Understanding diversity in religious beliefs helps bridge knowledge gap

THE OLYMPIANJanuary 4, 2012 

A year ago, I began writing for The Olympian, and today’s article is my last.

I’m not a writer, but I volunteered to be a member of the Diversity Panel and promised to deliver a dozen articles.

Why did I? The answer is I’m an American Muslim and, like many, I was troubled by Islam’s image in America. The religion that was being portrayed on television and in print was not the one I had grown to understand and live by.

Islam was being defined not by the moderates, but by people with extreme points of view. The voices of mainstream American Muslims and non-Muslims, though present, were often drowned out by rhetoric and misinformation. So, I was compelled to share a different perspective, to paint a more accurate picture of the Islam I knew.

Through this opportunity, I learned a lot.

First – and I can’t overstate this – our community is truly an inclusive place. The response to the articles has been extremely warm and positive. Yes, there was opposition and even condemnation. But the majority of those who reached out to me were encouraging and supportive.

I’m embarrassed to say, I didn’t expect this. I prepared myself for some stiff opposition and a quick dismissal from the Diversity Panel. Instead, I received invitations to speak at local churches and schools where I felt most welcome. I cherished every opportunity. No doubt, I was asked pointed questions. But behind those questions, there was always a sincere interest in finding common understanding and a desire to build a foundation for interfaith dialogue.

And that brought me to my second lesson. I learned the importance of continuing the dialogue. A humble handful of articles by no means tell the whole story of Islam. They don’t scratch the surface. Understanding Islam, its traditions and cultures, requires more than a cursory overview of religious rituals and holiday celebrations.

Getting to the essence and meaning of this religion requires us to engage in open and honest conversation. We need a public discourse that breaks through the stereotypes and that values the diversity represented by all faiths in our community.

Third, I learned that addressing criticism directed at Islam, the religion, is not hard. Usually, the confusion surrounds a misinterpretation of a verse in the Quran. Offering some context or historical perspective will often answer the question, given an open mind.

What is hard is addressing the rightful criticism directed at the deeds of those who profess to be Muslims but act in ways that reflect their regressive cultures or political agendas.

It is appropriate for non-Muslims to raise those questions. And it is incumbent upon Muslims to answer.

Muslims, by their faith, are forbidden from standing silent in the face of injustice and wrongdoing. Islam requires them to intervene, to right a wrong when they can. If they can’t, they are to speak out against it. And it is through this difficult dialogue that Muslims and non-Muslims find common ground.

Finally, I learned that in matters of religion, it is often best not to preach. With that, I ask the readers’ forgiveness as I preach just this once.

What ails the Muslim world can be fixed through Islam, not despite it. Acting with that in mind, America will remain true to its values and earn its rightful place as a world leader.

Hey, at least it was a short sermon.

This opportunity has been a sincere pleasure for me. I thank you for your kind thoughts and support. And, I bid you “Assalamu Alaikum” — may God’s peace be with you.

Dean Hosni, an underwriting professional in the insurance industry, is a member of The Olympian’s Diversity Panel. He can be reached at dean.hosni@comcast.net.

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