Not All Muslims Are Extremists

Originally appeared in UL Lafayette’s Student Newspaper The Vermilion on Sept. 19, 2012. Special thanks to The Vermilion for granting permission to publish this. Reposted to to illustrate the perspective of a Non-Muslim Student at UL Lafayette. 

by Scott Broussard

I was set to write an article about the First Amendment for Constitution Day when the Middle East exploded. Some crazy anti-Islam film called “The Innocence of Muslims” (which may not really exist) was funded by Jewish investors (who might really be Coptic Christians) and previewed on YouTube. The ensuing riots across the Middle East resulted so far in several attacked American embassies and four dead Americans, including U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens.

First off, I am a First Amendment absolutist. As hateful as this film is, I support the filmmakers’ right to make it. Freedom of speech means unpopular speech, too, however bigoted it is. I do not have to agree with the speech to defend it. People calling for the punishment of the filmmakers are betraying core American values.

The attacks themselves are indefensible, though. They are brazen acts of murder, some of which might have even been aided by al-Qaida. However, while protests against this film are worldwide, only the Middle East has violent riots, which is my key point: This is not about Muslims — this is about extremism.

For all his faults, President George W. Bush was very clear about this — he repeatedly said we were at war with terrorists, not Islam itself. Many Americans never understood this difference and assumed all Muslims must be evil. Nonsense! What if all Catholics were judged by the Irish Republican Army, a paramilitary group fighting for a united Ireland, killing almost 2,000 people? Or fundamentalists who kill abortion doctors? Surely that must be a terrorist religion, too! But we don’t say that; instead, we make distinctions. Give that benefit to Muslims.

Every ideology has the potential for extremists because people are passionate animals. There are extremist Muslims and tolerant Muslims, just as there are extremist Christians and tolerant Christians. I understand the problems Muslims have with physical depictions of Muhammad (also see South Park and the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten, both of which I support their freedom of speech to show him), but many Muslims also know that responding violently is also wrong and counter-productive.

Look at the protests around the Islamic world that are condemning the violence. They are apologizing for their fellow Muslims. These are the good people with whom our country can and should work. Demonizing one-quarter of the world because of an extremist minority is ignorant. I’m friends with Muslims who have experienced firsthand prejudice in Lafayette because of their faith, yet they’ve done nothing wrong. By all means, fight the dangerous ones, but leave the good ones alone.

Islam had far more than its fair share of radicals, and I have no idea why. Other gods’ followers don’t react violently to blasphemy anymore, so why the Middle East? What set of circumstances allows it to flourish? The answer is is far too complex for my few hundred words. But just because the violent ones get the most coverage doesn’t mean most Muslims aren’t good people. We don’t define Christianity by its worst elements, and we should treat Islam similarly. Do unto others, after all.

Disambiguating Islamic Deity

Originally appeared in UL Lafayette’s Student Newspaper The Vermilion on Sept. 19, 2012. Special thanks to The Vermilion for granting permission to publish this. Reposted to to illustrate the perspective of a prominent Muslim Student at UL Lafayette. 

by Fatima Osman

Around the time when I was 13 or 14, it came to my attention that a lot of people who are unfamiliar with Islam are confused about the entity that Muslims worship. And, for a while, this realization kind of bewildered me. My parents had always talked a great deal about religion, particularly Islam and Christianity, and so, for years, my understanding was that the very core belief of both faiths was identical, and that the differences only really began beyond that — even though other similarities existed alongside them.
It’s kind of like matter: If you think of the smallest particle of matter as being an atom — all atoms essentially bearing the same physical structure — and then think of how organisms and elements, for all their vast differences, are made of relatively unique organizations of particles all in cohesion with one another, that’s how I was raised to think of Islam and Christianity. Both faiths call to the worship of the same deity (structure), and yet each faith has its own set of concepts regarding the nature of that deity, as well as its own requirements and recommendations for religious practices (cohesive, though non-identical organization).

There are two articles of belief that define a person as being Muslim: 1) There is no deity to be worshipped in conjunction with the creator of the universe, and 2) that Muhammad son of Abdullah (570-632 A.D.) was the aforementioned entity’s final messenger and prophet. My primary concern here is the first article. When I say the creator, I’m talking about the supreme being who was present at and instigated the beginning of the universe, who has been observing and organizing it since, and who will continue to do so up until, and beyond, its point of collapse. This entity is all-wise, spoke to the Abrahamic prophets throughout the ages, resides in heaven, and so on.

As far as my understanding of the Christian concept of God goes, it is fairly similar to this description. But I think it’s when the use of non-English names arises that confusion really starts. I can’t count the number of times that I’ve gotten into very circular debates with people on this point. The point being that, when one refers to this entity, the referent is unchanged by whatever language is used. An English-speaking Christian is no less of a Christian for talking about God than an Italian Christian is for talking about Dio, or a Russian Christian is for talking about Bog or an Arab Christian is for talking about Allah.

And yet, confusion persists amongst many English speakers regarding a Muslim’s object of worship. This is because Muslims from every cultural and linguistic background will often use the Arabic word Allah when talking about God, even in their native languages. That doesn’t mean, however, that Allah is a foreign deity or concept; the use of that name is only a linguistic preference. Even considering that Muslims of different cultural backgrounds make cross-linguistic references to Allah, most do not do so exclusively. For example, when my family talks about the supreme being, we use God and Allah interchangeably; when a Colombian Muslim associate of mine talks about religion, she uses Dios and Allah interchangeably, and the practice is commonplace in many non-Arab Muslim communities all over the world.

Apologies on Email Response Time

Assalaam Ailikum,

Just wanted to thank everyone for all the emails received the last few weeks. The response is great, but please bear with us as we try to respond to everyone. Inshallah everyone will get a response by tomorrow, and please everyone keep the emails coming, I see a lot of great potential events coming up in the near future!

– Rizwan Merchant
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