In response to the rise of Islamophobia, a friar who has studied Islam and traveled extensively in the Middle East reminds us of the historic contributions Muslims have made to the United States and Western civilization as a whole.
Muslims have been a part of American society for well over a century. They were among the African slaves brought forcibly to the United States, and then among the many different immigrants who came in the late 19th and early 20th centuries seeking freedom from injustice, gainful employment and a better life. They worked in the textile mills of the Northeast, owned and operated businesses, and farmed the land in the Great Plains.
Today, several million American Muslims, both native-born and naturalized, continue to be a vital part of the rich fabric of American cultural and religious diversity, and active participants in every profession and walk of life. Those who came to the United States as immigrants came to make better lives for themselves and their families, and in the process they have enriched our lives and, as is the case with the medical professionals, have even saved our lives. They came to make better lives for themselves and their families, and in the process they have enriched our lives and, as is the case with the medical professionals, have even saved our lives.
Reflecting St. Bonaventure University’s mission and values, SBU’s Center for Arab and Islamic Studies upholds the God-given worth of every individual. We welcome all good people of faith to our programs and classrooms because we feel that an educated America makes not only for a better country but also for a better world.
There is no doubt that terrorist groups such as al-Qaeda, the “Islamic Caliphate” (ISIS), Boko Haram, and others that claim a Muslim identity continue to pose a serious threat to life and liberty, and have seriously damaged attitudes towards Muslims and the Islamic faith. What is often overlooked, however, is that it is Muslims themselves who are most often the victims of terrorism worldwide. Muslim scholars, activists, political leaders, and clergy consistently denounce such violence allegedly perpetrated in the name of Islam.
In response to recent remarks made by certain politicians, we can do no better than to reiterate the words spoken in 1957 by President Eisenhower at the dedication of the Islamic Center in Washington, D.C.:
I should like to assure you, my Islamic friends, that under the American Constitution, under American tradition, and in American hearts, this Center, this place of worship, is just as welcome as could be a similar edifice of any other religion. Indeed, America would fight with her whole strength for your right to have here your own church and worship according to your own conscience…
Civilization owes to the Islamic world some of its most important tools and achievements. From fundamental discoveries in medicine to the highest planes of astronomy, the Muslim genius has added much to the culture of all peoples. That genius has been a wellspring of science, commerce and the arts, and has provided for all of us many lessons in courage and in hospitality.
This fruitful relationship between peoples, going far back into history, becomes more important each year. Today, thousands of Americans, both private individuals and governmental officials, live and work — and grow in understanding — among the peoples of Islam.
Given the tragic reality of terrorism in our world today, it is tempting simply to blame Islam and its adherents. To do this, however, is to overlook the complexity of geo-politics and the various underlying causes of terrorism, and thus unwittingly perpetuate discrimination, prejudices and worse.
Moreover, it perpetrates a great injustice against the vast majority of Muslims in the world, in our country and in our community who aspire to lives of true faith, freedom and lasting peace.
— Fr. Michael is director of the Center for Arab and Islamic Studies at St. Bonaventure University in Allegany, N.Y.
Editor’s note: Other Franciscan groups, including the Franciscan Action Network, have partnered with Muslim leaders to call for an end to hateful speech, actions and attitudes toward Muslims.
- “Franciscans Life Voices Against Anti-Muslim Rhetoric” — Sept. 15, 2010, HNP Today
- “Interfaith Dialogue at St. Anthony Shrine” — Nov. 21, 2012, HNP Today
- “Friars Call for Peace, Unity in Wake of Violence” — Nov. 20, 2015, HNP Today
- “Syrian Refugees Are a Test of Our Nation’s Values” — Dec. 9, 2015, TheHill.com