Not too long ago, Atlanta-based commentator, successful businessman, and potential presidential candidate Herman Cain, was asked whether there was a place for a Muslim appointee in his administration. His response: “No.” He followed with “There is this creeping attempt to gradually ease Sharia law and the Muslim faith into our government. It does not belong in our government.”
Cain is no doubt a bright man with a knack for business and politics. But his comments on Islam in America are so obviously ignorant and misguided that it makes you wonder whether Cain actually has any sense at all.
You might expect the remainder of this piece to go into the lunacy of Cain’s overtly discriminatory beliefs, or perhaps delve into an explanation of how the fear of Sharia law is about as rational as fearing Jewish elected officials forcing Kosher laws on us all.
It will not. All of these arguments could very well be logically sound and factually accurate, but they are, I argue, irrelevant.
First, it really doesn’t matter, and engaging in this type of argument and discussion with people who hold beliefs like Herman Cain is a waste of time. For one, even responding to such an absurd accusation that Muslims in America want to force Sharia law on everyone dignifies the claim in the first place. Why do we not argue with the disheveled man on the subway who says the world will end tomorrow? Because we recognize the argument to be so devoid of any merit that a response would be both unnecessary and unwarranted.
Second, responding to people like Cain is worthless because they won’t be convinced by what you have to say. If I sat down with Herman Cain tomorrow, no matter what I said, I can promise you his opinion of Islam would not change one bit. Short of me sticking a piece of paper in front of his face that objectively and demonstrably proved him wrong, he would not change his mind. And the problem with a religion that is faith-based and relies on a book with varying interpretations is that I can’t necessarily provide that proof.
So what do we do? How do we convince America that Islam is not a religion of violence? Is there no way for Muslim-Americans to handle people like Herman Cain?
There is one, but it’s not what you would expect.
Muslim-Americans joining the PTA, playing Little League baseball, and having a Memorial Day barbeque with their neighbors will do more to improve Islam’s image than anything we can possibly say ever will. It’s about showing, not just telling people, that Muslims in America are much like any other group of people in this country.
Here’s an example I use all the time:
In the past two decades there have been six murders and five attempted murders of abortion doctors by anti-abortion organizations. When these anti-abortion organizations commit these reprehensible acts in the name of morality grounded in the Christian faith, there is not a national debate on whether Christianity, as a religion, promotes violence.
The reason this occurs is not because we have all read the Bible and know it doesn’t teach that, it is not because we went to an inter-faith panel and learned about the commonalities between Christianity and other faiths, and it is certainly not because we engaged in an argument with someone about it and were convinced out of our position simply because someone told us we were wrong.
The reason we know Christianity doesn’t teach violence is because we all know someone who is Christian. It may be a friend, a neighbor, or a co-worker. And we know that person does not share the sentiment that led some extreme anti-abortion group to murder someone. (To be fair, I know this example is not exactly akin to a concerted movement by Muslim extremists against America, but all that means for us Muslim-Americans is that we need to work even harder to dispel these fears of Islam.)
So we, as Muslim-Americans, should stop trying to fight words with more words. We need to take action. We need to go out there and get to know our neighbors, let our children play with children of other faiths, and show, not just tell, our fellow Americans that we share far more in common than people like Herman Cain would like them to believe.
There is only one place where we should be vocal. Our denouncement of terrorism, terrorists, and any individual or country that harbors these views, harbors terrorists themselves, or funds these terrorist groups. That will get us some common ground with our fellow Americans. The rest of it, needs to come from the actions we take to further invest ourselves in American society.
You see, Herman Cain may never be convinced that Islam is a religion of peace. But if there was ever a way his opinion would change, it would be because a Muslim doctor saved his life, or because his nephew played basketball for a Muslim coach, or it might just be because the political consultant who turned around his lackluster campaign for the White House, happened to be a Muslim.
Khurram Dara is currently authoring “The Crescent Directive: An essay on improving the image of Islam in America.” A Muslim-American from Buffalo, NY, Dara is a graduate of Emory University where he double majored in Political Science and Finance. He will attend Columbia Law School in the fall.