I have successfully used this phrase as an ice-breaker in the beginning of my noncredit course titled "Islam: Fact and Fiction" at Harford Community College. The course is interactive and covers a broad range of hot-button issues regarding Islam. In the beginning of each course, we agree on a set of ground rules as a group. Out of approximately 10 ground rules, I always propose that students can ask any questions, without having to worry about my sensitivity. Everyone agrees.
And that makes it fun and real.
As a "Muslimerican" who has flown extensively across America (and yes, sometimes in traditional garb), I empathize with Juan Williams. Based on the ground rule mentioned above, Juan Williams did not do anything wrong when he made his statements at Fox News. And he should not have been fired if this was the only time he "crossed the line" during his 10 years with NPR.
NPR's decision to fire an esteemed journalist begs at least two questions.
First: Should there be consequences for responsible folks like journalists and public representatives when they make irresponsible statements? This is complicated on many levels. Let's take the example of the most widely read weekly news magazine in America: Time. The cover of the Aug. 9 issue showcased a full-page, horrifying image of an Afghan girl whose nose was cut off by Taliban. And just three weeks later, the cover story of Time magazine read, "Is America Islamophobic?"
And why did John Ashcroft not face any negative repercussions for making the following infamous remarks as an attorney general in 2003: "Islam is a religion in which God requires you to send your son to die for him, " he said. "Christianity is a faith in which God sends his son to die for you."
To me, it appears we have no consistent standard to follow when it comes to such slapdash statements against Islam.
Second: Americans feel that we must be able to talk about these complicated issues publicly, or how would we resolve the problem? I fully agree with that notion, and it goes back to my ground rule.
Based on my conversations with hundreds of Americans and "Muslimericans," there is little risk of Muslims being offended with such discussions -- provided they also get the same amount of airtime to convey their side of the story.
So my journalist friends should not have to worry about being politically correct.
On the contrary, commonly used terms such as Islamic terrorists, Jihadis and Islamist militants are viewed as far more distasteful to Muslimerican youth as they demonize a whole group.
As members of Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, the oldest organized Muslim group in America, we take pride in solving these complicated issues through rational discourse.
Members of our group have gone on TV shows to declare loyalty to America, taken live calls on NPR affiliate radio shows to advocate for the separation of church and state, written opinion pieces sympathizing with the feelings of New Yorkers concerning Park51 Islamic center, and distributed hundreds of thousands of "Muslims for Peace" fliers.
Instead of judging their motives, Muslims are better served to take the Koran's advice in case it becomes unbearable. "And bear patiently all they say; and part with them in a decent manner." (73:11).
Rest assured: I have no plans to change my ground rule during future classes. And I even though I may occasionally wear my Muslim garb in public, I am always happy to answer any questions that it may generate.
Faheem Younus, MD, is national youth president of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, USA, and
clinical associate professor at the University of Maryland School of Medicine.