Editor's Note: This piece is co-authored by:
Rabbi Jack Bemporad, Center for Interreligious Understanding, New Jersey
Professor Marshall Breger, Catholic University of America, Washington, DC
Suhail A. Khan, Buxton Initiative, Washington, DC
The Very Reverend Dr. James A. Kowalski, Cathedral Church of Saint John the Divine, New York
Last summer, an angry and emotionally-charged debate erupted over the so-called "Ground Zero mosque" in New York and the perceived threat and rights of a religious minority, American Muslims. While some were legitimately concerned for the sensitive reconstruction of property near Ground Zero, the controversy grew ugly and messy with some media and political figures calling for a moratorium on mosques everywhere -- near Ground Zero, Staten Island, Tennessee, Wisconsin, California and anywhere in our nation.
And there's no doubt a good deal of the rhetoric surrounding the controversy crossed the line from antipathy toward mosques to hateful comments about American Muslims and the religion of Islam itself.
Ignorant and inaccurate diatribes about Muslims and Islam are especially troubling due to the frightening impact this fear-mongering zeal continues to have on the fabric of American society. Hate crimes against American Muslims are up, and some 20 states are considering -- and even passing -- legislation attempting to limit the constitutionally-guaranteed rights of American Muslims to the free expression of their faith.
The latest chapter in this unfortunate national debate surrounds a new television show on TLC called "All-American Muslim." Filmed in Dearborn, Michigan, the reality show introduces viewers to the lives of five different American Muslim families which include real-life American Muslims such as a high school football coach, a federal agent, a businesswoman and a deputy chief of the county sheriff's office. The families may share the same faith, but the show realistically demonstrates that the nation's 6-7 million American Muslims lead lives that dispel the negative stereotypes about Islam and American Muslims.
In addition to the everyday family challenges of life in modern America, the show also tackles issues such as the diverse understandings of faith, post-9/11 life for American Muslims, and gender roles in Islam. Indeed, programs such as "All American Muslim" help defy long-held stereotypes and help us realize that American Muslims are overwhelmingly, quite simply, just like us.
Sadly, however, due to a shameful effort by a vocal few, the home-improvement supply store Lowe's pulled its commercial advertisements from future episodes of the new show as has the web-based travel site Kayak.com. A Tampa-based conservative Christian group, the Florida Family Association, has made the show its newest target with a letter-writing campaign urging companies to pull ads from TLC's show because, they allege, the show is "propaganda clearly designed to counter legitimate and present-day concerns about many Muslims who are advancing Islamic fundamentalism and Sharia law." Incredibly, McDonald's, Home Depot and Sears are facing similar pressure.
Are there extremists who promote violence in the name of faith? No doubt. Zealots of all three Abrahamic faiths have done so for time immemorial. But we must not commit the cardinal sin of taking as a dominant tradition or teaching one aspect of a religion (often torn from context) or condemning an entire faith community for its errant fanatics who may do something in the name of that religion but not actually even be believers in it. In our zeal to attack the extremes, we should not attack the spiritual truth of the religions themselves or individual believers who ground their citizenship and valued-based, community-spiritedness in their particular faith.
We would do well to remember the words of President George W. Bush in aftermath of the 9/11 tragedy: "Millions of our fellow citizens are Muslim. We respect the faith. We honor its traditions. Our enemy does not. Our enemy doesn't follow the great traditions of Islam. They've hijacked a great religion." And the post-9/11 statement issued by 57 leaders of North American Islamic organizations, 77 Islamic intellectuals, and dozens of concerned Muslim citizens: "As American Muslims and scholars of Islam, we wish to restate our conviction that peace and justice constitute the basic principles of the Muslim faith... Groups like al Qaeda have misused and abused Islam in order to fit their own radical and indeed anti-Islamic agenda. Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda's actions are criminal, misguided and counter to the true teachings of Islam." And the words of President Obama: "There are extremist organizations -- whether Muslim or any other faith -- that will use faith as a justification for violence. We cannot paint with a broad brush a faith as a consequence of the violence that is done in that faith's name."
As Americans of all faiths or no faith, we must recognize, marginalize and reject the divisive rhetoric of a vocal minority. Hate is hate. Human history shows us that hate tragically knows no bounds. The only way to make real the principles on which this country was founded, freedom of expression and religious liberty, is to unite against injustice as we loudly reject the angry voices of prejudice that go against all our faiths.