This article first appeared in The Huffington Post, and is being posted here by permission of author

By: Shabina S. Khatri 8/26/10

It's good to get things out in the open. But sometimes the truth hurts.

It certainly hurt to hear that, according to recent TIME and CNN polls, most Americans oppose the Park51 project, a proposal to build a mosque and community center on private property about two blocks from Ground Zero.

For some Muslim Americans, the vehement opposition to Park51, the site of a former Burlington Coat Factory, comes as no surprise. It is just one of many Islamic centers across the country that have drawn the ire of ignorant and fearful people in recent months.

For most of us, though, the tirade of anti-Islamic sentiment against this particular project has made for a disheartening past few weeks, depressing news during a holy month that's supposed to be about light and hope.

There are logical arguments to refute opponents: the First Amendment; the strip clubs and liquor stores sprinkled around the so-called hallowed ground; the fact that Muslims pray in the Pentagon, which was also a target on 9/11.

But logic is not going to work when emotions run so high. We need another strategy.

A few numbers jumped out at me in the TIME poll: 61 percent of respondents said they're against the project. And 62 percent say they don't personally know a Muslim American.

Hmm.

Is it possible that the people who don't know any Muslim Americans are more likely to oppose Park51?

If that's the case, perhaps there is a really simple way to resolve this mosque hullabaloo.

Perhaps you need a Muslim friend. Not a token one, à la George Costanza out to prove his affinity for black people after his boss challenged it, but an honest-to-goodness, plain-Jane Muslim-American friend.

That's who I am to one college pal of mine, who wrote me this week. He says (and I share with permission):

I grew up in a Jewish family and I remember my grandparents generation of relatives, who had survived the Holocaust and remembered the struggles Israel faced in its earliest years, held some pretty ugly stereotypes about Arabs and Muslims. I came to [college] not necessarily believing their views, but certainly not questioning them.

You were the first true Muslim friend I ever had and you played a big part in influencing my views on Muslims and what Islam stands for. I have to thank you for bringing to me my first Ramadan dinner and letting me get to know you. Any American who is not part of the small group of religions that have never faced persecution, intimidation, or torture and comes out against this mosque in the name of “sensitivity” is a hypocrite.

So how exactly does one buddy up with a Muslim American? Through the time-tested methods of friend-making. Encounter someone somewhere — work, yoga class, Facebook — and strike up a conversation. Find common interests, hang out and talk about them. Maybe Islam will come up all the time, or part of the time, or not at all. The point is social integration.

It will take extra effort on your part and mine. It's a strategy we need to apply here in Qatar, where misunderstandings and stereotypes abound between the minority (15 percent) national population and the country's sea of expats.

But the results — aren't they worth the work?

The World Trade Center crumbled just weeks before my nineteenth birthday, when I was a sophomore in college. As a Muslim American, born and raised, I hated uttering what became a tired refrain: that 9/11 was — is — my tragedy, too.

I have a daughter now, and it's my hope that she never has to prove how American she is, simply because of her religion. Perhaps if more people had Muslim friends, she won't have to.

So let's resolve America's “Muslim problem” and stick to our constitutional guns on the issue of religious freedom by striving to understand our Muslim American neighbors as they should be understood — as normal people who simply want what you'd want, a space to practice our faith, teach our children and converse with our communities.

9 Responses

  1. sister

    MashaAllah. Very good point. I understand exactly what you mean. At work I had the chance to meet few people who InshaAllah changed their views of Islam at least to a small degree, after meeting with me :-)

    I changed, as far as what she told me, one girl from thinking this way: “O my God, Muslim woman are oppressed. Their men forced them to wear those long ugly clothes, oppress them, they have absolutely no freedom, ohh poor Muslim women, and what a dreadful life they have!”

    To this view: “O, wow, you guys have even more loving home, caring family, husband who is so thoughtful, you have feelings just like us, you wear pretty clothes, you look beautiful, your husband lets you go out with us, we can have great times together, o you welcome us to your home, you are so caring, you are honest, you have values, you always talk about modesty, we are really not that different, we are all in a same boat, whats all the big deal about differences anyway, look how we are all good friends. oh, I am so glad to know you and your community, Oh I wish I had community like this.”

    At least few people at my work now can say: I knew a Muslim, Muslims are good people who welcomed us to their home. Muslims are our neighbor, and they are good neighbor. Muslims are just people like us with feelings and its great to know them….

    All Praise to Allah who gave us ability to show (at lest few people in my case) some goodness about Islam.

    Allahu A’lam.

    Ma Salaama.

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  2. Khalid

    The problem with this rather simplistic and naive article is that it fails to appreciate and understand that those most vehemently leading the charge against this “mosque” / community center in Manhattan include those who are very well versed in Islam, do know Muslims personally, and simply are envious of and hate Islam for what it is and for Muslims practicing Islam and existing in the first place:

    I don’t Hate Muslims I hate Islam

    This attitude does have acceptance among the hallowed halls of academia as well:

    Harvard Honors Islamophobic Editor Despite Protests

    and is a reflection of attitudes that are found in the Bible Belt in America as well as already prevalent and shown openly among the U.S. military and contractors such as Blackwater (which actively recruit among those who do hold the above sentiments and attitudes).

    The sad part about all of this is that many of those who took this author’s advice even to the point of denying some aspects of Islam (i.e. Faisal Abdul Rauf):

    http://pmunadebate.blogspot.com/2010/09/moderate-muslim-smokescreen.html

    are today themselves the target of attacks and smears by the right wing (the very same people they sought to ally themselves with against other Muslims in the first place.

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  3. hamza21

    I agree with Khalid.

    The accommodist mentality prevalent among immigrant Muslims and their children is naive,unrealistic and wrong. Islam has always enjoyed a favorable position amongst most African-Americans due the African-Americans Muslims stance on holding their ground. Their never tried to accommodate,befriend or hide what they stood for and believed in. They did what they did and didn’t care what others thought.

    The accommodist model that sister Shabina has outlined in this article comes from a deep rooted belief that they don’t belong and feel the need of approval of others to validate their self worth. Many immigrant Muslims and their American born children live and work in white middle class suburbia. From their daily experience of work and school they constantly being bombarded with evidence that they are the “other”. No matter how hard to try to fit in within the “American” (White) model by hiding or denying their reality. They know that they could never be accepted truly as “one of them”. So it’s no surprise when many of these people have deep seated need to be accepted and approved of by their so called “peers”.

    Muslims don’t need to “befriend” non-muslims they need to be more clear about what they stand for and not be intimidated into saying or doing things that go against the principles of Islam.

    Another point I would like to make is Muslims need to stop being naive and stupid.

    There are over 300 million people within the US a small sampling of people(1,002 adults),usually from a few cities in few states of one economic class of one particular racial/ethnic group, is not a reflection of what most Americans believe. Also what about the question that should have been asked that wasn’t:

    “If the Park 51 project is built what you personally intend to do?”

    From experience I can tell you the overwhelming answer to that question is…nothing. Those who oppose the Park51 project for what ever reason in the end won’t do a thing. They will go on with their lives. So why do American Muslims feel insecure about there place within America? There’s no need.

    Stand for what you believe in and people will gravitate towards you because of your steadfastness. In many places around the world has Islam spread because of manners and steadfastness of Muslims not by scared Muslims trying to suck up to others.

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  4. publicdebate

    I agree with Khalid and Hamza – this article is the same ‘ol remake of “why can’t we all just get along” without examining underlying injustices. And quite frankly I found this bit totally offensive:

    “and remembered the struggles Israel faced in its earliest years..”

    The struggle that the zionist entity faced was resistance to a horrendous racist colonial project – and it continues to face this resistance, and will face resistance so long as the racist project continues to exist. Has this friend changed his zionist views because he has a Muslim friend? From what is posted, it does not appear so given that he appears to regard resistance to the zionist entity as a negative. Quite frankly, I have no need for such “friends” …

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  5. Hicham Maged

    I like your concept that calls other non-Muslim citizens to approach and understand their Muslim citizens. Both of them are citizens of the same country; however I think it’s part of the solution for what you’ve ended your post with as America’s Muslim problem.

    You’ve asked a good question: “Is it possible that the people who don’t know any Muslim Americans are more likely to oppose Park51?” In my opinion, the answer isn’t that easy of (yes vs. no) since the Park51 controversy reflects two points:

    -1- The real image of stereotypes and misconceptions about Islam and Muslims;
    -2- The Islamophobic hysteria towards Islam and Muslims aside from the 1st point.

    Indeed, these two points are not new for Amercian Muslims; however, Park51 project exposed the real atmosphere that Muslims are called to deal with from now and beyond, whether in America or Europe.

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  6. JOHN

    -Removed-
    John, adding a link to a facebook group, even with good intentions, on every post is considered spamming. -Editor

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