War on Islam Comes to Our Backyards

Prayer beads are used in many religions and cultures, either to help with prayer and meditation, or to simply keep the finger
Prayer beads are used in many religions and cultures, either to help with prayer and meditation, or to simply keep the fingers occupied during times of stress. Islamic prayer beads are called subha, from a word which means to glorify God (Allah).

We are at war with Islam. Or so many people would like the world to believe. Whether it's the Islamic State or anti-Islam protestors across the U.S, this narrative is determined to manifest the clash of civilizations between the West and Islam.

From the Central African Republic to Iraq to Nigeria to Mynamar, Muslims are taking cover as the mass population has fallen target to both extremes -- religious fundamentalism and Islamophobia. Both ideologies reject the reality that there is no single phenomenon that can be called Islam, nor is there one set of persons who could be said to represent all Muslims. Rather there are countless "Islams" that are the expression of how 1.6 billion unique individuals live and practice their faith.

And now American Muslims have joined the climate of fear.

Over the past few days there have been over 20 mosques across the United States that will have anti-Muslim protests--some armed-- protesting outside Muslim places of worship. In a country now receiving global attention for mass shootings, the fear in the community is palpable.

The fact of the matter is that the majority of Muslims like myself no longer know where to turn. The mentality of with us or against us remains at the forefront of both extremist ideologies. After all, both the Islamic State and religious reductionists are quick to point out comparative religious scholars like Karen Armstrong that emphasize peaceful texts as apologists for Islam. As I received death threats from ISIS, I have also been flagged in international airports as a security threat.

Both worlds -- the secular and the extremist -- are limiting my voice, mobility and access.

I am not alone. The majority of Muslims -- often described as simple-minded, indifferent, non-violent, but easily misled -- are being targeted by reductionist thinkers at different ends of the spectrum. They are attempting to strip away creative, new ways of thinking and force us to buy into a friend or enemy binary lens.

With every crisis comes and opportunity. The greatest challenge is being able to identify what is the actual crisis. The war on Islam that is now in our backyards is not a manifestation of the lack of compatibility of East or West, Islam and Christianity. The reality is this is a manifestation of a growing global community that no longer understands the role of religion.

In fact, Brie Loskota, of the USC Center for Religion and Civic Culture, has often highlighted to me that that growing religious illiteracy may be the greatest challenge for our societies as we enter the 21st century. The way of thinking is not limited to Islam alone, and religion continues to be a mass polarizing force.

The escalation of tension among the American-Muslim community is an opportunity for us to once more examine the role of religion in society from a multi-disciplinary lens. It is an opportunity to reject the simplistic and sensational narrative that is leading to a cycle of violence. Our lack of understanding of the power of religion as a positive force for change has abandoned the space for the more extreme ideologies to prevail. A religious reductionist approach divides the world into polarized factions and thereby presents us with false, invidious choices. It also leaves individuals, communities, and government's ill equipped to address the challenges that mass religious illiteracy produces.

At the end of the day, whether it's armed combatants in Boko Haram fighting for a false narrative on Islam or armed protestors outside my mosque in DC fighting for a false narrative on patriotism -- the result is the same. Both as an individual and as a community I have been identified as a target. Simply for following my faith.

The sad reality is all my contributions on a national, and international level, have been because of my faith. Not despite it. Only when we remember the positive role religion can play in our daily lives will we be able to move forward to a peaceful, diverse, and harmonious society.