But some people in America obviously think otherwise.

As an American Muslim, I am, therefore, shamed by the language and attitudes I find some of my fellow Americans using about Islam.

In a few short days we have seen pigs' blood thrown at the door of a mosque in San Francisco, 300 marchers waving flags and shouting "USA" as they tried to descend on a mosque in Chicago, a disturbed individual wearing what looked like a bomb in the parking lot of a Muslim school in Silicon Valley, gunshots in Texas, and mosques vandalized in Washington D.C. Electronic hate mail has flooded the chat boards of ABC, NBC, CBS and CNN. (Example: "It's time to eradicate Islam.")

It is no surprise that huge misunderstandings persist in this country concerning Islam, but there is greater ignorance afoot. The ignorance of assigning guilt by association, for instance, as though a political murderer's claim to your religion must automatically tar you with his convictions.

We also hear people making a lot of noise about "Martyrdom" and Islam these days.

Concerning this confusion, try to remember that Christianity, America's mainstream religion, has in common with Islam a well developed conception of religious sacrifice, that people of both faiths hope to be rewarded after death for good actions, that they believe they may reach a better place by being better human beings. It is a belief that has sustained billions of people over the centuries, guided their actions and illuminated their lives. It is also, as we know to our cost, a belief that is easily twisted: by rulers (beginning with the medieval Crusader kings), by millenarian, self-serving, misguided 'leaders' (think of Jim Jones) and desperate social revolutionaries (Nat Turner, John Brown). In terrible times, religion has been invoked for the greatest crimes, genocide (Nazism, the destruction of Bosnia) and organized racism (the Ku Klux Klan). Yet Christians do not consider their religion tainted. And they are right.

If this is a time of mourning, it is also a time for acts of imagination.

If, for example, you are an 'ordinary' American, try to imagine how it must feel right now for any of the 3.5 million Arab Americans or the 6 million American Muslims, citizens all, simply to stroll down a crowded city street on the way to school or a bakery or a hospital. We have all just been reminded how fragile human life can be. Perhaps we can draw on that knowledge to bring some comfort to people who, in addition to their grief over what has occurred, must also walk in the shadow of guilt by association. Try to remember that there are Arab Americans serving in the White House, six Arab Americans in Congress and that, side by side with all the others, approximately two hundred Muslims were in the World Trade Center and the Pentagon when the airplanes struck on September 11.

Muslim Americans have the same job before them. If you're a Muslim, try to imagine how frightened a blonde, blue eyed woman might be, this morning, as she stands in line at the airport about to board an airplane while a perfectly innocent Arab or Muslim couple stand in line in front of her? What can you do for her? Can you think of some way to erase the line that separates you and offer some human gesture that she may recognize?

A friend of mine writes: "Brutality (the use of power to degrade and to wound) is the essence of social misery. And increasing the acceptability of brutality, whether through self-indulgence, evasion, or outright lie, is criminal. I can think of no human reality which it is necessary to rise above other than brutality. I can think of no human misery--personal, political, economic--to which it is not central."

Let good sense prevail. Let Americans see this terrible action for what it was-criminal terrorism perpetrated by extremists. The plotters and actors may call themselves Muslims, but they are religious failures. They have smeared the good name of a peaceful faith.

We should pray for protection when emotions run high. May God bring us sudden good and protect us from sudden evil.

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