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Negm: American Muslims, American goals

Services for Ramadan at the Islamic Center of

Services for Ramadan at the Islamic Center of Long Island in 2007 Photo Credit: Photo by Howard Schnapp

Ibrahim Negm is senior adviser to the grand mufti of Egypt, the second-highest cleric among Sunni Muslims, and a visiting scholar at the Islamic Center of Long Island.

The Prophet Muhammad is a model for all observant Muslims, that is well-known. Muslims not only revere the personality of the prophet, but they strive to emulate him. The Quran describes him as a "mercy to the world." His compassion and magnanimity are immortalized in Islamic culture through both poetic expression and the everyday stories parents tell their children.

The affirmation of these divine values is sorely needed today. Ten years ago, terrorists committed horrendous crimes against our nation. Since then, misunderstanding and suspicion -- and unfortunately also war -- seem to have dominated the relationship between the Muslim world and Americans. For sensible Muslims, this is a source of deep regret, and it serves as a reminder of all that we have left to accomplish.

When President Barack Obama visited Cairo in 2009, he called for "a new beginning . . . based upon mutual interest and mutual respect." This is a hope American Muslims share.

We oppose militancy in the name of Islam at every turn. It is antithetical not just to the spirit but to the very letter of Islamic teachings and the core values of all religions. As recent events in Norway indicate, however, extremism knows no particular faith. It is a perversion of the human condition. We are all responsible, collectively, for fighting against such deviance.

This involves investing in education to give potentially disaffected youth productive outlets and ways out of poor economic and social conditions. But education is necessary on another front as well. As the Quran indicates, human diversity is a blessing from God; it allows us to come to know one another.

The recent rise in Islamophobic and anti-Semitic sentiment, in the United States and elsewhere, is of serious concern precisely because it detracts from this mandate. It erects barriers between communities, rather than tearing them down in the quest for mutual understanding. The resentment, suspicion and fear bred between communities can too easily lead to violence. So we must stand together against racism and discrimination of all sorts, to move together toward a better future for all.

In the same Cairo speech, Obama observed that "America and Islam are not exclusive and need not be in competition. Instead, they overlap, and share common principles -- principles of justice and progress; tolerance and the dignity of all human beings." The everyday concerns of Muslims are the same as those of citizens of the United States -- these commonalities cannot be stressed enough.

Nothing has made this more evident than the recent Arab Spring, which demonstrated clearly that democracy, transparency and protection from economic exploitation are universal goals, not just Western ones. It's time now to realize the full potential of those values.

The best indicator of the commonalities between us is the presence in the United States of a peaceful, law-abiding and thoroughly American Muslim community. American Muslims have achieved great successes in the United States in a variety of domains. It is no exaggeration to say that they are part of the very fabric of American culture and society. Young American Muslims are talented, gifted and thoughtful interlocutors, effective bridges between the two cultures they inhabit. They must be called upon to serve both their patriotic and religious values in the service of humanity.

In Egypt, young people are demonstrating their determination, commitment and sincerity to effect real change. There's no doubt that the talents of young American Muslims can be harnessed in pursuit of the same goals in the United States.

Sunday marks the end of a particularly difficult decade. We have, however, every reason to be optimistic that the decade ahead will be one of greater cooperation and harmony. To accomplish that, however, we must work at making it so.


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