Mainstream Muslims have a lot in common with Spider-Man.
American Muslims have worked hard to build bridges and support the U.S. government's efforts to keep America safe. According to the Council on Foreign Relations, "Members of Islamic communities have worked to establish good relationships with U.S. officials, particularly on the local level ... Most of the major successes the government claims within the United States have actually involved cooperation with the local Muslim communities."
America's Muslims are a proud part of mainstream America, too. A 2007 Pew Research poll found that American Muslims are "largely assimilated, happy with their lives, and moderate with respect to many of the issues that have divided Muslims and Westerners around the world."
However despite that, throughout America anti-Muslim sentiment, and even anti-Muslim hate crimes, are on the rise. This spring a Florida mosque was pipe-bombed. Last week, police began investigating a suspicious fire and gunshots at a mosque in Tennessee. The week before, a Muslim taxi driver was stabbed in New York, apparently just for being Muslim. And the Dove World Outreach Center, a Florida church, still plans to "reach out" to Muslims by burning the Quran.
Yet just like Spider-Man's newspaper publisher nemesis, J. Jonah Jameson, the pundits of America hound America's Muslims as the bad guys.
A self-described "grass roots effort by American Muslims from across the country" has launched a TV commercial starring members of America's diverse Muslim community saying, "I don't want to take over the country," and, "I don't support terrorism."
The group behind it all, My Faith, My Voice, explains that the commercial is an effort to right the rising tide of fear-mongering, but there are already American voices questioning where the money came from to make it, and why.
One of the most interesting bridge-building initiatives, reaching right into the American heartland of Saturday-morning superheroes, has to be that of Naif Al-Mutawa. He's creator of The 99, a comic strip soon to become a Saturday-morning cartoon starring superheroes powered by the 99 attributes of God, like Compassion, Mercy, Truth and Strength.
Frankly, I'm looking forward to seeing how Naif works them into a comic-strip plot line.
Explaining his reasons, Al-Mutawa writes:
Fifteen hundred years after the birth of Christ, men representing the Catholic Church poured hot lead down the throats of Muslims and Jews to get them to accept Jesus as their Savior.
Fourteen hundred years after Gabriel conveyed God's message to Muhammad through the Qur'an, a tiny minority of self-aggrandizing Muslims are using the lead of bullets to kill untold numbers in an unspeakable insult to name of Islam.
Today, through "THE 99", this proud Muslim is using the lead of his pencil to take a stand. For all our sakes, I hope the pencil really is mightier than the sword.
And he has a chance, because Naif's not alone, and he's got help. This fall, The 99 is coming to prime-time Saturday-morning cartoons in America, and they'll be joined by Superman and the Justice League -- which is sweetly ironic, because when Muhammad was a young man, he founded a Justice League of his own in Mecca to rescue and protect the downtrodden, poor and oppressed.
Fourteen hundred years ago, Muhammad's Justice League came to the rescue of the marginalized and downtrodden in Mecca, and this fall America's Justice League is going to step up and help America's Muslims stand tall and proud again, too.
Honestly? Most Muslims literally hate what the last thousand years have done to our religion. We're not Muslim because we like Saudi Arabia's stance on gender equity or individual freedoms, or because we approve of anything about the Taliban.
We're Muslim because of Muhammad, plain and simple. We're Muslim because 1400 years ago, out of a land being torn apart by racial and religious tension, he and his companions pretty much founded America.
The first and best Islamic empire -- the standard Muslims are supposed to aspire to -- guaranteed equal justice and equivalent rights and responsibilities to all regardless of race, creed or gender, and in some ways did it better than America does it today. If you don't believe me, then check it out for yourself.
Muslim voices all over America, Canada and the world are condemning violence, correcting extremists, building bridges, working with non-Muslim individuals and communities, for the sake of shared multicultural and multireligious peace, just like Muhammad.
Some of my favorites include Unity Production Foundation's 20,000 Dialogues, an America-wide initiative promoting community discussion groups coming together to talk about pluralism and civic engagement.
They also include the many multifaith communities already up and running throughout America, including the Community of Living Traditions at Stony Point, New York. Organized by Muslims, Christians an Jews working together, it is striving for a more just and peaceful world.
And in Los Angeles, the UMMA Free Clinic is the first freestanding Muslim free clinic in America. Their mission it to promote the well-being of everyone by providing access to high quality health care for all, regardless of ability to pay.
Muhammad's legacy doesn't live on in terrorists, extremists or oppressive societies no matter where you find them. Real Islam lives on in the hearts and minds of ordinary Muslims standing up with other Muslims and non-Muslims alike together, trying to make a better world.
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