Saturday, December 19, 2015

Talking to Muslims at Christmastime

 photo by quixotic54 / flickr

After hearing all this disturbing talk directed at Muslims—I wanted to see how our neighbors of the Muslim faith felt about all this hate. Identifying all Muslims with the terrorists that have caused so much havoc in California. I wanted them to speak about this turning away all Muslims to the US. Asking visitors if they are Muslim or Christian. Closing Mosques. Monitoring services in Mosques. Refusing to take any refugees from Syria. So I scheduled an appointment with the local IMAM and the President of the local Islamic Center of Clemson.

The President of the Islamic society told me he had been in this country for 40 years. He served in the United States Air Force for 22 years. He is the father of three grown children which grew up in the United States. They are all citizens of this country.

The IMAM has been in Clemson three years. He came here from Egypt and this was his first charge in America. He has been the leader of the Islamic Center in Clemson for three years.

Roger: I want you all to know how distressed I have been over all this anti-Muslim rhetoric I have heard lately. This is not my idea of America. Our Constitution says “liberty and justice for all” and I believe that. Yet—I see certain segments of our population that are scared to death of Muslim terrorists. I can understand this fear—and yet we cannot paint all Muslims with the same brush. 

President: Thank you for coming. When we hear all this anti-Muslim talk it disturbs us deeply. What these people say is not who we are. We strongly condemned the terrorist action in San Bernardino and Paris as much as anybody. They don’t represent us or our religion. These actions by the few tarnish Muslims in general and Islam in particular. The majority of us are peace loving just like most  other American citizens.

Roger: Tell me about how many Muslims there are in the United States. And in your community too.

IMAM: We have a congregation in Clemson of 300 people. We worship on Friday afternoons. I preach a sermon and this is followed by our weekly prayer time. Sometimes we have as many as 150 people attending our services. 75% would be men and 25% women. We have been a part of this community since 2000. In the United States it is estimated that there are six to eight million members of our faith. We also have over 80 Muslim students  at Clemson University and we have a small worship place at the University.

President: I was in the service for 22 great years. The Armed Forces, especially the Air Force is the ideal place for acceptance and equality. Discrimination is against the law and is not tolerated by any member of the Armed Forces. Those who discriminate would be punished. I really wish our whole country had the same attitude, understanding and acceptance for all its members.  It is estimated that we have about 10,000 Muslims in the different branches of the US Military. Many of them gave their lives defending the United States in the Afghan-Iraqi wars.

Roger: We have had all this talk about Muslims and terrorists. How has this affected your people?

IMAM: Our people are afraid. Muslim ladies especially.are very scared to go shopping by themselves like they used to do. They are afraid that someone might act violently due to all the rhetoric and hate statements from our presidential candidates. I would like to convey to the general public the words from Luke 1:13: “But the angel said, “ Do not be afraid, Zechariah! God has heard your prayer.” The American people should not fear us; we all stand together to defeat this atrocious enemy. 

Roger: What the children in school? Have they felt this animosity too?

President: There have been incidents when some students will say to our children:  “Why don’t you leave? You’re not a real American. We don’t want you here.” It just breaks our hearts and the hearts of our children to to hear such statements; we are all Americans, ISIS killed more Muslims than all other religions combined.

Roger: This is appalling. My whole understanding of America is a place where people are safe. So many have fled so many places because they lived in danger. Many students and families come here seeking a better life. And for good, decent people to feel afraid and uncomfortable in the United States  is just heart-rending. These terrible attitudes do not reflect the American way. But I would remind you that America being a democracy where all can speak has has some bad days in our history. Native Americans, slaves, Irish, Poles, Jews, Italians have all felt the sting of our prejudice from time to time. But we have come a long way. Now it looks like the Muslims are our target.

President: I know that the actions of some Americans do not reflect the feeling and attitude of everyone. It is hard for many of us to live up to our ideals our faith. But we must respect the law of the land; the Constitution; we must never forget the words engraved at the Statue of Liberty: “Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses, yearning to breath free, The wretched refuse of your teeming shore, Send these, the homeless, tempest toss’t to me…” These are the words that they were dreaming they would hear when they reach the safety of our shores.

Roger: I’m wondering about ISIS. Beheadings, terrible treatment of women, destroying whole cultures. Forcing people into a narrow kind of servitude. Killing Christians. What do you say to these?

IMAM: We decry ISIS as much as you do. You know there are groups that bend the faith and distort its teachings until it is hardly recognized by us Muslims. Their actions are not part of the teachings of Islam. Their hatred and destruction is not part of any faith and shouldn’t be condoned by any human beings regardless of their faith.

Roger: Tell me the essence of your faith. You say you totally disagree with ISIS and terrorists. What do you believe? 

President: The essence of Islam is obeying God., the Prophet Muhammed, the law of the land, and respect for human lives.

IMAM: The essence of our faith is Glory to God. The great words of Islam are Peace and love and submission to God. God says in the Quran chapter 49 verse 13:” O ye men! surely We have created you male and a female, and made you tribes and families that you may know each other; surely the most honorable of you with Allah is the one among you most careful (of his duty); surely Allah is Knowing. Aware.”

Roger: If you had a microphone and could speak to all the people in our area—what would you say?

President:  I would say Fear God. Do not give in to hate. Treat us in the Christian way “treat us the way you want to be treated.” the way you want to be treated”. Remember the words of your Jesus: “Inasmuch as you do it unto the least of these you do it to me.” I would say: Follow your wonderful Constitution. Love and respect all people.

Roger: I want to thank you both for taking this time and especially opening up your hearts. When people begin to realize that we are all just alike with the same hopes and dreams maybe that peace we all long for will become more of a reality.

(You might want to read Samuel Freedman's article in the NYTimes on how one Muslm woman has faced bigotry in New Brunswick, New Jersey).

photo by vipez / flickr

--Roger Lovette /

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