When many Americans think of terrorism, people of the Muslim faith often come to mind. That is a stigma many followers of Islam are working to break. A recent national survey from the Pew Research Institute shows that 40% of Americans feel that Islam is more likely to encourage acts of violence among the faithful. Newschannel 6 went to the Islamic Society of Wichita Falls to address the issue. Local Muslim leaders say it couldn't be further from the truth.
When the call to worship is sung, nearly 8 million Americans bow towards Mecca. Those prayers strike fear in millions more Americans. "We do understand that you have some basis for the fear but what we ask people is to open their eyes and open their mind and their hearts and look at the people," said Ahmed Mattar, M.D., a ISWF Board Member.
Mattar says true Muslims are peaceful people. "When a Christian commits a crime, it does not mean all Christians are criminals. When Muslims commit violent acts it does not mean all Muslims are violent," he said.
ISWF Director Abdullah Shamsid-Deen understands where some of the fear comes from. "I would imagine that if something happened to me in my life that was from a particular segment of people or society. That may put fear in my heart about those people. For example, I grew up in this country in the 1950's and needless to say what we experienced in the 1950's as a black man in America." He said.
Shamsid-Deen was born and raised in the United States. He served the country in the Air Force for 26 years. He serves as leader at the Mosque.
He says that Muslims in Texoma feel welcomed and a part of society, but he knows there is a lot of Islamophobia in America. "I believe it is a misunderstanding of what Islam is all about," he said.
Newschannel 6 took concerns from viewers directly to the leaders. When ask about the perception that Muslims hope to bring Sharia Law to the United States, Dr. Mattar was quick to respond. "Thinking that there is a plot to start a Sharia Law and impose it and start cutting people's hands off in the country is absurd… Sharia Law is actually not practiced in much of the Muslim World… It is nothing for anyone to be scared of," he said Dr. Mattar said the Quran deals explicitly with the issue. "Our book is very clear that there is no compulsion in the religion that you have your way, I have mine," he said.
The group of Muslims gathered at the Mosque for Friday services was quite diverse. There were Doctors, Professors, Students and USAF Airmen. The several dozen followers kneeled in the Mosque as Imam Shamsid-Deen gave the message. "We cannot demand that people treat us with the kind of dignity or honor or respect that we feel we deserve. We have to earn it," he told the followers.
Shamsid-Deen addressed American sensitivities around the 10 year anniversary of the 9/11 Attacks. He told the crowd to be compassionate to the feelings many have, and to work to be a shining example of what he says Islam is all about; peace.
While the truth many Muslims in America live with is an atmosphere of distrust and lack of understanding, the leaders hope to defeat that through transparency. "Get to know us, or at least get to know what we are taught and what we are teaching," pleaded Dr. Mattar.
Muslims are very much a part of American Society, and they wouldn't have it any other way. "We see ourselves as Americans, we do not see ourselves as outsiders and we will stand and fight any kind of attempt to bring any violent act to America," said Shamsid-Deen.
If you want to learn more about Islam, visitors are always welcome for services at the Mosque, the leaders say. "You will find only honorable words and that we have nothing to hide," said Shamsid-Deen.