Ever since President-Elect Barack Obama became a serious candidate for the Democratic Party's nomination for the presidency, the right and the ultraright, the Fox News, and the ill-informed segment of the population which follows Fox's "fair and balanced" news and analysis used Mr. Obama's middle name and the fact that his grandfather was a Muslim against him. In such propaganda, being a Muslim is tantamount to being evil, having ill will towards the United States, and someone who could not be trusted, especially with the highest office of the land.
As a supporter of Mr. Obama, I was often disappointed that he did not confront such bigotry. His standard reaction to the accusation of being a Muslim - one also enforced by his camp - was always, "I am a Christian; I have never been a Muslim." It really bothered me and people like me when, for example, last June Mr. Obama's aids removed from the front row of a rally in Detroit a few Muslim women with their Islamic hejab - cover for their hair - because they did want them to be seen in photos with Mr. Obama.
Although people like me never liked the way our President-Elect handled the "issue" of his Islamic "heritage," and even though my like-minded friends and I have been apprehensive about what he may do in the Middle East and the Islamic world, we wanted, more than anything else and above all, Mr. Obama to be elected the 44th President of the United States. The thought of living in a Bush-3 regime under John McCain was just too painful and frightening, and the dream of breaking the racial barrier with all of its consequences was too enticing. Pragmatism and the realities of America in the post-9/11 era also dictated our silence. We put our worries and unease in the backburner.
Now, however, our candidate has won by a landslide. Now, he does not have to worry about the accusation of being a closet Muslim as a campaign issue. Now, the elections have shown that the people have moved, to a large extent, beyond race as a barrier to the highest office of the land. Now, our President-Elect has won a mandate for fundamental changes, part of which should be cultural.
Mr. Obama is not, of course, a Muslim. He believes in the Christian faith. As a practicing Muslim, I have the highest respect for his faith. In my mind, Jesus Christ is the all-time symbol of kindness, forgiveness, and sacrifice for the sake of others. Thus, as a follower of Christ, Mr. Obama should set the record straight about the injustice that has been done to true Islam in this country.
Mr. Obama should now use the same eloquence; the same type of powerful speeches, and the same cool, intelligent, deliberate manner with which he mesmerized us all, to lead the people beyond the bigotry of hating Muslims, simply because they are Muslim. He should simply declare:
So what if I am a Muslim?
Not only will this simple declaration go a long way towards healing the wounds of over a billion Muslims that have been inflicted upon them by the Bush administration, but also move America in a progressive direction, and do wonders for its distorted image among the 1.3 billion Muslims, the very population that the U.S. needs in order to defeat the terrorists.
The reality is that, the true Islam has been incredibly distorted in the West, and the United States, under George W. Bush, has done its share. Our President-Elect can take an important step to correct the injustice done to the true Islam.
You see, unlike the common propaganda, the Qur'an - Muslims' holy book - advocates understanding of, and open exchange of opinion with, the Jews and Christians. After all, the three religions share common principles inherited from their common Abrahimic roots. The Qur'an's views towards the followers of what it calls the "People of the Book" (Christians and Jews) are nothing but peaceful, compassionate, and respectful.
God told Prophet Muhammad to inform "the People of the Book" that,
O People of the Book! Ye have no ground to stand upon unless ye stand fast by the Law, the Gospel, and all the revelation that has come to you from your Lord.
In instructing Muslims to show respect to the people of the previous religions (Christianity and Judaism), the Qur'an informs them that,
If only they [Jews and Christians] had stood fast by the Law, the Gospel, and all the revelation that was sent to them from their Lord, they would have enjoyed happiness from every side.
A theme repeated many times in the Qur'an is that, Muslims must join in friendship with the followers of other religions, and refrain from discussing subjects that may cause division. The Qur'an instructs Muslims to emphasize the common themes, and to clearly declare that,
We believe in God [Allah], and in what has been revealed to us and what was revealed to Abraham, Ishmael, Isaac, Jacob, and the Tribes, and in [the Books] given to Moses, Jesus, and the Prophets, from their Lord: We make no distinction between one and another among them.
The Qur'an orders Muslims that they should "not argue with the followers of earlier revelation, except in a most kindly manner."
These are not what only people like the author extract from Qur'an, nor are people like the author the only ones who interpret Qur'anic teachings in an enlightened way.
Voltaire, the great French philosopher, was initially anti-Islam. But, after studying the Qur'an, he wrote very highly of Prophet Muhammad.
Johannes Wolfgang von Goethe, Germany's "greatest man of letters," declared himself indebted to the great Persian and Muslim poet, Hafez (the word Hafez means someone who has memorized the Qur'an completely), and said,
If this is Islam, are we not all Muslims?
Gustav Leberecht Flugel, the eminent German Orientalist, published an edition of the Qur'an in 1834 (which was again published in 1893 after his death). Theodor Noldeke, the "extraordinary professor" (as he was called in Germany) of Semitic studies, published several books on Islam and Qur'an. Both scholars praised the excellence of the teachings of Prophet Muhammad.
Karen Armstrong, the British renowned religious scholar and author of several books on Muslims and Islam, has spoken very highly of Islam, particularly after the 9/11 terrorist attacks. She has declared that,
All the great traditions [religions] are saying the same thing in much the same way, despite their surface differences....They each have in common an emphasis upon the overriding importance of compassion.
True, Islamic teachings have been abused by the fringe of the fringe Islamic groups to "justify" crimes against humanity, including the 9/11 terrorist attacks and other crimes. But, such abuses have happened, and are still happening, with all religions, not just Islam. George W. Bush, an evangelical Christian, claimed that God told him to attack Iraq.
We must remember that both "reason" and "light" are repeated exactly 49 times in the Qur'an - and often together - indicating that the Qur'an believes that it is only through reason that one finds light and enlightenment.
So, President-Elect Obama, at the dawn of a new era in the history of this great nation, please help instill a spirit of understanding between the West and Muslims. Please lead the nation move beyond religion-based bigotry by simply declaring that,
So what if I am a Muslim?
Please lead the effort to change the culture of bigotry and hate.