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Originally published Friday, August 2, 2013 at 6:53 PM

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Faith & Values: Time to step up, address misconceptions on Muslims

Frequent speaker on Islam says it’s time to emphasize common values with people outside of our faith.

Special to The Seattle Times

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Faith & Values

During Ramadan, I’ve been thinking about the Qur’an and about my faith, wondering why there are so many misperceptions about Muslims. American Muslims’ lack of visibility in society may be fueling Islam’s negative perception.

The media have made Islam and violence inextricably connected in the minds of many of my fellow Americans, with Muslims often seen with distrust, which makes some of them afraid to interact.

It is a collective guilt placed on mainstream, peaceful and law-abiding American Muslims for the actions of a few, perhaps because many Americans don’t know about Islam, have not met a Muslim or read the complete Qur’an.

Muslims have been deeply hurt over the years by the actions of radical extremists who commit crimes against humanity in the name of our faith; they have acted against Islam and folks need to understand that.

A few weeks ago, I visited the Islamic Center of Seattle, a mosque in SeaTac, and had an enlightening conversation with a long-standing Catholic neighbor, who left me with a striking realization.

The SeaTac mosque was the first property Washington’s Muslim community purchased some 40 years ago for worship, and our neighbor, named “Bry,” has such a wonderful positive perception of Muslims.

Bry is a middle-aged U.S. veteran who told me he enjoys interacting with local Muslims around the mosque. He recently worked with us on a neighborhood project and likes our culture and way of life.

His experiences are so unlike many of my fellow Americans, who may have never met or had a conversation with an American Muslim. That’s no one’s fault, but I sure wish things were different.

I always hate telling folks what I am not. I would rather tell them what I am, in actions and deeds, and also through conversations, because ambassadors can help convey Islam’s peaceful teachings.

The Qur’an speaks about peace 67 times and God repeatedly introduces himself at the beginning of 113 chapters as “The most compassionate, The most merciful” the loving God of humanity.

God calls Muslims to the middle path in everything they do. This is why Quranic quotes must always have textual and historical background from the Qur’an and traditions for a true understanding of their meaning.

Extremism is not, never has been, and never will be part of Islam. American Muslim leaders have continually refuted extremist claims, because Islam’s theology is about tolerance, not fanaticism.

It’s time for extremists and Islamophobes to stop cherry-picking quotes from the Qur’an in isolation, and out of context, in order to hurt others and demean Islam: not in our name anymore.

American Muslims can no longer afford to ignore the misperceptions about Islam, because they won’t just go away. Defining Islam in a conversation frankly and honestly with fellow citizens is a great start.

Recently, Bry asked me if he could attend a Friday prayer session in the hopes he could learn more about our faith and commonalities. I told him he — and everyone — is always welcome at any of our mosques.

Being socially active and involved in society helps all Americans recognize our common values, our shared love for neighbors and society, ultimately bringing us all closer as one nation.

Aziz Junejo is host of “Focus on Islam,” a weekly cable-television show, and a frequent speaker on Islam. Readers may send feedback to faithcolumns@seattletimes.com

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