"My neighbors are Muslim. Please don't hurt them."

That's the slogan from a button I wore after the 9/11 attack. I thought of it recently when I saw a "take back America"-type group on Facebook. The discussion on the Islamic community center for Lower Manhattan was loaded with insults and threats of violence against Muslims.

The opposition to the community center keeps making one thing clear to me: that most Americans don't know a thing about Islam. Most Americans have learned about Islamic extremists (though there's plenty of misinformation too), but few know much about Islam or everyday Muslims. Fear and ignorance have people conflating violent extremists with a fifth of the world's population.

I keep hearing about how terrible anything related to Islam is. That makes me think of dozens of Muslim friends and colleagues from the United States, Tunisia, Lebanon, Malaysia, Spain, Mauritania, Senegal, Kuwait, Morocco, Algeria, France, Indonesia, South Africa, Somalia, Kosovo, Kazakhstan, Pakistan, Ghana, Afghanistan, Mali, Egypt, Iraq, Kenya, Sierra Leone, Palestine, Azerbaijan and Mauritania.

Many of these people are peace, human rights and women's rights advocates I've met in non-governmental organizations and at United Nations conferences. Others? An attorney. An electrician. Students. A fellow childcare volunteer at a homeless shelter. An engineer. Musicians. A waiter. Shopkeepers. Parents. Babies, kids and teens.

Most were born into Islam, though a few converted. Some are quite observant, some less so. One man is married to a Jewish woman, another to a Catholic. Most of the women don't wear a hijab (head scarf), though some do. I've only met one woman, an African-American, who wears the full head-to-toe black covering with a niqaab (face veil). Most are well-educated, and nearly all are bilingual, with quite a few speaking three or four languages. All work with and befriend people of many different religious and ethnic backgrounds.

Lots of these folks have invited me over for meals. One friend included me in his breaking-fast gathering during Ramadan. And the North Africans make a great dry-spice rub for lamb on the grill for July 4th picnics.

The Kosovars and Somalis were refugees in Switzerland. One Somali, then only 19, once went three weeks without food to make sure his younger brother and sisters could eat. His dream was to go to the US to get his degree in an English speaking university, putting a terrible time in his life behind him.

The Americans were African-Americans or the children of immigrants. All had a deep faith in the promise of American ideals. And the biggest concern of the little kids I met? Getting cookies.

Talk against Muslims makes me think of Faiza, a businesswoman and mother from Baghdad who joined the Friends Committee on National Legislation on Capitol Hill to advocate for an end to the war. I think of the Egyptian woman who was the only stranger to reach out to me in Washington, DC in the week of 9/11, seeing how upset I looked while sitting in a cafe. I am not sure if she was Muslim, but she worried what a violent US response to 9/11 might trigger among Muslim extremists. I still remember the gratitude in her eyes when I said I worried about a backlash against Muslims in the US. I also think of the shopkeeper on my street who was glad to see the "my neighbors are Muslim" button.

I certainly realize that these people do not represent all Muslims around the world. They'd be the first ones to agree. But neither do violent extremists represent all Muslims. Until our country better understands the difference between a religion and how it is twisted and misused, we'll continue to have t-shirts like the wry one a Tunisian friend in Washington, DC has:

"My name can trigger a national security alert. What can yours do?"


Below are people and organizations that show a side of Muslim life that too few Americans see. Please add more to the comments section.

Support for the community center
Cordoba Initiative also on Twitter @Park51 and Facebook.
Religious Freedom USA
New York Neighbors for American Values
Back the Park51 Islamic Center in Lower Manhattan Video of Rabbi Lerner of Tikkun magazine supporting the center.
A statement from the Friends Committee on National Legislation presenting a Quaker perspective and a report from a conference call on the community center with Daisy Khan Executive Director of the American Society for Muslim Advancement, including a link to audio from the call

Interfaith organizations
Muslim Peace Fellowship "Whatever act of violence has just taken place, we deplore it." Part of Fellowship of Reconciliation, an interfaith peace organization working internationally and in the US since 1914. Supporters have included Albert Einstein and Coretta Scott King.
Religions for Peace is the largest international coalition of representatives from the world’s great religions dedicated to promoting peace.
The Interfaith Encounter Association
United Muslims of America Interfaith Alliance
Salam Institute for Peace and Justice

On campus
Muslim Students Association Nearly 150 chapters on colleges across the US, including on a number of Protestant and Catholic university campuses including Georgetown University, a Catholic institution which has the first American university full-time Muslim chaplain.

A few other organizations worth checking out
My Faith - My Voice. Terrific public service ad
The Islamic Society of North America
Muslims for Progressive Values
KARAMAH: Muslim Women Lawyers for Human Rights
Congressional Muslim Staff Association Check out the useful resources section

And on my to-read list
What's Right with Islam Is What's Right with America: A New Vision for Muslims and the West by Feisal Abdul Rauf

  1. gravatar

    # by Roger Smith - September 16, 2010 at 2:23 PM

    HI TRACY!!!!!
    Great blog!
    Congratulations on moving home!
    Tried e-mailing but your Earthlink bounced and I couldn't get this site's contact-me to work.
    Look, I'm blogging too!
    Whassup girl! Give me a holler. A-salamu alaykum!
    Love, Roger
    [email protected]