America Read from the Qur’an
Although negative stories of Islamophobia in the United States abound in
the news media, most Americans respect religious diversity. That’s why
on Sunday June 26 thousands of people across America joined together at
dozens of churches and other houses of worship across the country.
Congregants united to do far more than read Christian scriptures; for
from Alabama to Alaska, from California to New York, worshippers also
heard the words of Jewish and Muslim sacred texts as rabbis and imams
joined pastors in leading an event called Faith Shared.
A joint project of Human Rights First and the Interfaith Alliance, Faith
Shared brought Americans together to counter the anti-Muslim bigotry and
negative stereotypes that have erupted throughout the country in the
past few years and led to misconceptions, distrust and, in some cases,
If I were living in a Muslim-majority country, I might think the United
States is filled with people burning the Qur’an, demonizing Islamic
beliefs and tarring all Muslims as supporters of radicalism and
terrorism. To the casual observer, the anti-Islam fervor of late would
seem to bear that out, but the truth is far more complicated.
It is true that in recent years the United States has seen a disturbing
trend of anti-Muslim violence, discrimination and rhetoric as well as a
general lack of understanding about Islam. We’ve seen Qur’an burnings,
individuals attacked only because they are Muslims, a pipe bomb
explosion at an Islamic community center in Florida and a surge in
reported cases of discrimination against Muslims in workplaces and
schools throughout the country.
But those incidents—all of which have grabbed headlines—don’t represent
the views of so many Americans who respect religious freedom and the
diversity of faiths that freedom brings. In fact, a recent poll by the
Public Religion Research Institute found that more than 60 percent of
Americans believe that Muslims are an important part of the American
religious community with strong agreement across political and religious
lines. The Southern Poverty Law Center recently released a report
showing that much of the hatred directed toward Muslims has been stirred
up by a small, but influential, group of activists and media.
Discussions about the role of Islam and Muslims in American life have
all too often degenerated into stereotypes and hatred. If not
challenged, these can undermine respect for the religious freedom of all
Americans and weaken our resilience as a nation.
And the concerns go beyond our country. What happens in the United
States with respect to the treatment of Muslims, rightly or wrongly, has
a huge impact overseas on the perception of the country in general and
on U.S. efforts to promote human rights abroad.
It’s imperative for the international community to support efforts to
create responsive governments—those that give equal rights to members of
all minorities, protect religious freedoms and allow for the freedoms of
expression and assembly. The United States can, and should, play a key
role in supporting those efforts.
For this reason, it’s vital to recognize that what happens in the United
States—how Americans protect human rights and religious freedoms and how
they deal with security issues in relation to the Muslim
community—influences how the international community perceives the
American people’s commitment to promoting democracy. A message of
respect among religious groups in the United States, one that says that
anti-Muslim fervor is only a small part of the American story, will
strengthen that commitment in the eyes of many.
As we continue in this effort, my colleagues and I are not naive about
the challenges that can divide America along religious lines. Muslims
are not alone among Americans in terms of bearing the brunt of
stereotypes and hatred. Indeed, with the Faith Shared services, we sent,
and will continue to send, a clear message: despite the challenges, the
way forward must begin with respect.
We cannot solve these problems in a day; but on June 26, Americans
across the country showed that we respect religious differences and
reject the demonization of any religion. Americans are a nation, not of
the few who burn Qur’ans and incite hatred, but of the many who fully
embrace religious freedom, tolerance and pluralism.
* Tad Stahnke is the director of policy and programs at Human Rights
First in Washington, D.C. This article was written for the Common Ground
News Service (CGNews).
Source: CGNews, July 5, 2011, <www.commongroundnews.org>.
Copyright permission is granted for publication.