54 percent of Oklahoma residents see Islam in an unfavorable light, according to a new poll by SoonerPoll.com.
As a Muslim-American, I hear this news with sadness, but not shock. The recent rise of ISIS and misdeeds of other extremist groups, have tarnished the image of Islam worldwide. Plus we disturbingly see elected officials demonizing Muslims for political gain, such as Oklahoma State Representative John Bennett (R) who recently stated that American Muslims are a “cancer in our nation that needs cutting out.” Distressingly, Oklahoma’s Republican state party chairman backed up Bennett’s anti-Muslim rant.
Unfortunately, what the world doesn't know is that Muslims are also victims of extremism. Terrorist groups in the Islamic world are also killing Muslims, who denounce violence in the name of Islam. Indeed, over 90 percent of the victims of so-called Islamic terrorists are Muslims. I have seen this Muslim on Muslim violence first hand as I belong to the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, an organization that has rejected violence of all kinds since its inception in the 1920s in America. For our beliefs, we are persecuted in different parts of the Islamic world. Hundreds of Ahmadi Muslims have been targeted and killed in Pakistan alone.
This is why many of us migrate to the western nations, searching for peace and security. But according to one resident in Oklahoma, L.C. Goodrich of Whitesboro, we don't have the right to be here. "Ship 'em back," he told Tulsa World.
Goodrich, and other residents of Oklahoma who perceive Islam as a threat, fail to realize that extremism and Islam are two very different pictures. If they remain ignorant about Islam, they risk creating a powerful stigma against peace-loving Muslims who want nothing to do with violence. A stigma against law-abiding Muslim citizens who share American values and dreams could have grave implications. It can pave the way for active discrimination against Muslims in America.
After the Fort Hood shootings, the Pew Research Center conducted a survey in which 81 percent of Muslim Americans participants rejected violence. But this resounding rejection of violence is muffled by a growing sense of prejudice against Muslims in America. In a study conducted by Carnegie Melon University this year, employers in most Red states are less likely to interview candidates that show an affiliation with Islam.
Does being Muslim make us less American? Though we are Muslim by faith, my family and I hold American values dear to our hearts. When we left Pakistan 13 years ago, my father’s greatest goal was to send my siblings and I to the best universities in the United States. For this reason, he toiled his life away. Even when he was diagnosed with diabetes a few years ago, he did not give up working. He still works more than 60 hours a week to provide for his family. My father is a Muslim, but as an American his dream is shared by millions of others who work hard and want a better future for their children.
If Goodrich had his way, my father and I would have to abandon our dream and go back to Pakistan where our lives would be in grave danger.
The only way we can end a growing divide between Muslim Americans and other citizens of this nation is by seeking the truth about Islam. The true Islamic teachings bear no resemblance to the image that ISIS and others are promoting. The Islamic scripture, Holy Quran, equates killing of one person to the killing of the entire mankind (5:32). The founder of Islam, Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him) defined a perfect Muslim as a person from whose hands and tongue mankind suffers no loss or sorrow.
Thankfully, Goodrich, Bennett and others in the far right who want Muslims driven out of America are the minority in Oklahoma. While a majority in the state may view us in negative terms, thankfully close to 80 percent of Oklahomans believe that Muslims should have the same freedom of religion as all other faiths.
I am confident that the residents of Oklahoma who view Muslims in a negative light would see us differently if they actually got to know some Muslims on a personal basis. They would surely see a different and more peaceful picture of Islam than the one that they are exposed to in the media. They would find that we Muslims are not outsiders, but rather fellow Americans who share the same passions and dreams. They would find ordinary hearts trying to survive in this tumultuous world where open-minded citizens are greatly needed.
Huma Munir is an ESL teacher in San Antonio ISD, Texas and a member of Teach for America, San Antonio. She serves as the local media secretary for Ahmadiyya Muslim Women Association in Austin, Texas. You can follow Huma on Twitter
Follow The Dean's Report on Twitter