Why should I accept second class citizenship as an American Muslim?

My ancestors were brought to this country in chains. They were raped, murdered, tortured and abused for nearly four centuries as they built this country on the strain of their backs and the sweat of their brow. Then they were freed from bondage and still suffered injustice and a lack of human and civil rights for nearly a century. Throughout it all, they persevered and served this nation well and in many capacities. My family and I have continued this legacy of service, having worn this nations uniform, even when we lacked acknowledgement at home. My people are very diverse in our ideologies, politics, and religion. Some of us believe in no deity, others are Christian and some are Muslim.

Today in America, most of these historical facts are acknowledged and in some cases celebrated. My familial background of service is common among those Americans who count enslaved African’s in their ancestry. These heroes and the people whose legacy is carried on by their descendants, are readily acknowledged as citizens of this nation — for the most part without question or exception. They paid their dues and fought hard through many trials and tribulations for that acknowledgement. However, when one adds the word “Muslim” to their description of themselves, things begin to veer dangerously off course.

For many years when the mention of Muslims came up as a discussion topic in America most would think of Muhammad Ali, Kareem Abdul Jabbar, Malcolm X, and other well known Muslims. These figures were celebrated and looked up to by many Americans regardless of background. Yet in the years since 9/11 Muslims have been increasingly targeted as a group and our citizenship, loyalty, and equality has been constantly challenged.

From the ashes of the tragedy of 9/11 arose an entire industry supported by a political ideology whose main goal is to marginalize American Muslims and keep fellow citizens in a constant state of fear, panic, and distrust of their neighbors.

This industry spear-headed by pseudo-intellectuals, pseudo-scholars, bloggers, and pundits, have produced some of the vilest and most disrespectful assaults on an entire bloc of American citizenry that has been witnessed in this nation in decades. The old prejudices framed by lies and stereotypes to propagate the “us” versus “them” mentality have swept across this nation as well as Europe with the only change being that “Muslim” has replaced other groups as “them”. The arguments are reminiscent of the ones used against other minority groups some of which led to the internment of American citizens, the Red Scare, the fear of a Catholic President, and tragedies such as the holocaust.

We are witnessing today similar types of harassment, prejudice, and denial (or threats of denial) of the basic civil rights of Muslims in America, and no one seems to have the courage to meet this challenge head on. What will we say to future generations when they ask us how we allowed American Muslim citizens to be so openly degraded, harassed, and forced to live in fear of their fellow countrymen?

The impact of words, Islamophobic rhetoric, and xenophobic ideology can manifest themselves in grave ways. Recently we witnessed a Christian Extremist who in seeking to remove Muslims from Europe, killed and maimed over 70 of his fellow countrymen. He did so in keeping with a philosophy and ideology bereft of compassion or mercy for his fellow human beings. This killer cited, and celebrated many of the infamous Islamophobes such as Pamela Geller and Robert Spencer and their venom laced words as his inspiration. Although they have vehemently denied that their messages of rage had anything to do with this Christian Terrorist’s actions, his 1,500 page manifesto prominently features their very words.

We have to be courageous in our attempts to call out this hate speech for what it is. People such as Geller, Spencer, and others are paraded on national and international media outlets as “experts” on Muslims and Islam. Their commentary is laced with hate, prejudice, and xenophobia yet they are given a platform to spread their ideas and are given credibility. Their rage and incitement have produced national controversies where charitable causes, fundraisers, community centers, and the ability to build place of worship have been met with outlandish claims, assaults, attacks, and undue hardship because those involved are Muslim. The sacred texts of Muslims have been burned, our places of worship vandalized, and our families and children harassed and attacked.

Any mention or acknowledgement of our existence and shared experience in this country is often attacked as well. In America if you are a corporation, civil organization, local or federal government who dares acknowledge Muslims positively in any way, you will be attacked by the proponents of Islamophobia. Even the smallest of such positive acknowledgements are met with suspicion, manufactured outrage, and the threat of boycotts. Recently, Whole Foods dared to acknowledge that millions of Americans are Muslims and are celebrating Ramadan. They went so far as to use this significant holy time for many of their patrons to promote a new halal frozen food brand Saffron Road, and were met by villainous attacks and accusations, causing them to retreat in their marketing campaign and acknowledgement of their Muslim customers.

These is only a “small incident” in a decade of history fraught with American Muslim harassment, suspicion, open hostility, and suffering.

I wonder what will it take for people to speak out against the continued push to make American Muslims second class citizens? Why is it that companies such as Whole Foods have no problem acknowledging Christian, Jewish, and other holidays complete with marketing campaigns and promotions, but the moment they do the same for Muslims it’s considered “controversial”?

What is it about our service, loyalty, and love for our nation (and especially for those of us who are descendants of enslaved Africans, many of whom were also Muslim) that isn’t good enough for our fellow Americans? Why must we be constantly questioned, harassed, and assaulted? Why must our values, beliefs, and faith tradition be considered as toxic, un-American, and incompatible with the very nation we serve, love, and in some instances have died to protect and defend?

As an American who has served in this nation’s armed forces, who loves his country, and who is also a devout, practicing Muslim, I refuse to allow myself, my children, or my family to be subjected to the very attitudes and beliefs against our religion that were used not long ago against the color of our skin.

How many others are willing to do the same?

How long will we tolerate these loud hate-filled voices to go unchallenged? How long will we bend over backwards and concede to the eventual loss of our rightful equality? How long will we accept the wanton disrespect towards our leaders, organizations, people, and faith? How long we allow our families to live in fear and have our children grow up to become a generation ashamed of their names, beliefs, and cultures?

How long will we not press for what’s rightfully ours and allow our hopes and dreams to go unfulfilled in an environment where basic civility, respect, and decency has been replaced with hate, rage, and injustice because of who we are?