I had lunch a couple weeks ago with a key leader in the Muslim community in northeastern Wisconsin. He’s a friend I’ve known for years. His leadership resulted in the building of a mosque in our community, and I was pleased to be invited as a speaker at their dedication service several years ago, representing the LDS community. There were also leaders from other Christian religions and community groups present. That was a pleasant opportunity to meet local Muslims and learn more about their religion, a religion I respect in spite of disagreeing with some of its teachings.
Some voices in our nation have railed against the idea that Islam is a religion of peace and decried the “hands-off” treatment that the religion, unlike Christianity, seems to get in the mainstream press. But in the heart and mind of my friend, I have no doubt that Islam is a religion of peace. He is a loving, gentle, tolerant, and peace-loving man. I asked him if he leaned toward the Sunni or Shia side of the religion, and he told me that he rejected both of those movements, seeing them as political and not religious. He explained that in true Islam, the focus is on worship of the one true God, not of struggling for power over others. He recognized, though, that he is part of a minority among Muslims.
My experience with Muslims has been highly positive, for the most part. While on the Georgia Tech campus (Institute of Paper Science and Technology) before joining Kimberly-Clark, I was involved in research with two Muslim professors, one from Iran and one from Egypt. We discussed their faith a couple times, and I came away with profound respect for their attitudes, their reverent lifestyle, and their respect for their written scriptures. After moving to Wisconsin, I stayed with one of them on a brief trip back to Atlanta. That Muslim family, with a couple of teenagers, was as healthy and as happy of a family as you will find. That Muslim man treated his wife with kindness and respect, and the family was a family of love and peace, as well as humor, hospitality, faith, and an appreciation for good food.
For the highly educated Muslims I have known, Islam has struck me as a truly positive component of their lives.
On the other hand, religion can be used by monsters as a tool for power, for manipulation of the masses, and for horror. It has happened in Christianity, and it is happening in Islam. The abuse of a religion by the wicked should not condemn the religion per se.
However, given that there are some madmen in the Muslim community who are seeking to stir entire congregations into anger and who actively promote violence and terror, I think we must not be too shy in recognizing the potential of that religion, in its abused form, to be used as a weapon against us. For example, I am disturbed that the press has been so reluctant to mention the Muslim roots of some people who have committed acts of terror. Take the recent killings in Salt Lake. After five people were shot down by a man in downtown Salt Lake City, the press seemed reluctant to let people know that Sulejman Talovic, the 18-year-old Bosnian refugee, was Muslim. Yes, religion normally should not be a key factor in the reporting of criminal activity, though if a conservative Christian does anything, that’s going to make headlines. But when there is a war on terror going in which religion is being used as the key tool to recruit terrorists, it seems like it’s a relevant piece of information that we should know. Perhaps the press thinks that public will assume all Muslims are evil killers if they tells us about the small minority who are. But isn’t their self-proclaimed job to report the news, not to filter it to ecnourage their own social agenda? Or is it just “all the news that fits”?
Those killings touched some of my family. One of the victims was a niece of a sister-in-law of mine. Others known by relatives of mine are experiencing terrible grief from these slayings. Was the murderer motivated or assisted by some Islamic faction in what he did? I don’t think so, but it’s a relevant question, not an unthinkable absurdity that the press must snuff out before it can be raised. Maybe religion played no role at all. (Maybe it was just another case of getting a little too deep into harmless rap music and fine video games. No problem there. Ooops – now that was politically incorrect! And I was just joking – don’t shoot me!)
In the hands of good people, I have seen Islam as a religion of peace. But for some, it is not. We need to understand where and when there are problems and risks, and not close our eyes. (What we do need to close, though, is our borders, where I am shocked that foreign terrorists, if they want to, can simply walk across freely. What kind of war is this, where we go to the other side of the world to pound a nation not directly tied with the 9/11 event that launched our war on terror, while we leave our borders wide open and arrest border patrol agents who actually try to stop criminals?)