Guest ColumnistThe ugly reality of Islamophobia (and how Catholics should stand up against it)

Muslim chaplain prays during Islamic holy month of Ramadan Credit DVIDSHUB via Flickr CC BY 20 CNA 6 24 15

As a Catholic, I've found the recent headlines about our Muslim brothers and sisters in the United States to be quite troubling. People are being kicked off of planes for speaking Arabic or for doing math equations, and in some instances, are even killed just for being Muslim. And the 2016 election has only seemed to stoke the fear of American Muslims.

Politicians have always been quick to demonize "the other" be they Latinos, immigrants, the LGBT community, or Muslims. But somehow this year seems different.  Islamophobia has been on the rise in recent years and the 2016 election has done American Muslims no favors. The Bridge Institute at Georgetown has noted that since the primary season began last March, there have been 180 anti-Muslim attacks in the US. There is no doubt that hate crimes against Muslims are on the rise. And despite the recent horrific attack in Orlando having no evidence yet to a direct link to ISIS, it's inevitable that Islamophobic rhetoric will only increase because the shooter was Muslim.

Anecdotally, the Islamophobia and fear that American Muslims are feeling across the country is even worse than immediately after 9/11. I heard one story from a colleague that Muslim school children in Fairfax County, Virginia eat lunch alone in the bathroom because they're so afraid and bullied. And while all Americans, no matter their religious persuasion should be concerned about violent attacks across the globe, the vast majority of Muslims worldwide have condemned such attacks and despite the media portrayal, many have spoken out publicly. In fact, the first targets of the so called Islamic State are Muslims who end up becoming refugees fleeing from the war and persecution in the Middle East. 

While American Muslims are often perceived as recent arrivals to the U.S., the truth is that Muslims have been in the United States since before the country existed. Over one million American Muslims first came to North America on slave ships (some 10-20 percent), a fact forgotten or ignored by history, but a reminder of our nation's most grievous original sin. And while American Muslims are often portrayed as being from the Middle East, 30-40 percent are African American and another 30 percent or so are from South Asia. Muslims have been part of the diverse American tapestry for centuries, and over time have become fully integrated into American life just like any other immigrant that came to the United States searching for a better life for themselves and their families. According to a recent poll 85 percent of Muslims identify strongly with their American identity (similar to that of Protestants at 84 percent). Further, despite being discriminated against more than any other religious group surveyed, Muslims are more optimistic about the direction of the country than any other group.

It's easy for many Americans to forget that Muslims are part of the Abrahamic tradition just like Christians and Jews. Muslims lift up many of the same messages of the Bible, celebrating the lives of Mary (who has her own chapter), Jesus (who is mentioned twenty five times), and many of the Old Testament prophets. And while Muslims are currently being demonized by some politicians, pundits, and media outlets, all Americans must not forget the history of our own country: there have been times when Irish, Greeks, Chinese, and many other groups were demonized for being "the other." 

As people of faith, there are ways that we can support our Muslim brothers and sisters. Refugee Welcome dinners are being planned across the United States on June 20thahead of World Refugee Month. You can join or plan one in your own community or join a similar initiative with Shoulder to Shoulder who are conducting interfaith Iftar dinners during the month of Ramadan. At the Franciscan Action Network, we're part of a coalition of national Catholic advocacy organizations who are taking action. But there's an even simpler action that each of us can take in support of our Muslim neighbors. 

Now is the time for all Americans to speak out. We are better than the politicians and pundits who espouse bigotry and make Americans fear one another for being different. Though there is fear of violent acts worldwide, we must realize that American Muslims are fearful too, not just of terrorism but of what those in places of privilege and power might say or do to them because of their religion. As fellow Americans, as people of faith, and as allies of American Muslims it's up to us to speak out against Islamophobia and fear in whatever form it manifests. Quite simply Islamophobia is wrong and to remain silent would be immoral. We are our brothers and sisters' keepers and we must stand together against bigotry and Islamophobia, before it's too late. 

Image: Muslim chaplain prays during Islamic holy month of Ramadan. Credit: DVIDSHUB via Flickr (CC BY 2.0).

Our mission is the truth. Join us!

Your monthly donation will help our team continue reporting the truth, with fairness, integrity, and fidelity to Jesus Christ and his Church.