As for Islam being a political system, there is nothing in the Qur'an about an "Islamic state," and the Prophet himself never tried to implement an "Islamic state," despite hysterical accusations to the contrary. Those under his leadership practiced a variety of religions.
Traditionally, in the Islamic world, the institutions that governed were always separate from the institutions that developed religion. In fact, they often checked and balanced one another. Although no civilization has been free from all conflict, every Islamic empire was a multi-religious, multicultural empire, in which religious minorities were governed by their own laws.
The term "Islam as a religion and a state" really only became popular in the 1920s, as a reaction to Western colonization of the Muslim world. In fact, Islam contains plenty of concepts consistent with modern democracy -- for example, shura (consultation) and aqd (a contract between the governed and the governing). In other words, Muslims can be perfectly comfortable in America, following state and federal laws.
The Qur'an contains many verses advocating religious tolerance, too, though the anti-Islam protesters won't believe it. The Qur'an says that: God could have made everyone into one people, but elected not to (11:118); God made us into different nations and tribes so that we can learn from one another (49:13); there is no compulsion in religion (2:256); and that we should say, "to you your religion, to me mine" (109:6).
The only verses about fighting in the Qur'an refer specifically to the polytheistic Arab tribes who were trying to kill the Prophet in the 7th century. So the Islamophobes who look in the Qur'an for the fighting verses and assume that these verses refer to them personally are simply being narcissistic. Contrary to counting Jews and Christians as "infidels," the Qur'an repeatedly commands particular respect of Jews and Christians. It is established in Islam that you don't need to be Muslim to go to heaven.
Repeating a lie over and over again doesn't make it true; but it certainly results in people believing the lie. That's what the Islam-haters are counting on. That, and the ignorance about Islamic tenets.
So the best thing to do is find out what Islam really is about. Talk to a Muslim in person. Read an introduction to Islam (try a fun one like mine). Read Loonwatch to read about the holes in the anti-Islamic rhetoric. Or take a look at the University of Georgia's informational website on Islam or Patheos’ Library on Islam for some quick answers and further reading. If you read the anti-Islam fear-mongering websites, all you'll learn will be tall tales.
Bigotry may be a human tendency, but America has never stood for bigotry. I believe in an America that stands for pluralism and multicultural understanding. The hysteria and hate toward Muslims -- resulting in several acts of violence against Muslims just this week, such as a stabbing and arson -- is un-American. We must stop it, and the first step is understanding and education.
This article was first published at The Huffington Post and is reprinted with permission.
Sumbul Ali-Karamali is an attorney with an additional degree in Islamic law, as well as the author of The Muslim Next Door: the Qur'an, the Media, and that Veil Thing.