The literal meaning of Islam is peace. That message obviously has not resonated with many Americans, especially post 9-11. Islam always will be linked to the terrorist attacks almost nine years ago that killed nearly 3,000 innocent people, even after President Bush’s repeated statements separating terrorism from the religion.
Even though this is not true, perception at the moment is the reality. Muslims cannot escape the stigma that Islamic fundamentalists have created by furthering their cause through terrorism, all in the name of Allah.
Park51, the planned $100 million Islamic community center in New York City which includes a mosque, has stirred up lots of emotions, more so from the conservative right, but among many Americans nonetheless. The issue taking center stage is where the “Ground Zero Mosque” is being located, which ironically is a couple of blocks away from the World Trade Center.
The Muslim community has been silent denouncing terrorism for some time now, or so that’s what it appears to the average American. People fear what they don’t know and are influenced by opinion.
For nearly a dozen years, Malcom X was the face of the Nation of Islam. His controversial and inflammatory statements made headlines and impacted people’s perception of the Islam faith, which bordered on the negative.
That was a long time ago however. People’s opinion about Malcom X have changed over the past several decades, thanks in part to Brooklyn film director Spike Lee’s biopic of the influential Black Nationalist leader, played by Oscar award-winning actor Denzel Washington.
Is Malcom X the cause of American Islamophobia? Certainly not. It does however show how perception can influence opinion, which is the key challenge and task at hand for the Muslim community.
The Islamic community center aims to change that perception. No doubt it has made national headlines, good, bad or indifferent. Whatever comes next in terms of where the center will be located, the American public is paying attention. The Muslim community must use the media opportunity to take center stage and put a “face” on the Islam faith, counter to what fundamentalists already have done to damage its reputation. Park51 organizers’ inflexibility about moving the center might be a good start, which shows strong commitment to their cause. Otherwise, the true message of Islam will continue to be lost.