In hindsight, 2015 had many great moments, but also many terrible things that caused untold pain. From the Charlie Hebdo attack in January, to the Paris attacks in November, and the San Bernardino attacks in December, not only did humanity suffer horrific loss of life, but also terrorists claiming to speak for Islam dominated the headlines.
Likewise, certain politicians promoted fascist ideologies such as special ID cards for Muslims, a cessation of all Muslim immigrants, and a rejection of a Muslim serving as president of the United States.
Meanwhile, anti-Muslim hate crimes and anti-Muslim sentiment skyrocketed in 2015 -- higher even than in the weeks and months after 9/11. Sikh and Hindu Americans have also suffered the brunt of this hatred as many of the bigots attacking American Muslims are too ignorant to know the difference between Sikhs, Hindus, and Muslims.
Looking forward, the only way we -- Muslims and non-Muslims -- are going to conquer misinformation and extremism, is by working together. We can build peace, but we must build it together. If you are ready to build, then here are 16 simple ways you can support your fellow American Muslims in 2016.
1) Call your local mosque and wish them a Happy New Year! Yes, Muslims celebrate the new year too.
2) Vote for a candidate who promotes freedom of religion for all people -- not just for those who share the candidate's faith.
3) Love thy neighbor, yes, even thy Muslim neighbor.
4) Encourage your children to learn about different faiths, including Islam. It will make them more compassionate and intelligent human beings.
5) Learn about Prophet Muhammad (sa) from Muslims. Here's a great and free e-book about his life.
6) Learn about Islam by reading the Qur'an. You can get a complimentary copy mailed to you free of charge at the Muslims for Peace website.
7) Understand that Muslims are diverse in race and nationality -- white, black, Latino, Arab, South Asian, European, and many more. So in other words, don't stereotype.
8) Understand that Muslims are as American as anyone. In fact, American Muslims have served in the Armed Forces in every war since America's founding.
9) Understand that Muslims condemn terrorism just like any sane person would. We don't expect every Christian to condemn the so-called "Christian" terrorist group known as the KKK. The same courtesy should extend to Muslims regarding terrorist groups claiming to act in the name of Islam.
10) Understand that Islam's primary purpose is to bring humanity closer to God in personal faith, and bring humanity closer to all humanity by serving all humanity.
11) Understand Muslims in your local community by visiting a local mosque and introducing yourself. You can start with customary Islamic greetings such as, "Peace be with you, my name is [your name here] and I wanted to stop by and say hello." Dialogue builds bridges in ways few other things can.
12) Understand that Muslim women who choose to wear hijab, do so in the footsteps of Mary Mother of Jesus. (In fact there's a whole chapter named after her in the Qur'an).
13) Get involved. American Muslim youth are waging a true Jihad (i.e. struggle) against hunger in America. (Fact, 1 in 6 Americans go to bed hungry every night and Muslim youth are trying to change that). Follow @MuslimsForPeace on Twitter and find out how you can join this true jihad.
14) Get involved. There's an annual Muslims for Life blood drive to honor victims of 9/11. You can donate blood at a local drive. Check out the Muslims For Life website to sign up for the next blood drive near you.
15) Get involved. There's a new campaign called True Islam and the Extremists, which is the country's first effort to unite Muslims and non-Muslims against terrorist ideology. Follow @TrueIslamUSA, endorse the campaign at the True Islam website, and help build a united stand against extremism and terrorism.
16) Finally, and perhaps most importantly in 2016, take the time to make a Muslim friend. Get to know a Muslim personally. According to Pew, roughly 200 million Americans have never met a Muslim. If you want to find a local Muslim friend, email me and we'll make it happen!
Hopefully as 2016 comes to a close we can look back and appreciate the progress towards peace we've made, individually, as a nation, and as humanity.
Have a happy, safe, and blessed 2016!