By Brianna Curran
As an American millennial, most of my generation is fairly pessimistic about the direction our society is taking. Once a country whose most famous beacon of freedom read, “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free”, Americans seem to have lost these ideals somewhere along the path to modernity. Republican presidential debates are littered with Islamophobic rhetoric, intolerance towards immigrants, and statements that contrast with those very ideals so proudly displayed on the Statue of Liberty. “I would not advocate that we put a Muslim in charge of this nation,” stated presidential candidate Ben Carson when asked about America’s religious pluralism and its relation to government. Donald Trump, in his call for a nationwide celebration of Christmas, ignored American diversity yet again and instead tried to force upon society a cookie-cutter monolith of what being ‘American’ means.
Islam regularly receives harsh criticisms from politicians, civilians, and the media alike. But a religion whose doctrine calls for peace, tolerance and love should never be the subject of controversy. Often, the criticisms directed at Islam shed light on the West’s lack of understanding of the religion and its followers. As the US and Europe have been called upon to provide refuge for hundreds of thousands of Syrians fleeing unrestrained terror in their homeland, it is imperative that these regions begin a conversation about Muslim identity, true Islam, and its compatibility with the West.
I attended one such event on October 15 at St Alban’s Parish, a prestigious organ of the National Cathedral in Washington, DC. As one of the most prominent symbols of Christianity in the US, it is unusual to associate DC’s architectural tribute to European Christianity with Islam. However, as I learned last week, the Cathedral’s leadership and parishioners have made it a priority to extend their hand to the Muslim community and enrich their understanding of Muslim identity in the West. They advanced this mission through screening Akbar S Ahmed’s most recent cinematic venture, Journey Into Europe. In the film, Ahmed, the Ibn Khaldun Chair of Islamic Studies at American University and former Pakistani High Commissioner to the UK and Ireland, and his team travel through Europe’s most historic regions, explore the intricacies of European identity, seeking to answer the question, “Is Islam compatible with the West?” The answer, as the documentary shows, is overwhelmingly, yes.
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