Dear Mr. President-elect Obama, you do not know me but you will recognize me. I am a Muslim American physician, who along with thousands of other professionals migrated to this country, in my case Chicago, in the 60s and 70s. We were a part of the tidal wave generated by LBJ’s “Great Society” program. We loved our new country, thrived in its diversity and freedoms and raised families. We received much from this great nation of ours and gave back a little. We fought and occasionally died for it. We found they were millions of other Muslim African Americans who were already here.
President Obama during the campaign you avoided Muslims and did not go to a Mosque, but if you had gone you would have found find physicians, engineers, attorneys, IT people, professionals of every stripe, and even a taxi driver or two. You would see grandparents enjoying their grand kids, ordinary housewives trying to look important and influential professional women looking ordinary. You would find a gathering that is mainstream, middle class and richly diverse.
They all have one wish that use your bully pulpit to put an end to the relentless stereotyping of Islam and Muslims. Muslim Americans cringe when their faith is linked with the words terror or terrorist. Islam is one of the great world religions and Muslim contributions to world civilization are invaluable.
We think you already know about Muslim civilization. You lived in a Muslim majority country (Indonesia), have a distant Muslim relative or two, and have had Muslims as friends. To you Muslims would not be the alien other. We think you have an understanding of the diversity among Muslims, a sense of the rich texture of their history and tradition and an appreciation of the hopes and aspirations of Muslims. You would not imagine and stereotype Muslims in the fantasy-filled manner in which some in our country do.
We understand during your campaign you had to a keep a distance from Muslims. You had to shoot down innuendo that the Indonesian school you attended is a madrassa and the insinuation that your pictures in Somali attire, donned as a courtesy to your hosts, proved that you are a crypto-Muslim. And of course there is the matter of your middle name.
But now it is time to set things right and ask the rhetorical question General Colin Powell asked in a recent interview; “Is there something wrong with being a Muslim in this country?” The impact of your challenging the prevalent stereotype of Muslims and Islam would be transformational and will resound all over the Muslim world. You may ask the State Department not to use the term Jihadists as it is incorrect and counterproductive, and have your Justice Department stop using the tactic of naming Muslim organizations as “un indicted co-conspirators”, which is tantamount to saying guilty unless proven innocent.
Just as your election brought down the race barrier your words can seriously dent religious bigotry. We believe you will do the right thing.