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Muslim Americans: The dangers of lumping our friends in with our enemies

Sen. Dick Durbin is holding Senate hearings on anti-Muslim bigotry today – an important move in the wake of Peter King's hearings on Muslim-American radicalization. Casting suspicion on all Muslim Americans violates American ideals and weakens a first line of defense against extremism.

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Remember when your parents used to drag you out of bed for Sunday school? I do. Despite my best efforts to persuade my parents to let me sleep in, growing up in a religious, middle class, Muslim American home meant I attended mosque every weekend for nearly a decade. So when Rep. Peter King (R) of New York and others insist that 85 percent of mosques in this country are being run by extremists and are breeding grounds for homegrown terrorists, I have to wonder: Was my childhood mosque just an anomaly that functioned more like a church than one of those terrorist-producing institutions?

Here’s the short answer: No.

Extremists and those susceptible to being influenced by them will always exist on the fringes of any religious or political community. But casting suspicion on millions of Muslim Americans and their places of worship because of fringe elements not only goes against our American ideals but also unduly burdens and thus weakens a first line of defense against extremism: Muslim Americans.

Members of my family have been involved in our mosque’s leadership for as long as I can remember, from working with the architect who designed the mosque to interviewing potential imams to serving on the board of elders. But in addition to being active members of our local faith community, these same individuals often looked beyond the walls of the mosque to serve the wider public good, whether that meant helping newly arrived immigrants assimilate into American society, serving food to the poor at the downtown soup kitchen, or campaigning for mayoral candidates in our town.

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