Abandon Stereotypes, Muslims in America Say

Posted on September 7, 2007

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By NEIL MacFARQUHAR, New York Times.

ROSEMONT, Ill., Sept 3 — It is time for the United States to stop treating every American Muslim as somehow suspect, leaders of the faith said at their largest annual convention, which ended here on Monday.

Six years after the Sept. 11 attacks, Americans should distinguish between mainstream Muslims and the radical fringe, the leaders said. […]

The image problems were among the topics most discussed by many of the 30,000 attendees. A fresh example cited was an open letter from two Republican House members, Peter Hoekstra of Michigan and Sue Myrick of North Carolina, that attacked the Justice Department for sending envoys to the convention because, the lawmakers said, the Islamic Society of North America was a group of “radical jihadists.”

The lone Muslim in Congress, Representative Keith Ellison, Democrat of Minnesota, the keynote speaker here, dismissed the letter as ill informed and typical of bigoted attacks that other minorities have suffered.

Leaders of American Muslim organizations attribute the growing intolerance to three main factors: global terrorist attacks in the name of Islam, disappointing reports from the Iraq war and the agenda of some supporters of Israel who try taint Islam to undermine the Palestinians.

American Muslims say they expect the attacks to worsen in the presidential election and candidates to criticize Islam in an effort to prove that they are tough on terrorism.

Zaid Shakir, an African-American imam with rock star status among young Muslims, described how on a recent road trip from Michigan to Washington he heard comments on talk radio from people who were “making stuff up about Islam.”

Among the most egregious, he said, was from a person in Kentucky who denounced the traditional short wood stick some Muslims use to clean their teeth, saying, “They are really sharpening up their teeth because they are planning to eat you, yes they are.”

Representatives of at least eight federal departments and agencies attended the convention, their booths sandwiched among hundreds of others from bookstores, travel agencies, perfumeries, clothing designers and real estate developers. […]

Rabbi Eric H. Yoffie, president of the Union for Reform Judaism, denounced by name Christian fundamentalists like Pat Robertson and Franklin Graham, as well as Dennis Prager, a well-known radio host who is Jewish.

“The time has come to stand up to the opportunists, the media figures, the religious leaders and politicians who demonize Muslims and bash Islam, exploiting the fears of their fellow citizens for their own purposes,” Rabbi Yoffie told the opening session.

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