are active in the local interfaith networks were present, invited to share in the breaking of the Ramadan fast. We were treated to an informative program by the Imam, Aly Lela, that explained Ramadan and the fast, we broke the fast with dates and other fruits, observed the evening prayer, and then at about 8:45 had a wonderful dinner. Now one of the things to note about the American Muslim community is that it is composed of people and cultures from around the world. There are Arabs, Iranians, Afghanis, Bosnians, Albanians, Africans, Indonesians, Pakistanis, Bengalis, Indians, and more. And so, when dinner is served it is always a representation of these various cultures. And then of course, we ended with a variety of sweets.
Hospitality is inherent in the Muslim faith tradition, especially during the time of Ramadan. During Ramadan one is supposed to open one's house to share meals with one's neighbors. We were welcomed with much grace. I appreciate my friends Asad and Amin who gave me the gentle push during a busy week to join them. It was a treat, not to miss. If you're invited to dine with a local Islamic community, by all means join them. The food will be wonderful and the fellowship even better.
How are we going to overcome the fear that pervades our society? We must get to know our neighbors! As a Christian, I have heard it said -- love your neighbor. In fact, in case you believe that Muslims are the enemy, I think I've heard Jesus say something that is relevant:
43 ‘You have heard that it was said, “You shall love your neighbour and hate your enemy.” 44But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous. 46For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax-collectors do the same? 47And if you greet only your brothers and sisters,* what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? 48Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect. (Matthew 6:43-48).
As for me and my house, Muslims aren't the enemy. The enemy is those who would try to create fear and profit from it. Even they deserve love -- whether they are Muslim or Christian.