"It's not what you call me, but what I answer to."
Although a decade has passed since Sept. 11, 2001, and the world has been abuzz about Islam and what it means since then, it is clear Muslim-Americans must tell their own stories.
Many have attempted to define Islam and the people who adhere to the faith. Islam in America is not something new. Islam has been practiced in America for 14 generations, but our beliefs, our practices and even our daily lives remain woefully misunderstood.
As a Member of the United States Congress I can assure you that I have been well treated, well received and well respected by my colleagues. But because I get to discuss policy matters and be part of the public conversation every day, I can admit that misconceptions still exist.
What is regrettable is that in the past decade American Muslims have been associated with individuals who claim to practice the faith but actually use it as a means to establish their identity. These individuals have been willing to kill others and to die because of the identity they've associated with the religion -- not because of the faith inherent in the religion. I must repeat something I've said before: If you use your religion as an identity as opposed to a path to divine inspirations and guidance, then you are no different than street gangs such as the Crips and the Bloods.
Those who seek the divine want to make this world a better place, which first requires that we communicate. And I must say that each writer in All-American is communicating -- connecting with readers in an honest, intimate and effective way.
It's my hope that each of us will emulate these writers. If you can make a movie, make one. If you can sing a song, sing it. If you can write a play, write it. If you want to run for office, run. But do something to make this world a better place. For if each of us follows this example we won't have to worry about which religion we follow because we will all be united in what we believe, which is service to humanity.
Keith M. Ellison
Member, Congress of the United States
Excerpt from Congressman Keith Ellison's Foreword to 'All-American: 45 American Men on Being Muslim' (White Cloud Press, $16.95).
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