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Nadra Kareem Nittle

Religious Intolerance Is Making American Muslims Live in Fear

By September 13, 2010

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Just six days after terrorists destroyed the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001, President George W. Bush had a point to make:

"The faith of terror is not the true faith of Islam; that's not what Islam is all about. Islam is peace."

But nine years later it's as if Bush never uttered those words. A recent ABC News poll about American attitudes on Islam revealed some troubling trends. Check out the highlights below:

  • 55% of Americans don't have a good understanding of Islam.
  • 31% of Americans believe that mainstream Islam encourages violence against non-Muslims.
  • 49% of Americans have an unfavorable view of Islam.

So, let's get this straight. Although more than half of respondents admit to not understanding Islam, a staggering amount harbor negative feelings about the religion. These numbers, along with attacks on mosques in California, Wisconsin and Tennessee; the near Koran-burning session in Florida; and the controversy over the Islamic Center by Ground Zero; put Muslim Americans at great risk.

"I think there's definitely an increased level of fear because it used to be that we'd just walk around and we'd be a normal citizen, a normal part of American society, and now you've got a lot more suspicion," an unidentified Muslim woman told ABC News.

Anti-Islamic sentiment and racism go hand-in-hand. After all, people typically deduce that someone else is Muslim based on cultural markers such as the hijab or on physical appearance. If someone is brown and has certain facial features, they must be Muslim, right? That's why everyone from Sikhs to Mexicans have been victims of anti-Muslim hate crimes in the U.S. They appeared "Muslim" to their attackers. But because I'm black, no one who meets me in person mistakes me for a Muslim. In contrast, those who know my name but not my race do assume that I'm of the faith.

Recently, I received a letter from my local assemblyman letting me know that he serves and represents the Muslim community with "great pleasure." "Part of my goal as an assemblyman is to reach out to every group represented in my district, including individuals of the Islamic faith," he wrote.

When I got the letter, I laughed because I'm actually a practicing Christian--born to an African-American Baptist mother and a Nigerian Muslim father. While the letter my assemblyman sent me was a mix-up, it's no laughing matter in retrospect. He surely sent it to reassure me that in today's hostile climate for Muslims he was willing to be an ally. And now more than ever, Muslims in America need allies. Although the overwhelming majority of Muslims are peaceful, law-abiding citizens, they live in fear that those who view them as bloodthirsty terrorists will attack them, their loved ones or their places of worship.

On ABC's "This Week" Sept. 12,  White House interfaith advisor Eboo Patel recalled a recent conversation with his mother about her fears living in America as a Muslim. She told him:

"Eboo I've been in this country for 35 years as a Muslim, and I've never been scared to say I was fasting. I've never been scared to say that I called God, 'Allah,' but I'm scared now, and I'm scared for your kids, Eboo. I'm scared that their names might be too Muslim. I'm scared that they might be bullied in school."

Legions of Muslims with the same fears as Patel's mother live throughout the United States. So, the next time you're tempted to paint all of Islam's followers with the same terrorist brush, remember her. Remember George W. Bush's words the week after 9/11. And if you don't understand Islam, read a book such as John Esposito's The Future of Islam to get a better idea. Do anything but let your prejudice and intolerance fester.

Comments

September 13, 2010 at 9:30 pm
(1) dee says:

so sad we defend Islam but disown Blacks that choose to leave the left-wing democratic plantation for the beliefs of their choise even thought they may be conservative

September 14, 2010 at 5:05 pm
(2) Norman H. Goroshnik says:

The One Muslim I fear is Louis Farrakan, from Chicago.
I felt he generated hate. I had to deliver an expensive chandlier he bought for a new home he owned. I had to go through heavy body guards. I observed the many members of his Mosque, who were controlled. It is the hate that bothers me. I was born, raised, volunteered, taught as a mentor, and lifted the bar for 8 African- Americans, who could not read or write working in my recycled business. I needed them. They needed me. I never asked them their religion. It was none of my business. I did not tell them what I was either. I worked for 13 years in retail sales. Most of the employees were either gay or African-American. Infact my manager for 2 1/2 years was a wonderful African American lady. I loved her. Really loved her. We worked together so well. Religion was never mentioned.
It is the anger and hate that bothers me more than the religion. My doctors are all Muslim. I don’t see where it says in islam “Thou shall not kill !” Also not in other religions. I have never thought that African- Americans felt they were inferior. They show their hate and difference, in Rap music. They hide under their sqweat shirt hoods. I have taught self worth. good choices, and hope as a mentor.
WE are dealing with the old islam ideology from the 7th century. it will never go away. The young and contemporary are hindered by ancient beliefs. Their is only time that some day those beliefs will come to terms with our modern life on earth for Muslims and all ancient religions.

September 15, 2010 at 12:05 am
(3) BlackContractor says:

I just have a question. Why do racists come to Race Relations forums? Why can you guys just go hang out at StormFront and call it a day?

Do you really think we are going to back to that insane crazy violent ridiculous racial past????

September 15, 2010 at 6:56 am
(4) Larry says:

Nadra, Thank you for this piece, you have actually told the world your true identity but yet there is always going to be a misconception about Islam for lack of education onIsl am. The Muslim community do realize the ignorance and working tirelessly to increase the Islamic awareness. Among the issues that may be imminent to American phobia towards Islam are the 9/11 attack, the war in Afiganistan, the Iraq war and of course the current stalemate of Iran and the rest of the world on nuclear buildup due to series of suspicions and lack of trust of one another. Do not forget at one time President Bush labeled Iran as one of the axis of evils a country which is dominantly Muslims also during President Reagan era Libya was attacked for act of terrorism with all these in our memories the fear and the hatred of and against Muslims will continue. Today some Americans still belief our Mr. President Barack Obama is a Muslim in disguise. In my mind the race and religion issues will continue to dominate our daily lives especially with current politcal set up in American and for as long as we have African American President. Could anyone ever imagined few years back that race and religion will so much envelope/occupy our minds. Trully, America belongs to all of us may you be Black, White, Mexican or Caucausian and whatever your religion affliates Christian, Muslim or Atheist. America was built on moral values and tolerance but we tend to forget all these while our leaders are equally creating fears and using hatreds for their political gains. Islam is for peace and Christian is also for peace both Mohammad and Jesus said it “love your neigbour as you will love yourself and be your brothers keeper”. Love does not hate and the so called Florida Pastor must have misguided his followers, misread Bible and temporarily insane because no where in the Bible that says burn Qu’ran or anywhwere in the Qu’ran that says burn Bible.

June 2, 2011 at 9:42 am
(5) Muhammmd says:

and whoso saveth the life of one, it shall be as if he had saved the life of all mankind
(Quran 5:32)

November 30, 2011 at 4:59 am
(6) Severed and tortured innocent Muslim says:

Many including me have been severely tortured in USA just because they are Muslims, although they are very peaceful people. The question is: would that attack against Muslims be because they are different or because they are Muslims? I think the answer is both. Admitting that not all Americans are bad, there are those who are hateful to not only to Muslims, but also to innocent foreigners in general because they are different. The conclusion is that this attack is really not against Muslims; rather it is against humanity and must be stopped. I have lost my property, my job, my family, my cars, and my community just because I am different who contributed to the success of the American economy, while those attackers are indirectly damaging the American economy under the false umbrella of national security, the artificial paranoia of the 20th century. You need to change this mentality because it is benefiting no body. I was a Muslim who never practiced Islam before, but after I am being attacked for my religion I am getting very close to Islam now and practicing Islam on 2000 times more closely. Thanks to the attackers and thanks to Allah…

November 30, 2011 at 5:01 am
(7) Severed and tortured says:

Many including me have been severely tortured in USA just because they are Muslims, although they are very peaceful people. The question is: would that attack against Muslims be because they are different or because they are Muslims? I think the answer is both. Admitting that not all Americans are bad, there are those who are hateful to not only to Muslims, but also to innocent foreigners in general because they are different. The conclusion is that this attack is really not against Muslims; rather it is against humanity and must be stopped. I have lost my property, my job, my family, my cars, and my community just because I am different who contributed to the success of the American economy, while those attackers are indirectly damaging the American economy under the false umbrella of national security, the artificial paranoia of the 20th century. You need to change this mentality because it is benefiting no body. I was a Muslim who never practiced Islam before, but after I am being attacked for my religion I am getting very close to Islam now and practicing Islam on 2000 times more closely. Thanks to the attackers and thanks to Allah…

November 30, 2011 at 5:08 am
(8) Severed and tortured says:

Hate of Muslims will at the end NEVER hurt Muslims, it will only show the world the caliber of those who hate human. If you want to be some one then love others, do not hate others just becasue they are different… Also I know that you hate Muslims becasue you also hate your self… yes indeed you hate your own sole.

November 30, 2011 at 5:21 am
(9) Severed and tortured says:

I pray the almighty lord from my heart to do unto you what you do unto innocent Muslims amen, let the lord handle this becasue he can handle it beter than any body else

May 9, 2013 at 1:42 pm
(10) caetano fernandes says:

I know the whole of islamic world will say theirs is the religion of peace. However I pity the followers, show me any Islamic country in the world where there is peace and please dont blame Israel for what is happening in Burma and around the world. Tomorrow if the whole of the world embraces Islam there will be violence 100 times then what we are experiencing today. Any doubts

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