With Islamophobia dangerously on the rise following a spate of terror attacks around the world by extremists in the name of Allah, and controversial comments by Donald Trump wanting to bar all Muslims from America, The Hon. Paul Findley says a note he wrote some 20 years ago on Islam is more relevant today than ever before…
Twenty years ago the plight of Muslims in America led me to a weeklong international conference on Western images of Islam. It was held in Penang, Malaysia, half way around the world.
Leading the conference was Dr. Chandra Muzzafar, founder of the Just World Trust, a non-governmental organisation based in Penang. Although confined to a wheelchair, Muzzafar is a powerful speaker and leader. Born into a Hindu family in India, he converted to Islam.
Forty-two delegates attended. One of the six from the United States was the eminent Jewish Professor Richard Falk of Princeton University, long a champion of Arab human rights. The other 36 included Buddhists, Christians and Muslims from a dozen different countries.
Each morning delegates gathered around a long table. All day, with a break for lunch, they were called on, one at a time by Muzzafar for comment or to pass. Passing was rare. Each session was filled with vigorous discussion over various aspects of Islam.
Islamophobia was cited as a fast developing cancer that threatens everyone.
On the final day in Penang, each participant was asked to state what he or she will do on returning home to help correct anti-Muslim bias. I promised to compose a brief statement that would be useful to US Muslims in acquainting their neighbours with the truth about Islam.
Back home, I enlisted experts in Islam, Christianity, and Judaism to help me put the right words together. Working together for about a month, we completed ‘A Friendly Note from Your Muslim Neighbour’. Our goal was a statement on Islam that would help clear away the falsehoods that keep Islamophobia growing. The text is devoid of confrontational language. It is concise, clear, and fair. It deals calmly and truthfully with Islam. We were not attempting to win new adherents to Islam. We were simply truth-tellers.
Since then, the text has passed the rigorous test of time. Over the years, I distributed several hundred copies personally. Almost all these encounters prompted civil discussion, mostly with people attending conferences, dinners, and lectures where I spoke about Islamophobia.
I invested most of the next five years researching and writing a book about US Muslims. It was titled ‘Silent No More: Confronting America's False Images of Islam’. It featured US Muslims, men and women, prominent in business, education, science, government and sports - and their role in American history. It detailed successful entry of Muslims into mainstream US politics before 9/11 occurred. The text of the friendly note appears as an appendix.
Much more needs to be done. These are days of great stress and pain for Muslims, including those who live in relative peace in Middle America.
While various sects of Islam live here peaceably with each other, they suffer pain at news of terrible violence between such groups in warring Middle East. Sunnis and Shias seem bent on killing each other. I sensed none of that bloody passion when I first visited the Middle East 25 years ago.
Media giants in the West misreport hateful acts as "Islamist," leaving the impression they are approved by true Islamic authorities. Commentators often misspeak by wrongly using the words Islamic and Muslim.
True Islam deplores violence, extremism, suicide and killing of innocent people. Nevertheless, ISIS, a major radical group in Middle East conflicts, wrongly labels itself Islamic while beheading innocent people.
I am deeply troubled. False images of Islam were widely-held in America six years before the 9/11 horror when professed Muslims were charged with sending 3,000 innocent people to their death in crushed commercial airliners and destroyed Manhattan skyscrapers.
US Muslims have been heavily on the defensive ever since. Recent polls suggest that more than one-half of our citizens are caught in the snares of Islamophobia.
Although written 20 years ago, the ‘friendly note’ seems composed precisely for today's stormy trial. Everyone needs a reminder of the many teachings and rules Islam has in common with Christianity and Judaism.
If ever there is a good time for the public to be introduced to the ‘Friendly Note’ it is now. The note consists of two printed pages. Since leaving Congress, I have been the author of four published books with the aggregate of 1,242 printed pages. I cannot conceive of a better New Year’s gift than the delivery of the two-page ‘Friendly Note’ to every household in America.
A friendly note from your Muslim neighbor:
Muslims have much in common with Christians and Jews.
Muslims, like Christians and Jews, worship the One God, creator of the universe. Allah is the Arabic word for God.
Muslims, like Christians and Jews, consider themselves spiritual descendants of Abraham. Muslims, like Christians and Jews, pledge themselves to prayer, peace with justice, harmony, cooperation, compassion, charity, family responsibility, tolerance toward people of other faith traditions, and respect for the environment.
All three faiths have spread worldwide. Because of geographic dispersal, within each faith exist several sects with slightly different interpretations of politics, family, dress and social life. We Muslims want you to know that: Islam and democracy are compatible and complementary. Both rest on accountability, consultation, open discussion, delegation and consensus. The opening words of the US Declaration of Independence express deeply felt Islamic sentiments.
Muslims honor Biblical prophets, accord special esteem to Jesus and his mother, the Virgin Mary, and recognize as sacred the scriptures revealed to Moses and Jesus, namely the Torah and the New Testament.
Muslims are united in Islam, which means submission and peace. Submitting to the will of God and doing good define piety. The Koran is the final divine revelation, providing a complete guide for human behavior. Its text was revealed to the Prophet Muhammad between A.D. 610 and 632. Though revered by Muslims as the last of God’s prophets, Muhammad is not worshiped.
Muslim women, like men, have the right to obtain an education, own property and engage in business, professions and public life. Both women and men wear modest dress out of respect for public morality. If a society oppresses women or discriminates against them, it is in spite of Islam, not because of it.
The Muslim husband has the primary responsibility for family support, his wife for the household and children. Divorce is discouraged. Procedures vary by country, but either husband or wife may petition to dissolve a marriage. Polygamy, which was widely practiced in Biblical times, is subject to precise Koranic restrictions and is now seldom practiced, rarely where it violates public law, as in America.
Muslims assume personal responsibility for relatives and others in need. In Islam, a woman or elderly person is almost never obliged to life alone.
Muslims are committed to rules. Sadly, some people who say they are Muslims — like some professed Christians and Jews — grossly violate these rules and the rights of others. In doing so, they do not act as Muslims. It is erroneous to call them Islamic fundamentalists, a term unknown in Islam and used mostly in false stereotyping.
Jihad has two meanings: one, non-violent struggling within oneself for a life of virtue; the other, fighting for justice, a supreme goal in Islamic teachings. Islam eulogizes moderation and abhors extremism, terrorism, fanaticism, oppression and subjugation.
Muslims are proud to be Americans. They wish to be good citizens and neighbors by practicing their commitment to tolerance, charity, work, cooperation and interfaith activities for community betterment.