04/15/2014 10:49 am ET Updated Jun 15, 2014

Marathon Bombing Anniversary Demands Interfaith Response

We are approaching the first anniversary of the Boston Marathon bombings. The surviving suspect, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, will face the death penalty when he stands trial in November on federal charges that he planted bombs near the race's finish line that killed three people and injured more than 250 others.

The anniversary is sure to remind people that Tsarnaev and his brother, Tamerlan, who was killed by police, were Muslims who said they acted in retaliation for U.S. involvement in Muslim countries.

Once again, Americans will become wary of Muslims in their midst.

For the 7 million Americans who are Muslims, that is a burden they must bear.

Muslim immigrants are no different from all of the other ethnic immigrant groups who have fought against prejudice to gain acceptance. In Boston, Irish and Italian Catholics endured discrimination, especially because a few bad characters cast suspicion on their entire communities.

Yet Boston now is famous as a multicultural society that remains a beacon to the world as John Winthrop's "city on a hill."

So it is important, as this anniversary approaches, that we redouble our efforts to build bridges among the faiths to counter Islamophobia and to explain that true Muslims who submit to the will of God find violence abhorrent and attacks on innocents a violation of their faith.
Contrary to popular opinion across America, Islam is a religion of peace.

People ask me, how can you say that? Look at the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Look at the Boston bombers. Look at the killings going on in the Middle East and Africa, all in the name is Islam.
That is true. But Islam is not a violent religion. In fact, the fundamental imperative of all religions - Islam, Christianity, Judaism, Buddhism, Hindu - is peace.

Individuals are violent. Groups that misinterpret religion are violent in their zealotry or their self-interest. For hundreds, if not thousands, of years, violence has been committed in the name of religion. Small numbers of extremists commit acts of violence. This prompts a violent reaction. And so begins a vicious cycle of hatred and death.

Any violence that is committed in the name of religion comes from extremists. These people masque their political or power agendas in false religious doctrine. We must make that distinction - between religion and extremists -- and combat the extremists.

We should never think that we are combating a religion. That only plays into the hands of the extremists.

Islam, Judaism and Christianity all start with the same root. All insist that the first commandment is to love God. All insist that we should love each other.

Islam should be used to counter extremism, not promote it. The Holy Quran says that if someone kills an innocent, it is as though he killed all mankind.

In the more than four decades I have been in the United States, I have seen the transformation of Muslim immigrants into American Muslims. They are creating a new form of Islam that rejects sectarian differences that tear apart their homelands and embraces modernity while preserving the essence of morality and dignity at the heart of Islam.

Acts of misguided individuals who mistakenly believe they are performing God's will by killing others must not be used as to smear an entire religion. America's growing Muslim population has demonstrated time and again that they are loyal Americans who believe in American values and are contributing to building and protecting this country. They root for the Patriots, Celtics, Bruins and the Red Sox like everyone else.

Obviously, we cannot let down our guard because radicals are plotting against us.

But we should not take the anniversary of the Boston Marathon bombing to renew suspicions about Muslims in general. Instead, we should create the atmosphere for the voices of moderation in all religions to flourish and be heard.

Since 9/11, people have asked me repeatedly, where are the moderate Muslims? Why aren't they speaking out?

I answer them this way: They are here, living among you. Open your ears to what they are saying. Open your eyes to see all of the good that America's growing Muslim population is doing for the country - and for Boston.

Use this as an opportunity to embrace Boston's -- and America's -- diversity and make it stronger than ever.

Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf is the Founder of Cordoba Initiative, a multi-national, multi-faith organization dedicated to improving Muslim-West relations.