“To punish a man because we infer from the nature of some doctrine which he holds, or from the conduct of other persons who hold the same doctrines with him, that he will commit a crime, is persecution, and is, in every case, foolish and wicked.”
America has a long history of turning on its citizens and arousing fear and hatred among the ignorant. Generally speaking, most of that fear mongering deals with either race or religion. In the case of Islam, we see both, even though “Arab” is not actually a race.
America was founded upon secular principles. Thomas Jefferson, George Washington, John Adams, James Madison, and Benjamin Franklin were deists. Deism is belief in a creator but not adherence to a particular church or philosophy. It could be described by the more modern phrase, “spiritual but not religious.” Unlike Thomas Paine, who was very anti-Christian, the others were respectful of Christianity, believing in the ethos but not in the organization or the indoctrination that the church encouraged. As deists, these men were open to the idea of a benevolent god, but not committed to that idea.
Deism was the main influence for the Unitarian church in America, which embraces monotheism, or the belief in a god that is one entity, rather than the trinity that is the cornerstone of Catholicism and many other western churches. Unitarians, much like Muslims, believe that Jesus was a prophet of God, but not the manifestation of God on Earth. The Unitarian movement began in the mid sixteenth century in Poland, and England’s first Unitarian church was established in London in 1774.
In the late 18th century, the colonists of America were not largely adherent to the church. The percentage, not counting Native Americans or slaves, by 1780 was only 10-30%. New Hampshire and South Carolina were among the most religious, at 16%, while North Carolina had the lowest amount, at only 4%.
However, evangelicalism took hold around this time as well. In the 1730s and 1740s, a time known as The Great Awakening, those who sought to make religion intently personal and to bring religion to the slaves relied upon a great sense of guilt and the promise of redemption to turn non-believers or lax ones into full-blown adherents. It was a movement based on the Protestant faith, and it played a major role in the development of democratic principles among colonists. The Anglican church had long taught that the power of the “elite” was supreme…kings, church leaders, etc. However, Evangelic principles were that of a “republican” sense, based on the hierarchical structure of ancient Rome that did not place the former into “divinity” but into classes. Some believe that this break was the impetus for the American Revolution; the radical notions that people could think for themselves outside of the authority of the church and the monarchy. However, with a large amount of our founding fathers being deists, it is more likely that it was a spark more for the common man than the nobility.
The Second Great Awakening took place in the early 19th century and hit its peak in the 1840s. This was the time of Arminian theology, and the idea of redemption through revival. The Baptist faith is probably the most influenced by Arminian ideals; however, modern churches such as the Salvation Army, the Church of the Nazarene, and the Seventh Day Adventists are more apt to embrace the ideals of the Calvinist, Jacob Arminius. One of the main beliefs of the Arminian faiths is that humans are totally depraved; that people are “fallen” and must be saved by grace (much as Luther preached.)
Among non-believers, lukewarm believers, and emphatic believers in American history, Islam still plays a role, although an overlooked one. About 10% of the slaves in America were Muslim. However, America offered opportunity to immigrants, and those who profess the faith of Islam were no exception. Between 1878-1924, thousands of Muslims emigrated to America from Syria, Jordan, and Lebanon, as well as other “Arab” countries. By 1920, Arab immigrants were worshipping in rented halls, namely in Cedar Rapids, IA, where they built their own mosque fifteen years later. (ND, IN, PA. and MI were areas that also expanded with Islam post Iowa.) In 1924, the Asian Exclusion Act and Johnson-Reed Immigration Act ended the flood of immigration from Arab counties.
( The Asian Exclusion Act was not the first race-specific act that the U.S. had passed. In 1882, we passed the Chinese Exclusion Act, which would be the precursor to the Asian Exclusion Act. In 1902, the Chinese Exclusion Act was renewed indefinitely.)
In 1952, the Immigration and Nationality Act, a.k.a. the McCarran-Walter Act of 1952 was created to restrict immigration from certain countries after WWII, and shifted the focus of immigration from a particular region to those who were considered unlawful, immoral, or politically radical. After 1948 and the creation of Israel, Palestinian refugees began to emigrate to America. By the 1990s, more than six hundred mosques had been established across America.
In 2001, estimates stated that there were 5 million Muslims in the U.S. With such a substantially high number, according to government propaganda, we should be experiencing hate crimes and terrorist attacks on our soil every single day. The boogeyman could live next door. So, why doesn’t that happen?
For one, Islam is not a religion of hate. The word Islam translates to ” submission to the will of God,” which, for most adherents to the faith, means personal peace by following the teachings of Allah. Allah is actually the same God that Christians pray to…the line of descent is different. All are children of Abraham; Christianity’s descent comes from Sarai (Sarah) and Isaac, whereas Islam comes from Hagar, who was Sarah’s handmaiden. Sarah believed that she was sterile, so she entreated Jacob to lie with her handmaiden to produce an heir.
That’s it. That is the major difference. Muslims believe that Jesus was a prophet, much like most Protestant faiths. They believe that Muhammad was a prophet as well, which is unique to their culture. However, both Christianity and Islam, whether they want to acknowledge the link, both have roots in Judaism (which in turn have roots in ancient Egypt and Rome.)
About 85% to 90% of Muslims are Sunni. While the Sunni place emphasis on Sharia law (which is greatly misunderstood), they are the most peaceful and the most aligned with Christian and Judaic values of the Muslim world. Most Sunni view “jihad”
as a personal struggle with god, not a military one.
One of the terms meaning peace and peacemaking in Arabic, “sulh”, which is used in the Quran, is also the root of the word”islah” which means development and improvement. This term is used to refer to peacemaking. Peacemakers are agents of good and those who turns their back on peacemaking are embracing corruption and sin.In Islamic tradition, peacemaking is seen as integral to human development. In Islam peace and making peace are seen as Godly acts worthy of praise and reward. In Islam, peace is advocated as a divine quality to be pursued in order to achieve “paradise”, which is on par with the Christian idea of heaven.
The Shiite, which make up only about 10-20% of Muslims, are the “radicals” that you see in the news, much like the Westboro Baptist Church in America.. There are many differences between the Sunni and the Shiite, but on the main is the concept of jihad, which the Shiite interpret literally to “holy war”, whereas the vast majority of Muslims view “jihad” as an internal, personal struggle. The Shiite are the radicals that you see protesting embassies or perpetrating suicide bombings. They do not represent the majority of the Muslims around the world.
I am an atheist. I don’t believe in any of these gods, whether it be Allah, Yahweh, or God. However, I am intelligent enough to research the differences, and to realize that it only takes a small faction to ignite fear and hatred among the ignorant. That is what we have done in America. Muslims are people, not labels.
Islam is not your enemy. Muslims are not your enemy. Radical factions are your enemy, just as the fundamentalists in our country who protest military funerals or bomb abortion clinics. People need to step away from this witch hunt and strive to understand the similarities and differences between Islam and Christianity. There are many more things that are alike than those that are different. Are we still so rooted in superstition that different means evil? Is our administration, and those before this, perpetrating a worldwide witch hunt in their attempt to rise to the top?
Don’t allow your government to manufacture a boogeyman. Take the time to talk to people. History tends to repeat itself, and for all of our secular ideas, Americans have moved far more to fanaticism than understanding. We have been taught by our government to fear that which we don’t understand or have not been willing to support as different, yet valuable. Peace is a very tantalizing concept; one which 90% of Muslims endorse.
We are all people, and we all deserve compassion, tolerance, and understanding. I don’t want to be the ones who go down in flames as those who could not embrace those who are different. This is not a Christian nation…this is a nation of people, independent of religion, It’s time that we took people on merit, not on labels.
America is not omnipotent. It’s time that people stop paying attention to propaganda and start listening to their own voices. We need to stop demonizing others based on misunderstanding. Hatred is anathema to the secular principles America was founded upon. It is not a time to “suffer the witch”, but a time to sue for peace.
“It’s not radical Islam that worries the US — it’s independence.”