Muslims in America: Myths and Realities

Article excerpt

The Congressional Muslim Staffers Association (CMSA) sponsored a lively discussion on Capitol Hill on Aug. 31 about the image of Muslims in America in the wake of the Park 51 controversy. The association's president, Assad Akhter, welcomed attendees to the second discussion on faith his organization has sponsored-its first event having been in the wake of the cartoon controversy. "Regardless of the adversity we face, we are blessed to be American and practice our faith," Akhter said, reminding listeners that without adversity there can be no progress.

Akhter introduced moderator Suheil Khan, senior fellow at the Institute for Global Engagement and a former Bush administration political appointee. Khan challenged the panelists to address the misconceptions and myths Americans have about Islam and the viewpoints-once held only by the fringe-which have bubbled up into mainstream conversations.

Salam Al-Marayati, president of the Muslim Public Affairs Council (MPAC), highlighted the misinformation circulating about Islam and the Park 51 Muslim community center in lower Manhattan. He criticized the popular terminology used to describe the center as "the ground zero mosque" when, in reality, it's "blocks away where you can't even see ground zero."

Al-Marayati expressed concern about the rising anti-Muslim sentiment across the country, especially the "Burn a Qur'an Day" event planned for Sept. 11 in Florida, which he argued would provide recruiting materials for anti-American extremists outside the U.S. "As anti-Muslim sentiment spikes here in America," he warned, "then you can expect a spike of anti-American sentiment abroad. Anti-Muslim rhetoric in America is a mirror of anti-American sentiment abroad." He advised Muslims to ignore the Gainesville, Florida pastor and "keep doing the good work you're doing."

Al-Marayati also spoke about the challenges moderates face compared to extremists in getting their message out in the mainstream: if an extremist "in some cave" makes a tape preaching hate and violence, he said, then "you get that video played over and over again in America." Meanwhile the ongoing efforts of American Muslims to build partnerships, promote interfaith understanding and contribute to U.S. national security go unnoticed. However, America is still the best place for Muslims to live, Al-Marayati concluded.

Dr. Azizah Al-Hibri, chair of KARAMA, Muslim Women Lawyers for Human Rights, pointed out that anti-Muslim sentiment is not a new phenomenon, and can be traced as far back as the 18th century in the U.S. She also noted the similarities between the Muslim experience in the U.S. today, and that of Jews, Catholics, Baptists and many others who experienced exclusion or prejudice before being fully accepted as part of American society. …