Tonight I saw a political commercial that disturbed me in a way that I seldom have been disturbed. It was an ad in Indiana against someone who is running for United States Representative. The ad consisted of blurry images of Daesh terrorists across the screen (also referred to as ISIL. I have been told by some of my Muslim friends that the word "Daesh" is preferred by many when referring to this group.). These horrible images were accompanied by a photo of the candidate and claims that she would somehow singlehandedly make the United States more vulnerable to, and I quote, "Islamic terrorists." When the barbarism and destruction of Daesh is equated in any way with Islam the entire religion is discredited, and the Muslims who are devoted to their faith are personally defamed. Let this be as clear as it can be. Islam is not a religion of hatred and war. Islam is a religion of love and peace.
And as bad as this ad and its corresponding rhetoric are, here is the real problem.
I know this amazing woman with kind eyes and a passion for life and justice for others. She is the type of person that seems to look into your soul when you are speaking with her. She is a mom, a wife, a friend, and my colleague in interfaith work. And she is a devout Muslim. At a meeting where we were discussing the horrifying anti-Muslim rhetoric that we are seeing and hearing all around us she told this story.
Her youngest child, who is under 10 years old, was at school. One of his young classmates came up to him and said, "I can't be friends with you anymore because you have the name 'Mohammad' in your name. That means that you are a jihadist."
When her son came home from school he was understandably very upset. He asked his mom and dad what "jihadist" meant. He had never heard that word before. Then he asked them why his friend would say he couldn't be friends with him anymore because of his name. He went to bed sad, afraid, and wishing he could change his name.
Later that same week, this mom who is the Executive Director of the Muslim Alliance of Indiana was called into a local school to talk with students after an "incident" during lunch. A lunch table full of middle school boys said to one of their friends, a Muslim, who was walking over to join them, "You can't be at our table. You probably want to kill us all, don't you?"
Folks, words have consequences! Please understand this. This anti-Muslim rhetoric must stop. Our children are listening and watching. The world in which they live will continue to grow more and more diverse in nearly every way. Their daily lives will be full of interactions with people who are different than they are. And this is a good thing.
Yet, we are poisoning our kids and dying a little bit ourselves each and every time we add more bile to the mix.
Instead, may we decide to be agents of change in our world. May we get to know someone who is not like us. Your world/our world/our children's world will be changed forever as a result. As novelist Lucy Christopher wrote, “it’s hard to hate someone once you understand them.”