Embrace Muslim Neighbors; They Are Not The Enemy - Islamophobia Awfully Dark Before The Dawn

02 May 2011

By Mark Pfeiffer

A Saudi engineering student shed a tear, but it took three long years.

He was excited when he arrived in the United States, having observed the country from afar through television and movies. But his excitement faded. He had been studying here for three years, and during all that time had hoped to befriend a typical American family.

He wondered whether life here is really like what he sees on television. Now, after all these years, he has finally received a dinner invitation from an American family.

A woman in flowing robes and head scarf quietly moves up and down the aisles at the local grocery store. She misses her parents, brothers and sisters, and her aunts and uncles back home.

She has come to this country, along with her husband, in order to give her young children a quality education and better life. But she is painfully lonely accustomed to either stares, looks of suspicion, or worst of all, being ignored.

But today, she beams with joy, as a non-Muslim woman looks her in the eye, smiles warmly, and greets her in a way that reminds her of home and touches her heart: " Salaam." Could this be the day she makes her first non-Muslim friend?

Your Muslim neighbor may be a recent immigrant who has left his home and family, the comfortable and familiar, and is now struggling in a confusing and complex new culture. Or she might have lived here 20 years, but while appearing to fit in, has never felt accepted and a part of her neighborhood and community.

A Muslim doctor never experiences this. In fact, she feels like no one truly knows her.

She enjoys the interactions with her patients in the examining room and hallways of her office. Her patients seem nice enough; no one is deliberately rude. Yet when she returns home, she feels isolated and ostracized by her neighbors.

Sometimes she wishes she could shout from the rooftops, "I hate terrorism as much as you do!" She knows the hallmark of Christianity is love. Why does she so seldom experience it?

Although these are composite experiences of real Muslims who live and work all around us, these Muslims are "us." They are a part of "we the people." They are not "the enemy."

If Christians are to love, bless and pray for those who persecute them, a Christian can never really consider anyone his or her enemy. Further, we are taught to love our neighbors, and Jesus scolds us for only loving those who love us. Thus, there is no group of people that falls outside the category of "neighbor."

Loving our neighbors does not mean simply bringing no harm to them. It is not a passive matter, but a command to act. If we are to obey Jesus' teaching, we must embrace Muslims and through our lives minister to them God's love, acceptance, encouragement, compassion and comfort.

If we do not befriend Muslims for the sake of loving them, then why not at least for the sake of enjoying the experience of learning about someone who might come from an ancient and fascinating culture? Why not befriend a Muslim for the sake of enjoying the company of someone who might prepare food in delicious and unique ways, who views God through a different lens, and who exhibits hospitality, genuine friendship and loyalty in ways that might surprise you?

We have nothing to fear from the vast majority of Muslims. Rather, let us acknowledge and welcome the contributions they make to our communities, befriend them, and enjoy the mutual enrichment we can bring to each others' lives.

Mark Pfeiffer is adjunct professor of Islamic studies at Baptist University of the Americas and director of the Christian Institute of Islamic Studies (www.bua.edu/islamicinstitute).Embrace Muslim neighbors; they are not the enemy.

Awfully dark before the dawn - Leonard Pitts in Miami Herald

Granted, this would be considered self-evident by most of us, but it has been a matter of great controversy in the Tennessee town of Murfreesboro, where 17 people went to court last year to prevent a group of Muslims from building a mosque. On their own land.

The need to defend this fundamental right was only one of the ordeals visited upon the Muslims of Murfreesboro, who have also faced threats, vandalism and arson. As recently, vividly illustrated inUnwelcome: The Muslims Next Door, a troubling CNN documentary, the antagonists here are a clownish band of bigots scared witless by the prospect that a new mosque will be built in their community by a congregation that has already worshipped in said community for 30 years.

Seriously. You can't make this stuff up.

The 17 had contended Muslims have no constitutional freedom to worship because Islam is not a religion. So the statement at the top of this column represents not just self-evident truth, but an actual ruling last week by an actual judge in an actual court. Again: seriously. Chancellor Robert Corlew, the aforementioned actual judge, was obliged to verify that Islam which has survived 14 centuries and claims a billion and a half adherents is a religion.

As reported in the Daily News Journal of Murfreesboro, in throwing out most of the plaintiffs' case, Corlew also dismissed claims that "Kevin Fisher, an African-American Christian, would be subject to being a second-class citizen under Sharia law, Lisa Moore would be targeted for death under Sharia law because she's a Jewish female; Henry Golzynski has been harmed because he lost a son fighting in Fallujah, Iraq, by insurgents pursuing jihad as dictated by Sharia law."

Maybe you're tempted to turn away in disgust. Yield not to temptation. We need to see this. This is what it looks like when a country loses its mind.

It looked like this in Germany in 1938 on Kristallnacht, in Rwanda in 1994 when the Hutus savaged the Tutsis, in America in 1942 when the Japanese were herded behind barbed wire.

My point is explicitly not that Muslims face mass vandalism, genocide or internment. Lord only knows what they face. Rather, my point is that the psychological architecture of what happened then is identical to the psychological architecture of Murfreesboro now. Once again, we see people goaded by their own night terrors, hatreds, need for scapegoats, and by the repetitive booming of demagogues, until they go to a place beyond reason.

And in that place inevitably lies a dark night of malice, destruction and awful deeds that seem like good ideas at the time. When it passes, like a fever, we the doers and those who simply observe are left shivering in a cold dawn as reason reasserts itself, wondering how barbarism overtook us, what broke loose inside us and vowing that it will never happen again. Never again.

Me, I don't fear Muslims. I fear Muslim extremists. I fear extremists, period. And that group in Murfreesboro, make no mistake, is extremist.

Against their extremism, I find bitter succor in the inevitability of that cold dawn. Yes, there will come a morning after.

But first we must learn how dark this night will be.



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