By Imam Johari Abdul-Malik
When it comes to the Juan Williams controversy, I believe that dialogue is a two way street. Muslim-Americans should not simply write off the fears of our fellow Americans as completely imaginary. We all turn on the TV and see that there are many terror plots being thwarted against our country by people that call themselves Muslim. It does none of us any good to pretend that all fears of terrorism are irrational. Likewise, Americans of other faiths should do more to get to know their Muslim neighbors.
Let me be clear! In no way do I want to be blamed for 9/11 or lumped in with extremists. Let me also state that none of the 9/11 hijackers were actually wearing the “Muslim garb” to which Williams alluded. On the other hand, as a Muslim Imam (who often wears “Muslim garb”) I try to understand – given the attacks on 9/11 and others attempted attacks on our nation by zealots – that there are some of my fellow countrymen that may be a little uneasy with my presence. Realizing that, I often go out of my way to make them feel more comfortable by being cordial and/or introducing myself. I consider this to be part of the dialogue that we must have in this country. Part of my job at the Dar Al Hijrah Islamic Center is to assuage the types of fears that people like Juan Williams have and to help differentiate between the irrational (“Muslim garb”) and the rational fears (Al-Qaeda).
If we are to have honest dialogue in this country, then we must allow people to express their honest opinion and allow them to explain why they feel that way. This is the way that we can change hearts and minds. Mr. Williams’ personal conflict gives us a chance to rebut myths and to educate, however, if we create a climate of fear and setting up crippling taboos on the debate where one cannot express their honest feelings then we will never work past these types of irrational fears.
I would welcome Juan Williams to meet with Muslims to have a serious and honest dialogue and to get below the surface of this divisive issue. I hope to listen and learn from Juan Williams on the free airwaves including NPR in the future. Thank you Juan for creating this great opportunity for dialogue! Peace be upon those who following guidance
Imam Johari Abdul-Malik is the former Muslim Chaplain at Howard University and the current Director of Outreach at the Dar Al Hijrah Islamic Center located in the Washington, DC area. His website is www.imamjohari.com.