By John L. Esposito and Sheila B. Lalwani
Religion has a dark side and, as we have bitterly experienced, religious extremists can be deadly. But, as Park 51 and recent congressional elections have demonstrated, no thanks to some politicians and bigots, religion can be also be exploited to feed division and hatred.
Politicians like Newt Gingrich, Sarah Palin and Sharron Angle grabbed headlines, using Islam and Muslims as convenient scapegoats. Gingrich, in a speech at the American Enterprise Institute earlier this year, created a reality that doesn’t exist by calling for a federal law barring US courts from considering Islamic Law as a replacement for US law. Sharron Angle nearly topped him when she falsely suggested that Frankford, Tex., and Dearborn, Mich., were subject to a “Sharia” regime. Voters in Oklahoma and ……… followed suit, with ballots to ensure Islamic Law never creeps into their systems. There is a significant problem with these bogus concerns and charges. No federal court would consider Islamic law or any religious law as a replacement for US law and mainstream Islam and Muslims, like mainstream citizens of other faiths, accept the US legal system,.
We herald our US history of ethnic and religious diversity but often leave out the price paid by immigrants along the way. Forgotten are the struggles of Jews, ethnic Catholics, Japanese in WW II and many others against bigotry and discrimination before they were accepted. Today, Muslim Americans, despite the fact that major polls show they are economically, educationally and politically integrated continue to face powerful forces that wish to deny them their place as a part of America’s social tapestry. Major polls on public sentiments about Islam taken by Time Magazine and The New York Times in August reflect this forgetfulness: 33% disclose that they believe that Muslim Americans were more sympathetic to terrorists and, in general, 60% of those polled have negative feelings about Muslims. Other studies from Gallup, the Washington Post and the Pew Forum indicate similar findings.
It has become increasingly more difficult for Muslims to construct mosques and Islamic centres which according to a report from the Pew Center on Public Life and Religion, municipalities and city councils have consistently blocked. So too, existing mosques are being subjected to protests and vandalism in Connecticut, New York, Wisconsin, Texas, California, and many other cities throughout the US.
In America, faith matters. In our country religion is important to the majority of our citizens and we are unique in the numbers of citizens representing such a variety of faiths. But in 21st century America, religion has too often become a source of division, an excuse for discrimination, bigotry and hate crimes. To meet the many challenges we face in this century, a fundamental transformation is critical in the way we “see” religion and religious rights in general and Islam in particular.
First, we must improve our religious literacy. Ironically, although studies show that religion is important to most of us, most Americans are more broadly religiously illiterate. While our vast public school systems should not “teach” religion, they need to “teach about” religions, in order to prepare future generations for life in our multi-religious society that is based on mutual understanding and respect.
Second, the mainstream news media which has a huge impact on public opinion, must provide a more balanced and nuanced view on religion, global affairs and policy. Coverage of violence and terrorism by religious extremism is important in a world where it has become all too common, but just as critical is media coverage the constructive and inspirational roles that religious faith plays in so many American lives.
Third, we also need to resist being exploited and divided by politicians who promote themselves through hate speech as an integral part of their campaigns. Intolerance is intolerance, and that’s not what we stand for in America.
John L. Esposito is University Professor and Founding Director of the Centre for Muslim-Christian Understanding. He is co-author of Who Speaks for Islam? What a Billion Muslims Really Think, and author of the newly released book The Future of Islam (2010). Sheila B. Lalwani is a Research Fellow at the Centre.
Marking 3rd anniversary of Russian annexation, Petro Poroshenko decries illegal occupation of Ukrainian territory
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to attend ECO summit this Wednesday, March 1
Without mentioning any paid ransom, local police spokesman confirms release of duo abducted Wednesday in NW Kaduna state
Turkish president receives Masoud Barzani in Istanbul, but no press statement released after closed meeting
Clashes in occupied Karabakh region intensified over the weekend
Last week, Iraqi army began a fresh operation aimed at purging remaining ISIL terrorists from Mosul’s western districts
Malaysian autopsy says VX nerve agent spread rapidly to heart and lungs of older brother of North Korean leader
Numan Kurtulmus says since the 1960s Turkey's Constitutional Court closed down 68 political parties, including ruling ones
The assassination of the former deputy prime minister on February 27, 2015 was the highest-profile killing of a critic of President Vladimir Putin since the ex-KGB officer took charge in 2000.
Ko Ni, a prominent Muslim lawyer and critic of Myanmar's powerful military, was shot dead on 29 January outside Yangon airport in a murder that sent shockwaves through the country's young civilian government.
The assaults left 560 people injured, including 43 children, the ministry said.
The independence and neutrality of the justice system is under scrutiny ahead of a two-stage presidential election in April and May amid several high-profile probes into Fillon and Le Pen.
Police said they had no interest in the two Sri Lankan men, both asylum-seekers, who in 2013 had helped the former US National Security Agency contractor evade authorities in Hong Kong.
Three of nine injured people being treated in hospital are in critical condition, Xinhua news agency said.
At times in the long and rambling letter, published in English and Farsi on his website, he appears to find a kindred spirit in Trump.
Ildar Dadin, 34, emerged from a Siberian penal colony after some 15 months behind bars for repeatedly holding unsanctioned rallies against President Vladimir Putin's rule.