Khalil A. Akbar is Imam at Masjid Ash-Shaheed of Charlotte:
As is customary for Muslims, my wife and I awakened on Tuesday morning to offer our morning prayers in order to begin the day in a spirit of graciousness and gratitude that God allowed us to see the beginning of a new day.
After the prayers, I turned on the news and what I heard made me cringe with fear, grief and outrage. On every channel there was “breaking news” that ISIS had unleashed another terror attack. This time, in their cowardly ways, they chose another soft target, the airport in Brussels, Belgium.
Right away I thought about the millions of innocent Muslims in this country and abroad who are constantly linked with terror simply because the terrorists claim they are acting in the name of Al-Islam. I thought of our country’s current political climate in which Muslims and Islam have been made a major part of the debate that has helped shaped the campaign rhetoric. Some candidates’ eagerness to show who would be tougher on terrorism has made the social climate very cold for the majority of Muslims whose only desire is to take care of themselves and their families in the same way all Americans do.
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I thought of the Muslim children attending public schools, who are subjected to verbal abuse by some of their peers and teachers. These children are depressed and do not want to go to school to face what has become a serious problem for them.
I thought about the Muslim women who openly don their religious attire and are looked at suspiciously by ignorant people.
These are just some issues facing Muslims that grow out of these terroristic crimes against humanity.
Without a doubt these attacks are unconscionable and totally against the teachings of the religion I adopted in 1968, and came to understand more about in 1975, when the late Imam Wallace D. Mohammed became the leader of the Nation of Islam in America. Through his guidance, we came to understand that Islam is a religion of peace.
It is an affront to the vast majority of the 1.6 billion Muslims in the world that their religion has become linked with grave acts perpetuated by criminals parading around in so-called Muslim dress and using language that misleads the public to believe they are Muslims.
We join people everywhere who believe that ISIS, Al-Qaida, Boko Haram and other terror groups must be brought to justice.
While we are appalled by this latest terroristic act in Belgium, we must not lose sight of the fact that ISIS also attacks Arab and Muslim cities, claiming dozens of innocent victims. Offering condolences to the victims’ families in Brussels, San Bernardino, Istanbul, Baghdad, and the many other places in the world that have been targeted is, perhaps, not enough.
It is clear that terrorism strikes everywhere indiscriminately and threatens the whole world, not a specific group. An alliance is needed that will bring the whole world together to take actions that will eradicate terrorism.
What can we do as American citizens to help fight terrorism?
▪ We have to educate our youth to the perils associated with these groups who use social media and the Internet as means to recruit.
▪ We have to take advantage of every opportunity to speak out and educate the public about true Islam, whether it be by invitation to our mosques, temples, synagogues, or churches.
▪ We have to change the narrative from one that engenders fear to one that educates and engenders mutual trust between Americans of varying diverse backgrounds.
Finally, yes, we are proud of our Islamic heritage, but we are also proud of our American citizenship and believe it is our duty to help defend this nation and the freedom it represents.