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Islamaphobes In The USA Are Out of Step With This Nation’s Founders

Anti-Muslim poster in New York reflects rising Islamaphobia in USA.
Anti-Muslim poster in New York reflects rising Islamaphobia in USA.
Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images

The current plight of Muslims in Gaza have seen a rise in reports of Islamaphobia throughout the United States. Recent poll results from the Arab American Institute (AAI) suggest that this rise in Islamaphobia is more than a response to current events - it is a disturbing trend. The following results summarize this disturbing trend:

  • Positive ratings for Muslims have declined from 36 percent in 2010 to 27 percent in 2014;
  • Positive ratings for Arabs have declined from 43 percent in 2010 to 32 percent in 2014;
  • Forty-two percent (42%) of the respondents say they support law enforcement using profiling against Arab Americans and American Muslims; and
  • 42 per cent of respondents say they do not have confidence in the ability of American Muslims to perform their duties as Americans should they be appointed to important government positions because they felt that American Muslims would be negatively influenced by their religion.

These results clearly show there is a growing sentiment of Islamaphobia in this country that threatens the civil and political rights of both Arab and Muslim. This Islamaphobia, though growing among Americans of today is inconsistent with the views held by those who founded this nation and framed our constitution. In the aftermath of 9/11, James Hutson, Manuscript Division Chief of the Library Of Congress published an article in the May 2002 Library of Congress Information Bulletin, in which he explained, “Readers may be surprised to learn that there may have been hundreds, perhaps thousands, of Muslims in the United States in 1776—imported as slaves from areas of Africa where Islam flourished. Although there is no evidence that the Founders were aware of the religious convictions of their bondsmen, it is clear that the Founding Fathers thought about the relationship of Islam to the new nation and were prepared to make a place for it in the republic.

Consider the following examples of the tolerance that the founders of this nation had for Muslims:

  • Thomas Jefferson, campaigning for religious freedom in Virginia, demanded recognition of the religious rights of the "Mahamdan (Muslim)," the Jew and the "pagan."
  • Richard Henry Lee, an ally of Jefferson, made a motion in Congress on June 7, 1776, that the American colonies declare independence and asserted that “(t)rue freedom embraces the Mahomitan (Muslim) and the Gentoo (Hindu) as well as the Christian religion."
  • In 1783, the president of Yale College, Ezra Stiles, cited a study showing that "Mohammadan (Muslim)" morals were "far superior to the Christian."
  • In a 1785 letter, George Washington declared that he would welcome "Mohometans (Muslims)" to Mount Vernon if they were "good workmen".
  • Benjamin Rush, the Pennsylvania signer of the Declaration of Independence and friend of Thomas Jefferson and John Quincy Adams stated that he would "rather see the opinions of Confucius or Mohammed inculcated upon our youth than see them grow up wholly devoid of a system of religious principles."
  • In 1785, a group of Chesterfield County, Virginia citizens sent a petition to the state assembly that said, "Let Jews, Mehometans (Muslims) and Christians of every denomination enjoy religious liberty…thrust them not out now by establishing the Christian religion lest thereby we become our own enemys (sic) and weaken this infant state."

We would do well to follow the example of this nation’s founders and the advice of the Chesterfield County, Virginia citizens and celebrate rather than try to vitiate our diversity and religious liberty lest we indeed become our own enemies and weaken our great nation.

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