Religious intolerance not only shatters the goal of American democracy, but it also fosters a climate of religious violence and ethnic scapegoating. Having to live differently now in light of the September 11 terrorist attacks on America, blaming one specific ethnic group or religion only creates an atmosphere of fear.
Just last month, the Rev. Jerry Falwell blamed abortionists, feminists, the ACLU, People of the American Way, and gays and lesbians for the attack. And Falwell did his finger pointing on Pat Robertson’s “700 Club,” a right-wing Christian Broadcasting Network that reaches nearly one million households daily.
This month, Robertson took the liberty of pointing his finger at all Muslims by doing a series of news reports called “The Jihad Trail,” critical of Islam as a violence-oriented faith.
“Ladies and gentlemen, our president said Islam is a peaceful religion, [but] I beg to differ with our distinguished leader. That just isn’t the case,” said Robertson.
While the world now turns on a different axis due to the attack, the religion of Islam is not the reason. The reason is similar to what clerics like Pat Robertson, Jerry Falwell and the Christian Right promulgate: a propaganda campaign of hatred, hysteria and hype toward a group of people.
“[M]aybe 100 million to 150 million Muslims who are fundamentalists . . . take the words of Mohammed that are in the Koran that basically say kill Jews and Christians,” said Robertson, “and launch a jihad against those who don’t believe in Allah and submit to Islam.”
While at its core, Robertson thinks that Islam is violent and calls for devout Muslims to launch “jihad” holy wars, the concept of peace is fundamental to Islam. As a matter of fact, the term “Muslim Terrorist‚” is an oxymoron.
The word Islam is derived from the Arabic root which connotes “peace” or “submission.” The proper meaning of Islam is the attainment of peace, both inner and outer peace, by submission of oneself to the teachings of Allah. The word “Muslim” derives from the Arabic word salaam, which means “one who submits to God in peace.”
The concluding words of Muslims’ daily prayers are words of peace, and the daily salutation among Muslims, Al-salaam alaikum, is an expression of peace, meaning, “Peace be with you.”
The Qur’an speaks against violence. It states “[I]f anyone slew a person . . . it would be as if he slew a whole people. (5:32)”
The Prophet Muhammad, Allah’s messenger, also speaks against violence. In Muhammad’s final address in his farewell pilgrimage, he stated in the Hadith, a holy book of sayings, “One who kills a man under covenant will not even smell the fragrance of Paradise.”
Robertson, rather than targeting religious fanaticism in fundamentalist Islam, should be pointing at himself and his Christian fundamentalist cohorts. Islam speaks against religious fanaticism.
“Let there be no compulsion in religion,” Allah (God) states in the Qur’an (2:256). In another Muslim holy book, the al-Baqarah (2:285), Muslims are warned not to make fanatical or parochial distinctions between prophets.
It is Christians we see going door-to-door proselytizing their religious views, not Muslims. De Lacy O’Leary, in Islam at the Crossroads, wrote, “History makes it clear however, that the legend of fanatical Muslims sweeping through the world and forcing Islam at the point of a sword upon conquered races is one of the most fantastically absurd myths that historians have ever repeated.”
Anti-Islamic polemical literature based on religious intolerance and ignorance has precluded the possibility of an unbiased and open-minded dialogue and understanding about Islam and Muslims. Anti-Islamic literature has been and continues to be unsympathetic and even hostile to how the faith is seen in its own understanding of scripture and practiced by its adherents.
Not only do religious fundamentalists like Robertson and Falwell taint Americans’ views about Islam and Muslims, but so do the media. The movie The Siege portrayed Arab Muslims as an irrational and deadly menace to Western society. And during the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing, the news media rushed to judgment, thinking that the bombing was caused by an Arab or Middle Eastern-looking person; therefore, putting every Muslim American at risk, while at the same time legitimizing racial profiling.
Perhaps Afghanistan’s Taliban and Osama bin Laden’s al-Qaeda are behind the September 11 attacks. They, however, do not represent all Muslims’ beliefs about Islam anymore than Falwell’s and Robertson’s beliefs represent the entire kingdom of Christianity.
While this tragedy has brought about a resurgence of American patriotism where an American flag hangs outside just about every moving vehicle and home, this tragedy has not, tragically speaking, eliminated American bigotry and religious intolerance.
As lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people we are constantly the targets of this sort of bigotry.
So as we wave our flags in the name of American patriotism, let us not fan the flames of hatred.