Wednesday, November 17, 2010

American Prejudice

While commuting to work this morning, I listened to the news on the radio. Apparently, a British couple was released from Somali pirates after a long period of captivity. Over the summer, when it came to Somalia, we all heard about how warlords threatened harsh punishments for all who watched the World Cup. In addition, everything we hear about Islam, the religion of the majority of Somalis, is about terrorism. There was even question about whether President Obama, thought to be a Muslim, would make a good President. What does this have to do with my work? Everything. Why? Most of my colleagues are Muslim and my supervisor is a Kenyan Somali, as are many members of the community I have come to love.

I'm writing this because I want to make one thing clear. These Muslim Somalis I know are not the "fanatics" you see on the news. They are not committing acts of terrorism and many find it abhorrent to support it. In fact, the people at my organization worked on peace building efforts in the wake of post-election violence. What are they doing instead? They are dedicated teachers, working to educate the children of the community (some of whom are orphans). They are administrators, overseeing the work of the organization and allowing it to run smoothly. They are youth mobilizers, recruiting young people to take action in positive ways, such as learning entrepreneurship skills, speaking out on HIV testing and prevention, working for female equality in terms of reproductive health and good governance, continuing education. They are good parents, working to instill values of hard work and education in their children.

In addition, while Alta'awon is Muslim in origin, our staff is diverse. I am a Catholic, as is one of my colleagues. Another is Baptist. Many are Muslim, but some of the teachers are Christian. Some of the students at the primary school are Christian and many community members who take part in Alta'awon's services are of differing religious and ethnic backgrounds. Alta'awon does not seek to proselytize ANYONE. Rather, they would like to translate their faith's principles of charity into action, to create change and empowerment for the community.

Sadly, I often hear so much anti-Muslim sentiment back home. I hope Americans realize that the majority of Muslims are like any other person, of faith and of no faith. They simply want to live their lives, pray as they wish, raise their families, aspire for better, celebrate their holidays, and, for those strong ones, enact change throughout their communities. Many DO speak out against terrorism occurring in various parts of the world and proclaim shame at sharing faith or ancestry with them.

Let's not give ammo to those who wish to destroy us. Let's not allow them to divide and conquer. Instead, let us embrace each other as brothers and work to bring justice on this earth.

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