By Craig Considine – Comfortably sitting cross-legged in front of a fire at Zaytuna Institute offices in San Francisco, Hamza Yusuf gave Akbar Ahmed a universal notion of the American identity. To Yusuf, it is best defined as this New World ‘experiment’ that broke with Europe’s ‘Old World’.
But I often describe America as the ultimate contradiction. It has provided freedom, hope and opportunity to millions of immigrants – but still has the scars of slavery, interment camps, and imperial aggression.
I see this as a challenge to our generation – we must begin to understand Islam and learn to reach out to Muslims not only in America but across the world. There are some people who are portraying the religion in a distorted and negative fashion. Islam is often studied because people fear it, not because they want to learn it.
Yusuf sees not only Islamaphobia but also ‘mis-Islamism’ – meaning certain individuals are studying it looking only to expose its faults and its potential dangers. There is, however, hope, for the beauty of the experiment is for Americans to contribute in rediscovering the founding principles laid out by the likes of Washington and Jefferson.
In my three months of traveling thus far, I have noticed that some of the best Americans are Muslims. They work hard, they are law-abiding citizens, they respect their neighbors, and they are unwavering in their love for America. They may have different customs and cultural norms but they still eat, pray, gather as families, go to school, and play sports just like many other Americans. Breaking down the walls surrounding different ethnic groups is all part of the struggle that coincides with perfecting the American experiment.
Americans have struggled mightily throughout history to knock the walls of racism down but they have eventually knocked them down nonetheless. Some resistance towards Muslims and Islam, Yusuf noted, is not detrimental for ‘without resistance, nothing can be gained’. When Americans embrace Islam not with fear but with compassion, America will have once again re-invented America, just as it did recently electing Obama as president.