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November/December 2009

Discover more articles from this issue.

A Clash of Millennialisms on Capitol Hill

The Christian lobby came to Capitol Hill in a big way in 1888. And that meant that the nation’s lawmakers were certain to hear from the...

Gods and Generals

Old World/New World disparity can be as different as treasured paintings on a crumbling church wall in Florence, Italy, and bulldozers leveling yet another...

Decoupling for Freedom

The Bill of Rights decoupled religion from the state, in part because so many religions were steeped in an absolutist frame of mind—each convinced...

The Victims of Religious Intolerance

Nations, factions, political groups, and even families go to war with each other to satisfy things like their greed, their pride, and their jealousy. They...

What Are We Enhancing?

Thursday morning, July 30: The mainstream media and punditocracy continued to obsess over “Gatesgate” and that evening’s impending...

Cherished Rights

A speech given by Rabbi David Saperstein

Faith, Freedom, and Justice Sonia Sotomayor

On Thursday, August 6, 2009, the U.S. Senate confirmed Sonia Sotomayor to be the 111th justice of the United States Supreme Court. What does that mean for religious liberty in America?

Magazine Archive »

Published in the November/December 2009 Magazine
by Alagan Mohan

Nations, factions, political groups, and even families go to war with each other to satisfy things like their greed, their pride, and their jealousy. They let their anger loose in hopes of power. In religious conflicts there is little difference; there is, of course, that extra goad of martyrdom and a sense of God’s reward to push one forward. But there is a price. These conflicts cause deterioration in people’s souls and minds. Participants no longer think of the consequences of taking another person’s life, and they fight as if they have nothing to lose. There begins a steady loss of morals and values—being unable to see their enemy as human but as heathen, infidels, and the embodiment of an evil that must be defeated. Zealots no longer give others the respect or dignity befitting a human being.

It is a lack of tolerance that caused and causes religious conflicts. Zealots are unable to accept that there are others vying for people to add to their flocks. This has certainly been very true in the past eight years as the United States has engaged Islamic terrorist groups in the war against terror. Now more than ever, groups of radicals feel that the United States is gathering Muslims to turn toward Western belief and turn from Islam. American people have begun to look badly upon Muslims. As a result, the religious conflict has damaged our society’s tie with Muslims severely in the past eight years and the only way to fix it is through developing tolerance.

What is really being damaged in American society is our relationship with millions of Muslims in the world—the Muslim world. Sadly, the Muslim community and American society are closing themselves off from each other. More and more Muslims have begun to display their religion very openly. There are more Muslims attending mosques and Islamic schools in America now than before 9/11. This is important: Muslims seem to be breaking away from our society because they know there will be an increase in hate and violence toward them. They had seen it before during the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing when there were 29 violent attacks on Muslims among the 300 hate crimes committed against Muslims that year. Seeing that, they are afraid of being put in the same category as the Islamic radicals halfway around the world and then being abused and attacked because they are also Muslim.

American society hasn’t been helping this much. Many Americans are suspicious of Muslims when they see them. For example, in Tampa, Florida, a pilot for United Airlines refused to allow an Egyptian-American aboard a plane because he looked like a Muslim. In another instance, Muslim women attending Laney College in Oakland, California, were subject to a search and had to show identification because the police were suspicious of them just because they were Muslims. Things like that have tended to cause Muslim society to move further and further from mainstream American society. Some people have been wronged simply because they are practitioners of Islam, and that is straining our relationship with the Muslims who are supportive of the United States.

We have had a large number of religiously motivated attacks in the years after 9/11. The number of hate incidents toward Muslims (these are not listed as hate crimes by the government even though religious intolerance is the most likely cause) had been increasing since the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing by Timothy McVeigh, but it has grown at an extreme rate since the 9/11 attacks. Before 9/11 the number of hate incidents numbered about 366 incidents, but in 2002 the amount of incidents grew to 602. Then in 2005, there were 1,972 hate incidents toward Muslims, which was more than a 300 percent increase in just three years. There has been even a large amount of hate crimes toward Muslims in the past few years, numbering in the hundreds. These were very violent and hostile acts, too. An example occurred in 2007 when an American of Yemeni descent was assaulted in Lackawanna, New York. He suffered a fracture under his eye, a broken nose, and several cuts in the face that required stitches. There was another case in which 52-year-old Zohreh Assemi, a naturalized citizen from Iran, was assaulted in her own nail salon by two men. The men cut her repeatedly with knives, smashed her hand with a hammer, and scrawled anti-Muslim messages on her mirrors while calling her a terrorist. The root of these crimes is an increase in “Islamophobia,” which means people are afraid and look badly upon Muslims and Islam.

These prejudices are even entering the schools. Muslim kids have been called things like “Osama,” “terrorist,” or “America hater.” On the playground, kids have ganged up on them and bully them constantly. One kid actually began having nightmares about this and he wanted to change his name and stop practicing Islam just because he was being bullied. It is wrong to get schoolchildren involved in this kind of thing. Our society has been truly damaged if kids are being discriminated against because of their religion.

But how can we repair our society’s problems?

An answer to this would be, simply, tolerance. A person should not have hate for a group of people because of what one person has done. Just because one person was bad, does that mean their religion or people are bad? Just because medieval Christians persecuted the Jews, does that make all Christians evil? No. Just because the Nazis killed many Jews, does that make all Germans evil? No. So, how can all Muslims be bad just because Osama bin Laden attacked America? Every person is a human, and we have no control over who is the same height, weight, age, race, or of the same religion as us. Every person has only their character and their own mind that set them apart from others. Every person has good and bad traits in them, and they should be judged for that—not what someone else has done or what someone else is like. Tolerance means that you do not judge others and you let them be even if they believe in something you do not. It means looking past the bad in someone and seeing what is best about that person. It is like looking past the fact that medieval Christians persecuted the Jews, or how the Nazis tried to wipe out the Jews, or that America used to be segregated—seeing that contemporary Christians, Germans, and America all believe in freedom and peace, just as many people do around the world.

Even those who have been directly affected by religious violence have called for tolerance. For example, after the shooting at the Jewish Federation center in Seattle, the parents of Layla Bush, one of the survivors of the shooting, said that they did not want to “put any prejudice or harassment of the Muslim community here, especially of the family of the shooter.” They knew that it wasn’t the Muslim community that was at fault for what had happened that day. In the end, we all have to realize that.

Jesus preached that we should not judge each other and we should love each other. He preached tolerance and told everyone to look past the faults of a man and to look only at the being created after the image of God. The prophet Muhammad, the founder of Islam, said, “You have two qualities which God, the Most Exalted, likes and loves. One is mildness and the other is toleration.” (Riyadh-us-Saliheen, vol. 1, p. 632). Muhammad was saying that our ability to tolerate is God’s gift to us and God wants us to be tolerant of each other, for that is what our best trait is. It is our ability to look past our arrogance and see people for what they are.

It is reasonable to me that tolerance is a better option than fighting over what God meant. The violence leads only to more violence, stereotypes, and hatred of each other, and that is about all it will lead to. Generalizing that all Muslims are bad is a fallacy, and following a fallacy is following something that is not true and, thus, is bad logic. That bad logic would lead further and further away from the answer to religious conflicts and just leads to a stalemate. 

There is no reason to hate someone for what they were born as. You might dislike a person for their personality; that is at least more reasonable than hating because of religion or race; because that person is being judged by their unique actions, not by what they are. Although far better not to hate the person at all. Look at what Martin Luther King, Jr., said in his “I Have a Dream” speech. He said he hoped that one day his children would be judged “by the content of their character.” We must also judge all people by the “content of their character” if we are to truly have peace with everyone. We must be able to look at a person and see the good as well as the bad in order to discern what that person is truly like. There is a Muslim saying, “All creation is the family of God, and the person most beloved by God (is the one) who is kind and caring toward His family.” We have to be able to see that the person we hate is also human, and that common bond is what makes us family, and for that reason we have to be able to forgive and tolerate others.

In the end, we must not make ourselves the judge of humanity, and we must tolerate others despite differences. What makes anyone think that they are the best judge anyway? We are all humans and all have both flaws and greatness within ourselves. We cannot truly be the judge of anyone else because we all have different minds and thoughts than one another. Jesus says, “Judge not according to the appearance” (John 7:24). That is what we must all do, not only for the sake of the Muslims who are discriminated against, but for the truest reparation of American society.

 

Alagan Mohan was a ninth grader at Skyview Junior High in Bothell, Washington, when this was submitted.

Author: Alagan Mohan

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