By Jillian Holzbauer
Read any article that even mentions the word Islam, and one is bound to see a scathing comment or two painting every Muslim in the world with the same brush of extremism. Usually these caps-lock riddled comments feature statements beginning, “The TRUTH is…” as though there exists a singular, absolute truth about Muslims.
As the wave of discrimination against the American Muslim community continues to rise, so does the dehumanizing mindset that Muslims are not individuals but are all part of some homogenous, conspiracy-driven collective. The truth is, there is no singular definition of what it means to be Muslim, just as there is no singular definition of what it means to be Christian, or Jewish or to be an adherent of any other religion or philosophy.
When a member of the majority acts out in violence, we as a society treat this as an isolated event due to sick, criminal intent. When a member of a minority community commits a crime, though, we respond as though it is due exclusively to that person’s status as belonging to a minority group. Yet, both history and every faith tradition clearly tell us that violence is a blight of the human condition; no one community or religion has a monopoly on sinning against our fellow human beings.
Before we generalize the entire American Muslim community, I suggest we first take the planks out of our own eyes. The truth about American Muslims is not difficult to find. We scour every source from blogs to bestsellers to discover what Islam really is and who Muslims really are, but to know the true nature of American Muslims, all we need is to look to our neighbors, our coworkers, and our classmates.
American Muslims are a vital part of the vibrant mosaic of America, and diminishing any of those parts does a great disservice to the whole. American Muslims are contributing members of our society; they are academics, law enforcement officers, doctors, artists, and teachers. They are fashion enthusiasts, or hip-hop music connoisseurs, or college football fans. They are both as normal and as unique as any other sampling of our society.
Perhaps we should take the time to ask American Muslims what they believe, in their own words, before we put words in their mouths. The point is American Muslims are raising their voices to tell us the truth about who they are. We just need to open our hearts and minds and actually listen.
Jillian Holzbauer is CAIR-Oklahoma’s first communications director. She has worked with various community-based organizations and projects to support local business, art, and music. In 2011, Holzbauer organized a statewide conference in Stillwater on Islamophobia and its implications for civil and human rights. She is also a founding member of the Amnesty International chapter in her native city of Tulsa, Oklahoma. Photo courtesey of Associated Press.