I wish more Americans had an opportunity to get to know Muslims. Then they would not be susceptible to the silly anti-Muslim propaganda that is floated by some right-wing Christians.
Muslims are good folks. One fellow e-mailed me quite convinced that Muslims lop off the heads of every infidel they meet. I’ve been a guest in the homes of many Muslim friends, and the only thing they lopped off were extra servings of lamb.
People believe such nonsense because they are ignorant of the facts. The oldest Christian communities in the world are in Muslim countries. Some of the oldest Jewish communities in the world are in Muslim countries. The deputy foreign minister of Iraq is a Christian. Saddam Hussein donated $1 million to help build a Christian church in the United States. There are Christians in practically all Muslim countries, and there have been for centuries. I’ve said all this before, but when lies blow strong, truth bears repeating.
Islam, like other religions, has different groups. Some are strict in their observances, and they might be likened to the Christian Pilgrims who settled Massachusetts. But even the most strict – commonly called fundamentalists these days – know that a Muslim is commanded to treat Jews and Christians “as I would treat myself,” in the words of a Hamas leader.
In my travels in Muslim countries, sometimes among the poorest of the poor, I was never panhandled or attacked. As far as crime goes, you’ll find cities like Beirut or Damascus or Amman or Ramallah much safer than most American cities.
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Islam is not a religion with a hierarchy such as the Roman Catholic Church. In that respect, Muslims are much like Southern Baptists, only more so. Any group of Muslims can build a mosque and hire themselves an imam, or teacher. They are independent. There is no Muslim pope or College of Cardinals. There are no bishops. When an imam somewhere issues a fatwa, which is a sort of formal opinion on a subject, it is not binding. Like Protestant Christians, Muslims interpret their holy writings themselves and consider themselves answerable directly to God – or, to use the Arabic word, Allah.
Most of the disputes in the Middle East are secular and political. Hamas’ quarrel with Israelis is not about the fact that they are Jews but about the fact that they occupy Palestine. The objections some Muslims have to Western culture are the same as those some Christians have. They don’t like the violence, the immorality, the pornography and the greed. The conflict one sees between the religious and the secular in some Muslim countries is similar to the conflict in this country between religious and secular folks.
There are 6 million or 7 million American citizens who are Muslims. Muslims have been in this country since the late 19th century. If you don’t already, you should make an effort to get to know Muslims. You’ll find that they don’t fit the stereotypes created by mean-spirited propaganda or superficial news coverage.
Racism is a monstrous injustice because it imposes a stereotype on millions of innocent individuals. The only real solution is education and broad experience. It seems to me that God creates individuals one at a time, and it is the human mind that insists on grouping and classifying them. We should resist that temptation.