Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Misinformation at Our Fingertips

by Project Interfaith board member and volunteer extraordinaire, Kale Sagheer

I was told recently that Project Interfaith is a front organization for a fundamental Islamist group that wants to impose Shari’ah law on America. “Why am I the last to know?” I asked with a smile. Nothing could be farther from the truth, however. Being involved with Project Interfaith has given me plenty of opportunities to learn about and become comfortable with other faiths, as well as my own. Especially my own. When people would ask if I was a Muslim, I used to answer “yes”, but then follow that with “albeit an unconventional one”. I always felt a bit strange calling myself a Muslim, especially in front of other Muslims. Why? Because I didn’t know everything I thought I needed to know to be a real Muslim. However, I’ve found that with my blond hair and blue eyes, I provide a very non-threatening persona and people are very willing to ask me the questions that have been worrying them. And I’ve found that there are many people who are worried about Islam and Muslims, in general.

I think Islamaphobia and fears of Islamization are both new issues facing our nation. We fear what we don’t know. That’s natural. And most people just don’t know very much about Islam. Why? Because until 9/11 there was never really a need. If you’re not a Muslim, why would you read about or learn about Islam? We learn first what’s necessary to our own lives, our own religion, and our own history, but I think it’s time we started to learn about who Muslims are. I know it’s easier to let the news tell us. We are a sound-bite nation, for sure, but we really need to check those facts. There is as much disinformation as there is information floating around. In addition, we all have a tendency to believe what we want to believe anyway. Why? Because it makes sense to us and fits our view of the world. I had a friend say to me a while back, “Wouldn’t you admit that Islam has a fundamentally violent theology?” Yikes! No! Not even close! While this friend is very intelligent and well read, she is also is a devout Christian and finds it perfectly reasonable to believe that Islam is inherently violent. The few Muslims she knows aren’t violent, but she still assumes that…maybe…probably…the rest of them could be.

Yes, there are violent terrorists who are Muslim, but we’re not all that way. Not even remotely violent! Most of us are too concerned with the same day-to-day concerns that everyone else has: work, kids, bills, etc. But what about the mysterious Muslims overseas? What do they do all day? They do the very same things. Except sometimes, in less fortunate countries, the daily concerns of surviving are way too consuming to even contemplate anything else. God Bless America for safe and secure daily living! There is not one single Muslim I know who doesn’t appreciate that. We like a free market economy, freedom of speech, and freedom of religion. We like living here. Many say that the terrorists hate America because of these very freedoms. That’s not entirely true. The truth is much too complicated, and the history supporting the truth way too long, to fit into such a tidy sound-bite. Nevertheless, whatever that “truth” is, it doesn’t justify their actions or tactics. And all the Muslims I know would agree. Terrorism and inflicting pain and violence on innocent people is never okay in Islam. Never!

There is a small, vocal group of fundamental radicals who are giving Islam a bad name. Likewise, there’s a small, vocal group of Americans helping them by using this threat to incite fear of all Muslims. Muslims, in general, are not the enemy. The religion is not theologically violent. Unsolicited violence is not okay. Moreover, there is no compulsion in our religion. We can’t make you be Muslim if you don’t want to.

Now, I realize that I am really not that unconventional. I know some Muslims who wear hijabs (head coverings) all the time and I know a lot who don’t. I know some who are religiously conservative and some who aren’t. I know some who are politically conservative, some who are quite liberal, and many who fall somewhere in between. I know some who take the Quran literally and some who read it metaphorically. In this way, Muslims are no different from any other group of people. Think about all the people you know in your own faith. I would bet that for every one of those people, there is a Muslim with a similar personality and preferences somewhere in the world.

Having had an interest in faith, religion, and the reconciliation of her own beliefs with those of others since her teenage years, the opportunity to be involved with Project Interfaith seems like divine intervention. Though most of this "reconciliation" has been both private and personal, Kael has spent the last 5 years speaking to people, groups and individuals alike, in order to help them understand the similarities and differences between the Abrahamic faiths. As an educator, she have seen firsthand the ignorance, and consequent importance of fostering mutual understanding and respect, in the areas of faith and religion. To borrow the words of her father, "A true multiculturalist keeps both eyes open: one to the see the similarities, the other to see the differences." It is her hope that through Project Interfaith she can help others become thoughtful, discerning multiculturalists, too.

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