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U.S. Muslims squarely in the mainstream

In all of the hullabaloo surrounding the vile video that slanders the Prophet Mohammed and Islam, the disgust of American Muslims has been expressed adamantly but reasonably.

American Muslims recognize the video for what it was — the ravings of a sick mind of an obscure person with no bearing on the thinking of the vast majority of Americans. That's a mature response for American Muslims — more than 7 million of them — considering the bashing they have taken from some conservatives in recent years.

In Tampa, just last month, conservatives angrily protested outside the Hillsborough County School Board because Hassan Shibly, executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, had been invited to speak to a high school class studying world religions.

According to protesters, this Muslim was brainwashing these students with propaganda. They believe American Muslims are the vanguard of a religion bent on world domination. Countering these protests are interfaith alliance groups, such as the ones in Tampa that recognize that freedom of religion in the United States extends to all religions and is good for America.

They know that since the 9/11 terrorist attacks, American Muslims have proven as loyal a group of Americans as any. Thousands of them serve with distinction in the U.S. military. These Americans live productive lives, contributing to our economy. They love being Americans.

Suspicion of religions brought by immigrant groups is not new in America. It was an article of faith in American politics that Catholic immigrants would turn the United States over to rule by the pope. Anti-Catholicism was rife in political movements, sometimes turning violent. Not until John F. Kennedy was elected as the first Catholic president in 1960 were these biases finally laid to rest.

Jews faced massive discrimination for generations — socially, economically and politically. They were well aware of whispering campaigns that as Jews they were secretly controlling the American economy.

But the genius of the American political system is that its founders acknowledged the divisiveness that religion can cause in a society and sought ways to assuage it. The First Amendment and the constitutional prohibition against a religious test for government office has allowed religion to flourish in the United States, and it has allowed the United States to be a beacon to the world as a society largely free of sectarian conflict.

What happened to those Catholics and Jews? Six Catholics and three Jews — no Protestants — now serve on the Supreme Court of the United States. And few people take notice.

I believe two things are constant. Over time, new faith groups are accepted and become part of the American fabric. And over time, the American experience transforms an immigrant's faith into some new American version that can be exported back to their home countries.

This is a good thing for Islam. As an imam who immigrated to America more than 46 years ago, I have seen the change. In America, Muslims are creating a new form of Islam. Divisions between Shiite and Sunni that plague their home countries don't exist among American Muslims. Freedom of expression has seeped into American Muslim mainstream thought.

There is no surer sign that American Muslims will embrace a new form of Islam than when a Turkish Muslim woman marries an Indonesian Muslim man. They will blend their forms of Islam with American values and create something new.

And just as important, American Muslims are having an impact on their home countries by helping to promote democracy movements. The Arab Spring has produced fledgling democracies groping to combine democratic principles with Islamic faith. The vast majority of Muslims worldwide reject extremism.

Given the chance, this Americanization of Muslims will have a profound, positive impact on their adopted country and their native countries.

Instead of protesting American Muslims and casting suspicion on their faith, all Americans should unite behind interfaith groups that are building a stronger nation and promoting international peace.

Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf is chairman of the Cordoba Initiative, an independent, multifaith and multinational project that provides innovative solutions to those areas where conflict between Islamic and Western communities undermines local and global security. He is author of "Moving the Mountain." Imam Feisal will participate in an interfaith dialogue at St. Paul's Roman Catholic Church in Tampa on Oct. 17. More information, go to

U.S. Muslims squarely in the mainstream 10/07/12 [Last modified: Sunday, October 7, 2012 4:30am]
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