A Great Moment for Muslims

Will we look back on Sept. 11 as the day Islam entered the American mainstream?

BY: Steven Waldman


The attack on the World Trade Center and Pentagon might be the best thing that's ever happened to Islam in America.

This may seem like a strange thing to say, given that we're witnessing a grotesque backlash against American Muslims. But in the long run we may view this as a positive turning point for Muslims in America.

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First, Americans are now learning about the religion. Bookstores report big increases in sales of the Qur'an and books about Islam. Oprah Winfrey devoted a show to Islam 101, and Beliefnet has gotten huge interest in its

Islam mini-courses.

Some Americans are merely curious, but many are also feeling a moral obligation to learn. We know that our current view of Islam--is that the religion that promotes terrorism?--isn't quite right. But that's about all we do know. Normally, our civic ignorance doesn't have horrendous consequences; if we don't know the capital of Montana, no lives will be lost. Now, ignorance of Islam could lead to mistreatment of fellow Americans or ill-conceived foreign policy.

Another historic milestone: The President of the United States has repeatedly, vocally, and persuasively embraced Islam, making clear this isn't a war against the religion. To some extent this may be geopolitical tactics--he wants to prevent certain Islamic countries from turning against us. But whatever the reason, it is extraordinary that this evangelical Christian has embraced as a "great religion" a faith that many of his own supporters have viewed as destining millions of souls to hell.

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