Thursday, December 17, 2009

Muslims In America: What We Need to Do

by Minara Uddin

Muslims in America are in a unique position today. Eight years ago, Muslims were thrust in the spotlight (whether or not they wanted to be), because of the attacks on the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001. While this was a tragic part of our American narrative, it also provides Muslim Americans with the power to steer that narrative.

According to Time, nearly 40% of Americans still say they think Islam is more likely to encourage violence, according to a new Pew Forum survey, and only a minority hold favorable views of Muslims (the latest poll does not distinguish between Muslims and Muslim Americans).

These numbers can either serve to energize or depress Muslim Americans. We need to get out and be active in our communities. I have noticed far too many Muslim Americans only focus on themselves and their "plight". Volunteer with a local soup kitchen, help people in shelters, mentor someone, be a wonderful coworker, and stellar students in all fields (not just medicine).

I know we need to branch out into law, media, and other professions. There so many different instances where Muslim Americans have seen their rights infringed upon. We have seen the New York City's MTA prevent women from wearing hijabs (headscarf for modesty), a Philadelphia Muslim police woman disciplined for wearing hijab, proposed legislation that would ban wearing hijab in driver's licenses in Oklahoma and Minnesota.

These measures are amid protestations that the United States protects the rights of all citizens. President Obama declared in his speech in Cairo: "Freedom in America is indivisible from the freedom to practice one's religion. That is why the U.S. government has gone to court to protect the right of women and girls to wear the hijab, and to punish those who would deny it. "

We need to become more involved in the legislative process. How can we expect Americans in general to understand how much we love our country if we isolate ourselves? Let us take those numbers from the Pew Forum Survey to heart. The reason that Americans feel this way is because we have not spoken up enough to let Americans know who we are. I encourage all Muslim Americans to stop hating and start participating in the Democratic process.

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