How do you feel when you encounter a Muslim for the first time? Do you ever find yourself wondering why and how they got to the U.S.? What mental picture occurs in the back of your mind? Is it terrorism, suicide bombings, Iraq, Afghanistan, bin Laden, the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, etc.?
I am writing this to break the mental stereotypical baggage many people carry during their daily lives.
Muslims have been an integral part in the development of communities, the advancement of education and have many other noteworthy achievements. Despite their integration, Muslims of all types – students, teachers, doctors, lawyers, etc. – continue to be discriminated against.
The Council on American-Islamic Relations, a prominent, national Islamic civil rights and advocacy group, released the annual report for 2007, which indicated 2,467 incidents and experiences of anti-Muslim hate crimes, discrimination and harassment in 2006 – the highest number of civil rights cases ever recorded by the group. This translates to a total of 25.1 percent increase of anti-Muslim bias.
While the discussion about when the first Muslims arrived in the U.S. is open to debate, what we all know for sure is more than 30 percent of the 10 million Africans sold into slavery and transported to the U.S. were Muslims, according to historians.
If Muslims have been around for so long, why do many people continue to think of them as foreigners?
Obviously, the biased media plays a large role in actively spreading negative images of Muslims in this country and abroad.
In this country, Muslims are estimated to be around 7-9 million people and are often described to be outstanding citizens. Our values are consistent with American values, focusing on family, faith, hard work, obeying laws and striving for betterment of self and society.
If a terrorist act happens somewhere, why is it Muslims are often the first group blamed? One example of such baseless bias was when many members of the media hypothesized the Oklahoma City bombing to be instigated by Muslims, which led to undeserved attacks on innocent Muslims and people of Arab descent.
Former president Bill Clinton once said, "Hundreds of millions of Muslims all over the world, including millions right here in the United States, oppose terrorism and deplore the twisting of their religious teachings into justification of inhumane, indeed ungodly, acts."
Clinton is right in that Islam and Muslims are not what you think. Our religion teaches us peaceful coexistence with everyone, just like any other religion out there. The name of our religion is Islam, and the root of the word is Salam, which means peace. Islam teaches peace with one’s self and peace with others.
The Library of Congress Manuscript Division Chief James Hutson wrote, "The Founders of this nation explicitly included Islam in their vision of the future of the republic. Freedom of religion, as they conceived it, encompassed it.
Adherents of the faith were, with some exceptions, regarded as men and women who would make law-abiding, productive citizens.
Far from fearing Islam, the Founders would have incorporated it into the fabric of American life."
Really, it is time for all of us to come into the open and understand each other. If there is no understanding between Muslims and non-Muslims, the cycle of hatred, suspicion, misunderstanding and intolerance will continue to exist. We have to be a proactive and productive society – an institution like Michigan State University (MSU) can make a difference by spreading peace and understanding on a local and international level.
I ask and encourage MSU to plan and create a dynamic Islamic studies program in the future, like the ones at University of Michigan and other Big Ten universities, to better equip the students with a better understanding of Islam and Muslims in this country and all over the world.
If MSU wants to move from landgrant to worldgrant, it is time for this institution to go beyond the current one or two courses about Islam or Muslims, to a whole program or a major on the subject of Islam and Muslims.
We have to go beyond the academic isolationism and include more Islamic specialties. I believe the young people who graduate from this university still lack an understanding of other cultures and countries, such as Muslim cultures, especially when our world is becoming increasingly more interconnected.
Abdulahi Ahmed Sufi is an MSU supply chain management senior and a State News columnist. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.