Understanding Islam erases ignorance, fear and hatred

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A COUPLE days after the Paris attacks, I found myself in Connecticut praying in a mosque with fresh bullet holes. This mosque is just like one in Lynnwood, it hosts blood drives in honor of the 9/11 victims, donates turkeys to food shelters for Thanksgiving and participates in gift drives during Christmas. There was a chill in the air that day and it wasn’t because the holes in the walls let in the cold. I saw three bullet holes in the prayer area, each a representation of a growing wrongness in America.

The first bullet hole represents the beginning: ignorance. The Pew Research Center reported that 60 percent of Americans do not know a Muslim. This is concerning because Islam is often in the news and usually because an extremist has done something un-Islamic. With a majority of Americans lacking a Muslim friend, they do not know how Muslims actually behave. They might believe what they see and hear about extremists, and think that this is Islam, which leads to firing the next round.

The second bullet hole: fear. Fear prevented the shooter from ever stepping foot inside the mosque to learn about Islam’s teachings. He feared they preached hatred for America, ignoring the beautiful U.S. flag crowned in light in the mosque’s glass entrance.

The third bullet hole: hatred. The rising rhetoric against Muslims directly leads to hating Muslims and those who extremists believe to be Muslims, whether it is a lady wearing a scarf around her head or a Sikh man who has dark skin and a beard. Such hatred stems from believing a group is “less-than,” which convinces people to trample on them. It has happened to Native Americans, blacks, Irish, Italians, Catholics, Jews and, in more recent and notorious history, the Japanese.

Yet, many focus so much on this problem that a tried and true solution gets ignored. The only way to seal these bullet holes and to prevent them from recurring is through education.

Education erases ignorance, fear and hatred.

Days after the shooting, there was an open mosque event attended by more than 70 neighbors and new friends from the community. For most, it was their first time in a mosque, but they did not cower in fear. Their presence showed a love that overshadowed any hate those bullet holes tried to tear into America’s fabric.

This love echoed in President Obama’s recent speech addressing terrorism: “Muslim Americans are our friends and our neighbors, our co-workers, our sports heroes — and, yes, they are our men and women in uniform who are willing to die in defense of our country.”

On the other hand, Donald Trump’s statements about Muslims show that bad leadership leads people down a path of fear.

Leadership matters in the political world and it matters in the spiritual world. That is why the khalifa of Islam and head of the largest Muslim community in the world, Mirza Masroor Ahmad, actively leads Ahmadi Muslims to be productive. In America, the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community USA uses true Islam’s teachings and Ahmad’s guidance to clean roads, hold blood drives, feed the hungry and hold open mosque events.

Ahmadi Muslims lead by example and will not respond to foreign or domestic extremists with more extremism. This is exactly what the extremists want. Nobody should ever stoop to the level of extremists in responding to them.

America cannot progress encased in hateful rhetoric. Join us in this effort to promote true Islam so we can combat extremists of all kinds, both foreign and domestic. It is through education and dialogue that we will help heal a growing rift in the country and truly make America great again.

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