In the days following the attacks in Paris, the American Muslim community has been under a lot of scrutiny. Everyone from Bill Maher to Rupert Murdoch has been fixated on what statements Muslim organizations have put out and what average Muslim Americans are doing and saying. While such attention is often driven by the paranoia that peaceful American Muslims support the violent actions of terrorists, I wish the media paid this much attention to the American Muslim community all the time.
If they did, the broader public would know that Muslim organizations do great work and that Muslim Americans say inspiring things every day — but nine times out of ten, the public isn’t listening. So instead of shifting attention away from American Muslims when the tragedy in France no longer dominates the news cycle, Americans should keep paying attention.
Through both my academic research in religion and my work with faith-based non-profits, I have had the privilege of working with many American Muslims. Because of this, I get to see the incredible work that many American Muslims are engaged in every day. For example, I think of a Muslim colleague working tirelessly on progressive social issues in New York City, another Muslim colleague working to improve support for people with disabilities in her community, and yet another who opened a clinic in Maryland for anyone in need of low-cost health care. I think of the Muslim organizations and communities that spend time, money and effort to provide food and shelter to people in need in their cities. I have learned vast amounts from Muslim scholars and professors who have taken the time to help me think through challenging concepts. I also think of the numerous Muslim teachers and doctors that I know are, like so many Americans, working diligently day-in and day-out to better the communities around them.
And I know that these colleagues, along with many Muslims across the country and around the world, were called by the public to table their daily work in order to make sure no one could accuse them of being anything but vehemently against the violence in Paris.
People have said, and will continue to say, that Muslims should condemn the attacks. While some never get past this assertion, despite the mounds of evidence that Muslims do condemn acts of violence, many go on to say that to condemn is not enough: Muslims must demonstrate in their actions that they are committed to freedom, equality and justice. What they fail to notice is that many, many Muslims around the world are demonstrating in their actions that they are committed to freedom, equality and justice — and not in spite of their Islamic faith, but because of it. The world just isn’t paying enough attention.
As my email inbox was flooded last week with statements of condemnation and condolence from countless Muslim organizations, I thought about the number of individuals in those organizations whose weeks were usurped by writing and releasing a public statement. They know all too well that the world doesn’t usually pay attention to the important work they are doing on an average day. Rather, the world pays attention to whether or not Muslims have something to say on days like the one after the Paris attack. Certainly any human person, regardless of his or her religion, should condemn the attack as an affront on humanity, but most are not asked to put their lives on hold to do so.
I know from personal experience and conversation that the impetus behind the violence is just as far removed from the values and beliefs of my Muslim colleagues as they are from my own. I hope for a world in which my Muslim friends are able to continue their work bettering society with a little less focus on reasserting their opposition to violence and a lot more focus on the contributions they are making to create a better world everyday. The best way to combat both anti-Muslim bigotry and the rise of extremism is to recognize and celebrate the profound investment that Muslims have made in our communities and the excellent work that they do on days with and without violence.
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