We Are Holding American Muslims to an Unfair Standard

Anti-Muslim violence and sentiment remains all too common in the United States. In recent months, we have seen the slaying of three young Muslims in Chapel Hill, N.C., arson at an Islamic community center in Houston, threats issued against mosques and Islamic centers in Iowa, Ohio and elsewhere, vandalism of an Islamic school in Rhode Island, and bigoted legislation targeting Muslims in several states.

Does the fact that certain Americans have committed these acts in the name of "protecting America" make this American violence? Should all of America be implicated in these violent actions? Yes, and no. The United States has a history of violence, with a long legacy of racism. These and other incidents should propel us, as a nation, to look into our collective soul so that we may root out this part of our identity. We must own and confront the part of our history, past and present that makes space for these acts of hate. Surely, however, this is not the core of our identity, as an America that values freedom, justice, tolerance and liberty.

Most Americans know on an intrinsic level that while people among us may commit violent acts, this violence does not define our national identity. Yet, when extremists carry out violent attacks in the name of a religion that largely denounces them, the debate begins again of whether Islam is a violent religion. And with every uptick in extremist violence, even if these attacks occur a world away, there is usually backlash of some sort against America's Muslim community.

Many Americans - I like to think the majority of us - have responded to incidents of hate against the Muslim community with expressions of love and solidarity. Violence committed by extremists does not define Islam as a whole, just as violence in our nation does not define America or all Americans. Yet, we bear collective responsibility for the environment we are creating together.

America's best vision of itself includes a commitment to religious liberty and inclusion. In order to ensure we are creating a positive environment, it is incumbent upon all of us to respond with an outpouring of love and seek forgiveness for un-American acts of hatred and violence toward our American Muslim sisters and brothers. As a nation, these acts of hatred do not and cannot define us, but rather, we must seek to live up to our own stated values collectively.

There is great power in a broad interfaith coalition of people working together for peace and understanding. As a follower of Jesus Christ, I am called to demonstrate a transformative presence for building peaceable communities. This calling makes it imperative to demonstrate respect for all people. Every person is created in the image and likeness of God and, therefore, possesses the inherent dignity and worth that comes from being a child of God. Anti-Muslim bigotry is set within the larger context of fear and misunderstanding, which enables fear-mongering and reactionary responses.

People of faith and good conscience must condemn violence committed in the name of any religion, and must likewise condemn any response that seeks to visit violence in return. But there is another, perhaps even more important responsibility we bear in combating our country's legacy of racism. Anti-Muslim sentiments and attacks are often born of ignorance; we have a responsibility to get to know one another. We must be proactive in learning more about religious traditions and people who may have otherwise been strangers to you. We all must do so in the hope that, at a time of rising religious sectarianism globally, these efforts will help lead to better understanding of one another, and to peace in our communities, nation and world.

Jim Winkler is the President of the National Council of Churches, which is part of Shoulder to Shoulder, a national inter-religious coalition fighting anti-Muslim bigotry in the United States.