The Fort Hood shootings present Americans with two choices about how they think about American Muslims. One choice is reactive and negative, taking a horrible act of one American Muslim, Major Nidal Hasan, and saying that he represents all American Muslims. Another choice is reflective and constructive, refusing to universalize harmful actions of one person to an entire faith group.
Given the widespread, harmful stereotypes of Muslims and our culture of fear, many non-Muslim Americans will be tempted by the first choice. Some Christian Right leaders, politicians and pundits will rhetorically inflame public opinion, demonizing Muslims and distorting the teachings of Islam.
An authentically Christian and civil path is to avoid the rush to judgment that connects violence to faith and to resist the temptation to speak hatefully about one of the members of the Abrahamic faith tradition.
Hasan’s actions no more represent Islam than the killer of an abortion doctor represents all anti-abortionists or a pedophile Baptist preacher represents all Baptists. People of faith rightly understand that it is unfair when those outside their faith assert that the misguided individual represents their house of faith.
Over the past year, we have been working on an hour-long documentary, “Different Books, Common Word: Baptists and Muslims,” that will begin airing on ABC-TV stations in January 2010. We have discovered that members of both religions share a common word found in the Bible and Qur’an—love for neighbor. We tell five different stories about how goodwill Baptists and Muslims in America are engaged in interfaith dialogue and action.
These stories and an ongoing partnership with the leadership of the Islamic Society of North America keep me from thinking that Hasan’s actions represent Islam. They surely do not.
In fact, ISNA posted a statement on its Web site in which ISNA and other Islamic organizations denounced “the incident in the strongest terms possible” and offered “their deepest condolences to the victims and their loved ones.”
Another American Islamic organization also condemned the shootings. The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) issued a statement on Thursday evening: “We condemn this cowardly attack in the strongest terms possible and ask that the perpetrators be punished to the full extent of the law.”
CAIR underscored that neither religion nor political ideology could be used to justify “such wanton and indiscriminate violence.”
The CAIR statement added, “The attack was particularly heinous in that it targeted the all-volunteer army that protects our nation. American Muslims stand with our fellow citizens in offering both prayers for the victims and sincere condolences to the families of those killed or injured.”
When I add the ISNA and CAIR statements to my own experiences, I conclude without hesitation that American Muslim leaders are deeply grieved about what has taken place and that they reject such actions as morally unacceptable.
Hopefully, goodwill Baptists will show discernment about what has happened at Fort Hood and avoid the path toward demonizing Muslims.
Know that calls from Baptists and other Christians to Muslim colleagues and/or neighbors are needed, reassuring members of the Islamic faith of our awareness of their stress and our readiness to speak up for them. A call, e-mail or visit will show a concrete love for neighbor.
Robert Parham is executive editor of EthicsDaily.com and executive director of its parent organization, the BaptistCenter for Ethics. This editorial appeared originally on the Washington Post’s “On Faith” Web page in a shorter version.