Local Muslim-Americans condemn terrorism

Moderated by Rick Badie

Last week, the Kennesaw City Council rejected a zoning request to open a Muslim prayer center in a strip shopping center. Some protesters said it would be used to teach Sharia law. Suffice it to say, Muslims generally have an image issue. A guest writer notes efforts by moderate Muslims here and abroad to educate the public about Islam and condemn violence and terrorist acts. The other writer shares his experience touring Turkey as part of an Atlanta interfaith group.

Muslims are your neighbors, co-workers

By Alan Howard

Recently, the Islamic Speakers Bureau of Atlanta, along with more than 30 mosques and Muslim organizations, put out a press release condemning the violence, terror and other criminal acts of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria as well as Boko Haram. This press release (http://bit.ly/1IvsjMR) represents how Muslim-Americans feel about these actions.

As a person who regularly participates in interfaith panels around metro Atlanta and gives talks about Islam and Muslims to churches, synagogues, civic organizations and other groups, I find that one of the most regularly asked questions is, “Where is the Muslim condemnation of this violence?”

I would like to address this head-on. The fact is, every major American Muslim organization has condemned acts of violence against our fellow Americans since 9/11 to the Boston Marathon bombing and up to the press release mentioned above.

Muslim-Americans and Muslim-American organizations have condemned terrorism and violent acts by Muslims and non-Muslims for years, but this fact is not given the press the violent acts themselves garner.

An organization giving an unequivocal condemnation of a terrorist act is not as interesting as speculating about what group was involved in the action, or whether the perpetrator was acting alone or not. Thus, the wider Muslim community’s condemnations are lost in the background noise and are not given full weight. This leads to your average American asking, “Where are the Muslims condemning these violent acts?” The acts are being condemned, but the wider media landscape is not listening or giving Muslims a podium to speak from.

There is another issue I want to bring out into the open — a tendency in the media and American society to believe that if a conversation is not happening in the U.S., it does not exist. What do I mean by this? All around the world in predominantly Muslim countries, scholars and governments are working to counter the radicalization of individuals, and to educate their youth on the dangers of joining organizations that promote violence. But because these initiatives and conversations are happening elsewhere, the Western world is not paying attention to them.

In Yemen, besides programs to de-radicalize captured members of terror groups, there is a television station that works to counter the propaganda of terrorist groups. In 1997, Pakistan’s parliament had a fierce debate and passed a comprehensive anti-terrorism bill that is one of the strongest seen thus far. And in Indonesia, the government and other organizations use former radicals or terrorists to reach the community and young people about the dangers of joining these groups.

These examples are unknown to most Americans because the debaters and organizations involved do not trumpet their successes and failures. Their discussions and methods are taking place elsewhere; thus, they are not picked up by news organizations.

Muslim-Americans are your neighbors, attorneys, doctors and financial advisers. In short, they are the same as you and have the same hopes and dreams for their children growing up in America. Muslim-Americans are every bit as worried about acts of terror committed against American citizens as the public at large. We are citizens too, and are members of that same public.

Dozens of Muslim-Americans died on Sept. 11, 2001; their names are memorialized in New York on the memorial. We do them and all the victims a disservice when we suggest Muslim-Americans are not condemning terrorism and not standing with our fellow Americans against this scourge.

Alan Howard of Decatur is a certified speaker for the Islamic Speakers Bureau of Atlanta.

Travel can kill prejudice

By Plemon T. El-Amin

Recently, I returned from an 11-day interfaith excursion through Turkey with an Atlanta group of Christians, Jews, Muslims and one Buddhist. For the past 13 years, Jan Swanson and I have organized and guided similar journeys through Egypt, Greece, Israel, Jordan, Palestine, Morocco, Spain and even to Niagara Falls and the Grand Canyon, under the auspices of World Pilgrims.

World Pilgrims is designed to break down barriers, clean up biases, and correct distortions and misinformation. It is about engagement and enabling relationships. Every day, each of us had a different partner of another faith. Each time we changed hotels, we were paired with a different roommate of a different faith. That always causes pause for new pilgrims, since most of us haven’t shared a bedroom with a stranger or a non-relative for decades. Yet pilgrims will tell you that the experience of sharing hotel rooms is quite liberating and refreshing.

We had a wonderful tour guide who traveled with us via motor coach from Kayseri, in central Turkey, to Cappadocia, Konya, Ephesus and Izmir, then a flight to Istanbul for the last four days. Our guide shared the rich history of Alexander the Great, the Roman and Byzantine empires, the struggles and triumphs of Paul and the early Christians, the wonders of Hagia Sophia, the beauty of the Blue Mosque, the grandeur of Topkapi Palace, and the statesmanship of Suleiman the Magnificent.Yet this knowledgeable guide was himself intrigued and captivated by the composition and conversations of our group. He had never met anyone like our Christian leader, Dr. Gerald Durley, who came of age under the Rev. Martin Luther King’s leadership and the civil rights movement.

Our guide was amazed that our Jewish leader, Rabbi Ellen Nemhauser, could arrange a group visit with the Chief Rabbi of Turkey and a tour of the synagogue. He was further astounded to witness our entire group desiring to attend, and then welcomed, at the Friday Jumah prayer service at the historic 800-year-old mosque in Seljuk. But I believe what enthralled him most was listening to each pilgrim’s description of their “life, love and legacy” on our 10-hour bus ride from Konya to Izmir.

As Americans, we have no ancient structures. Not only did the “urban renewal” mindset demolish most of our grand buildings like the Terminal and Union train stations in downtown Atlanta, but even now, it seems we build for a lifespan of only 20 to 25 years. So we marvel and are captivated — rightfully so — by a city such as Istanbul that has preserved and continues to use so many of its architectural wonders dating back as far as the 7th century.

In the past 60 years, we have reluctantly become the most economically, ethnically, racially and religiously diverse nation on earth. Too many of us see that as a problem, while the world views it as a strength.

The idea of ordinary Christians, Jews, Muslims and a Buddhist traveling together, sharing bus seats, meals and hotel rooms, is just unheard of anywhere else in the world. So while we marveled at Turkey, the citizens of Turkey were amazed at us, and perhaps inspired by the possibility. Interfaith is much more than tolerance. It is more than dialogue.

Religious diversity is a given in Atlanta and throughout the U.S. today, but interfaith exchanges, interactions, relationships or even dialogue are not givens. They are achievements. They require intentionality and effort.

The American experience, especially that of the past 60 years, has better positioned us to be able to take the leap across the abyss of religious difference, distrust and misunderstanding, more so than any other people. With World Pilgrims, we start with relationships and friendships. Pilgrims return fully understanding Mark Twain’s saying that “travel is fatal to prejudice.” May we all make the intention to journey next door, to the next cubicle, to the other side of town, and across the perceived divides that keep us foreign and estranged to one another even here at home.

Plemon T. El-Amin is the Imam Emeritus of the Atlanta Masjid of Al-Islam.


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