I’m a Catholic. So why do I work for an organization whose primary mission is to teach Americans about Islam and Muslims?
My commitment to this mission comes in three main flavors. First, I’ve spent a lot of time in the past decade doing interfaith work. I believe deeply in bringing people together across religious lines to work toward the common good. Next, America is a diverse nation trying hard to guarantee basic constitutional freedoms to all people regardless of their culture or faith.
Lastly, a rising tide lifts all boats. Accurate information about one religious minority has spillover effects on humanizing other religious minorities. In an era where the unchurched (or unmosqued) portion of the American public has grown huge, it’s more important than ever to dispel lingering misperceptions about our various religions. It keeps the peace.
As an American Catholic, I have good reason to support the full acceptance of American Muslims. Only a few decades ago, presidential candidate John F. Kennedy was viewed with deep suspicion as an agent of the Vatican. And decades before that, Catholics (especially immigrants) were excluded from large swathes of public life by nativists who feared them and, at times, visited violence upon the dangerous Papists in their midst.
Catholics made it into the mainstream only with the support of many non-Catholic allies.
The eventual acceptance of Judaism as a legitimate American faith is a similar story. Jews and Catholics, once despised and feared, are now viewed as “normal” Americans.
So, as an American Catholic, I have to stand up for those similarly maligned. When I’m asked, “Why do you work for a Muslim organization?” I answer, “Because we’ve been down this road before, and it’s ridiculous. This is America, and we’re better than that.”
I don’t deserve any special congratulations for believing that Muslim Americans are just as boring as I am. All I know is that we have to keep working, educating, befriending, and listening. Only then will we guarantee the promise of an America where people of all faiths and none can live and thrive together
Next: Meet Henry “Hank” Millstein, PhD, Content Manager & Program Analyst