Religion is only a barrier to those who make it one

“Do you speak Islam?” One of the girls asked me the first day I was in the dorm at Gannon University.

Even though her question annoyed me a bit, I ignored it and told her I speak Arabic and that I am Muslim. Her question prompted me to wonder if she never watched the news, but then I realized I would probably have a better shot at being friends with her if she didn’t.

Her question also gave me purpose. Let me tell you a bit about my religion.

“Islam,” in the religious sense, literally translates to voluntary submission to God.  To be a believer, a Muslim should believe in God, his angels, his books – the Torah, the Bible and the Quran – his prophets, judgment day and predestination. In that, Islam and Christianity are very similar; perhaps almost identical.

Very recently, my religion was misrepresented by two parties; the first was Nikola Basseley Nakoula, an ignorant American from southern California who produced an offensive video portraying Islam’s prophet, Muhammed, as a fraud, a womanizer and a child molester.

The second was a group of angry protestors who decided to ignore everything our religion calls for – peace, tolerance, forgiveness, etc. – and resort to violence in expressing their rage. This violence cost the life of Christopher Stevens, the U.S. ambassador in Libya, last Tuesday.

Muslims are rightfully enraged; it’s one thing to personally attack a Muslim, but it’s another to attack a prominent figure in the Islamic religion, like prophet Muhammed. However, when their actions cost a human life, this legitimacy is significantly undermined, if not completely lost.

On the other hand, for the past decade or so, there has been an undeniable and momentous amount of frustration mounting up between Muslims and non-Muslims. Provocative actions like the production of such a video serve only to build up that tension instead of reconcile Muslims with non-Muslims around the world.

I am distressed because the religion I grew up practicing is not the same one people grew up watching.  For more than 11 years now, Muslims like me are – intentionally or unintentionally – forced into a place where they have to defend themselves and their religion against not only the accusations directed at them, but also the assumptions people form in their heads.

But I am also hopeful.

As my experience in Erie has taught me for the last two years, Nakoula and those like him do not represent Americans or Christians, even if he is both. And my hope is that your experience with me taught you that those who kill in the name of Islam do not represent Arabs or Muslims, even if they are both.



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