One of those Americans is Franklin Graham, the Rev. Billy Graham's son. Until last week, I had never heard of Franklin Graham. I presume he had never heard of me: a 20-something author of Central Asian descent, born in Chicago and raised in Colorado as a Muslim cowgirl. Still, he felt free to comment on my religion. He said, "The God of Islam is not the same God. He's not the Son of God of the Christian or Judeo-Christian faith. It's a different God, and I believe it is a very evil and wicked religion."
Blaming Islam and assuming that all Muslims, robot-like, read the Qur'an and march off to stereotypical armed jihad is tempting these days. Graham's comments come at a time when American interest in Islam is at an all-time high. Everyone from Bill Maher of the ABC show Politically Incorrect to President George W. Bush now has a copy of the Qur'an. Mosques all around the country have been holding open houses at what I guess is a record pace.
I wish Graham, who suffers from a case of the very same intolerance he accuses Muslims of, could have spent the weeks after the 9/11 attacks with me, following me around and listening in on the various interviews and speeches I've given all over the country.
He would have heard that Muslims believe they are praying to the same God as Christians and Jews. He would have also heard that the Qur'an says that although it is justified to retaliate in self-defense, it is more meritorious to forgive. He would have heard that, even though Muslims do not believe that Jesus is the son of God, they do believe in him as a prophet of God and in his birth to a young virgin named Mary (Maryam in the Qur'an - Islam's holy book).
I want to ask God, how can so many people who have never met me hate me? How can Graham call my religion and therefore me evil and wicked?
I'd like to fault Graham for his ignorance, but he isn't alone. If Andy Warhol were alive today, he would have amended his famous quotation to, "In the new millennium, everyone will gain 15 minutes of fame by demonizing Islam." Every pundit, it seems, is in on the act. If any of these people actually knew the basics of Islam, I would not mind so much. But it's obvious to me that they have all picked up a copy of the Qur'an at their local bookstore and anointed themselves experts after scanning the index for the word "kill" and "infidel."
I have been so disappointed with the rampant intellectual dishonesty and vitriol among some of my fellow Americans. Besides quoting out of context, they ignore the historical context of the Qur'an, translational conflicts, as well as overall themes and often the very next line in the verse, which exhorts Muslims to forgive those who wrong them.
They also completely ignore the realities of the Islamic world and American Muslims. If out of 1.3 billion people, 10,000-20,000 are either nuts or committed politically to being against America, Muslims are no different from any other group out there. Certainly by being one of the largest groups in the world, Muslims are entitled to their fair share of black sheep. Blaming Islam for all that is wrong in the world is certainly easier than dealing with the complex issues of local, native, and usually un-Islamic culture practiced by many Muslims in the world, the effects of globalization, and the leftovers of the Cold War.
And yet I am also seeing a positive outreach to American Muslims. I watched video of non-Muslim Americans holding hands, forming a chain around a mosque, and I wondered how in the world so many non-Muslims actually care about Muslims. A few days after the 9/11 attacks, I watched on television in disbelief as President Bush and his Secret Service took their shoes off per Islamic custom and entered a mosque in Washington. As he spoke about how American Muslim women who wear hijab should not be afraid to leave their homes and that those who attack them should be "ashamed" of themselves, I said to my father, who was sitting next to me, "This blows my mind." President Bush's speeches have continued to amaze me. One day he pointed out that over a billion people find comfort in Islam and noted that it was a religion of peace.
Graham thinks hating Muslims is acceptable. Patrick Flanagan, an Irish-American Catholic, is for hate too. He sent an e-mail to my website, writing: "How many Muslims fought in the American Revolution. Try zero! How many in our Civil War. Zero again! My family has fought in every major American conflict and paid in blood and death for our freedom. Muslims have done very little. But you have the balls to demand more."
When Muhammad began receiving the revelations of the Qur'an, his message was in fact about demanding more. The poor and the hungry, the widows and the orphans of Arabia 1,400 years ago were mistreated. Arabian society had been based on vendettas and tribal warfare. Muhammad's mission was to end all that, and he succeeded, unifying Arabia in peace before his death in 632 A.D.
Flanagan said in his e-mail, "I never invited you here." He does not know that my father was invited to the United States because of his specialty in neurology. Anecdotal evidence shows that a small number of African slaves, some of them Muslim, fought in the American Revolution--and many more fought in the Civil War. Perhaps they were motivated by Muhammad's example of instigating social change in an oppressive society.
What do Graham and my e-mail pen pal Flanagan want? Taking their views to the logical conclusion, they want all American Muslims out or gone. Goodbye to doctors like my dad and sister. Goodbye to law school graduates like me. So long to all the computer engineers. Where does it end? Are non-Abrahamic faiths next, like Hindus and Sikhs, or are they acceptable since they aren't "wicked"? Jews don't accept Jesus as God or the Son of God either. Will Graham and Flanagan expel them, too, in a modern-day Inquisition? Graham and Flanagan, and all of us, have a choice: they can take pride in our contributions as Muslims, or they can continue to divide and conquer.
Graham should be proud that in our country, we celebrate our diversity. We stand as a shining beacon unto the rest of the world that differences--in opinion, in ethnicity, in religion, in class, in gender--and the celebration of those differences, are what make us uniformly strong. Graham should be proud that he has the opportunity to meet those who don't share his views or beliefs. Graham should be thrilled that a little Muslim girl became a Catholic schoolgirl in America.