They were part of the flow of immigrants who became farmers and merchants. The first Islamic center in New York City was built in the s.
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A Muslim American designed the skyscrapers of Chicago. In , when dedicating the Islamic center in Washington, D. And perhaps the most pertinent fact, Muslim Americans enrich our lives today in every way. And by the way, when Team USA marches into the next Olympics, one of the Americans waving the red, white and blue -- applause -- will a fencing champion, wearing her hijab, Ibtihaj Muhammad, who is here today.
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Stand up. I told her to bring home the gold. Not to put any pressure on you. Muslim Americans keep us safe. They're in homeland security, in our intelligence community. They serve honorably in our armed forces -- meaning they fight and bleed and die for our freedom. Some rest in Arlington National Cemetery.
Please stand if you're here, so we can thank you for your service. So part of the reason I want to lay out these facts is because, in the discussions that I was having with these incredibly accomplished young people, they were pointing that so often they felt invisible.
There was a time when there were no black people on television. And you can tell good stories while still representing the reality of our communities.
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Now, we do have another fact that we have to acknowledge. This is the truth. But right now, there is a organized extremist element that draws selectively from Islamic texts, twists them in an attempt to justify their killing and their terror. They combine it with false claims that America and the West are at war with Islam. And this warped thinking that has found adherents around the world -- including, as we saw, tragically, in Boston and Chattanooga and San Bernardino -- is real. And it creates tensions and pressure that disproportionately burden the overwhelming majority of law-abiding Muslim citizens.
And the question then is, how do we move forward together? How do we keep our country strong and united? How do we defend ourselves against organizations that are bent on killing innocents? We all have responsibilities. So with the time I have left, I just want to suggest a few principles that I believe can guide us. And so often, we focus on our outward differences and we forget how much we share. So mere tolerance of different religions is not enough. Our faiths summon us to embrace our common humanity.
So all of us have the task of expressing our religious faith in a way that seeks to build bridges rather than to divide. Second, as Americans, we have to stay true to our core values, and that includes freedom of religion for all faiths. I already mentioned our Founders, like Jefferson, knew that religious liberty is essential not only to protect religion but because religion helps strengthen our nation -- if it is free, if it is not an extension of the state. We have to be active citizenry. But we have to respect the fact that we have freedom of religion.
Remember, many preachers and pastors fought to abolish the evil of slavery. People of faith advocated to improve conditions for workers and ban child labor. King was joined by people of many faiths, challenging us to live up to our ideals. Now, we have to acknowledge that there have been times where we have fallen short of our ideals. Look it up. Mormon communities have been attacked throughout our history. Kennedy -- when he ran for President, was accused of being disloyal. There was a suggestion that he would be taking orders from the Pope as opposed to upholding his constitutional duties.
Anti-Semitism in this country has a sad and long history, and Jews were exclude routinely from colleges and professions and from public office. And when any religious group is targeted, we all have a responsibility to speak up. And we have to reject a politics that seeks to manipulate prejudice or bias, and targets people because of religion. We have to be consistent in condemning hateful rhetoric and violence against everyone.
And that includes against Muslims here in the United States of America. So none of us can be silent. I often hear it said that we need moral clarity in this fight. And the suggestion is somehow that if I would simply say, these are all Islamic terrorists, then we would actually have solved the problem by now, apparently.
Well, I agree, we actually do need moral clarity. Groups like ISIL are desperate for legitimacy. They try to portray themselves as religious leaders and holy warriors who speak for Islam. I refuse to give them legitimacy. We must never give them that legitimacy. The vast majority of the people they kill are innocent Muslim men, women and children.
So the best way for us to fight terrorism is to deny these organizations legitimacy and to show that here in the United States of America, we do not suppress Islam; we celebrate and lift up the success of Muslim Americans. That betrays our values. It alienates Muslim Americans.
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That kind of mindset helps our enemies. It helps our enemies recruit. It makes us all less safe. Here at this mosque, and across our country and around the world, Muslim leaders are roundly and repeatedly and consistently condemning terrorism. So those voices are there; we just have to amplify them more. And it was interesting, in the discussion I had before I came out, some people said, why is there always a burden on us? They can Everybody is assumed to be horrified by that act.
And I recognize that sometimes that doesn't feel fair. But what is also true is, is that there is a battle of hearts and minds that takes place -- that is taking place right now, and American Muslims are better positioned than anybody to show that it is possible to be faithful to Islam and to be part of a pluralistic society, and to be on the cutting-edge of science, and to believe in democracy.
And so I would urge all of you not to see this as a burden, but as a great opportunity and a great privilege to show who you are. To use a little Christian expression -- let your light shine. This is a struggle between the peace-loving, overwhelming majority of Muslims around the world and a radical, tiny minority. Muslims will decide the future of your faith. But across the Islamic world, influential voices should consistently speak out with an affirmative vision of their faith. These are the voices of Muslim clerics who teach that Islam prohibits terrorism, for the Koran says whoever kills an innocent, it is as if he has killed all mankind.
Muslim political leaders have to push back on the lie that the West oppresses Muslims, and against conspiracy theories that says America is the cause of every ill in the Middle East. That's part of being an American. But like leaders everywhere, these leaders have been offering, and need to continue to offer, a positive vision for progress, and that includes political and economic progress. And we have to acknowledge that much of the violence in places like the Middle East is now turning into fights between sects -- Shia, Sunni and others -- where differences are often exploited to serve political agendas, as I said earlier.
And this bloodshed is destroying Muslim families and communities, and there has to be global pressure to have the vision and the courage to end this kind of thinking and this approach to organizing political power. But it is something that we have to fight against.
Islam: An Essential Understanding for Fellow Americans
Across the history of Islam, different sects traditionally have lived and thrived together peacefully. And in many parts of the world they do today, including here in the United States.
Like people of all religions, Muslims living their faith in a modern, pluralistic world are called upon to uphold human rights, to make sure that everyone has opportunity. That includes the aspirations of women and youth and all people. If we expect our own dignity to be respected, so must we respect the dignity of others.
So let me conclude by saying that as Muslim communities stand up for the future that you believe in, that you exhibit in your daily lives, as you teach your children, America will be your partner. We will -- I will -- do everything I can to lift up the multiplicity of Muslim voices that promote pluralism and peace. We will continue to reach out to young Muslims around the world, empowering them with science and technology and entrepreneurship, so they can pursue their God-given potential, and help build up their communities and provide opportunity.
Our values must guide us in this work. Engagement with Muslim American communities must never be a cover for surveillance. That there is no partner with Him in the rule of the Heavens and Earth. He is G-d Alone. I thank Allah SWT for granting what is a great honor to share in dialogue with you, our brothers and leaders from Afghanistan, particularly such distinguished group of leaders and scholars. We are aware of your struggles and are witnesses to the resilience of the believers the people there and their desire to be free to control their destiny and contribute to the best of the global intellect.
It is our prayer that Allah SWT grant you the strength and wisdom to succeed under your new constitution, and with the leadership of President Karzai, his administration, the leadership of you who are visiting with us here and your fellow representatives, and finally with the constructive help of the world community. I want to thank Habjiax and the International Resource Center for planning and supporting this wonderful opportunity.
I have prepared just a few comments to share with you and I pray that Allah SWT will allow me to say only what is helpful and best for us and I plan to leave as much time as possible for an exchange of questions or observations. I have read the objectives for your visit and reviewed your national itinerary, and wish to address my comments on the recurring themes of diversity, pluralism, and tolerance and to address these elements within the larger discussion of Respect and Trust for the Group Intellect.
I believe such a discussion is important to begin appreciating how important this element is in the ethos of American democracy and how it prepares the path to a great future for Islam in America. Let me preface my comments in this area with the acknowledgment that I am honored to be a student of Imam Warithudeen Mlohammed, a Muslim American leader who through his love for Allah SWT and His Messenger S has dedicated his life and has worked for many decades to help bring millions of Americans to Al-Islam.
He is a leader for international interfaith cooperation, economic development and human rights. I have some gifts for you that include introductions to Imam Mohammed and his work in bringing Al-Islam into the mainstream of American religious practice. My response was perhaps as surprising to them as their question was to me. I told them that certainly I can practice my religion, that there are perhaps as many as 8 million Muslims or more in the U. That Muslims were in the military, government, business, indeed all sectors of American life.. That we have Muslim lawyers, judges, a mayor at that time and now we have 2 or 3 mayors I believe now and that we not only practiced Islam, but that Islam is the fastest growing faith in America and predicted to be the 2 nd largest religion early in this century.
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And that because of these facts, Islam shall play a greater role in shaping the future of America. They were astounded…. And it is one example of the misconceptions most Muslims probably have about America, just as many Americans have misconceptions about Islam and what its presence means here.
Such a position inherently means to me that American Muslims may be in the best position to bridge divisions separating East and West. And that this bridge is perhaps the best hope for the peace that G-d wants for us all. That is my belief. What is this concept of a group intellect I refer to and why is it important? In Al-Islam, human intellect is the third source for decision-making which we use to understand and apply the first two sources. And G-d has given man this intellect as a gift according our Prophet. From Al-Hadith: G-d has not created anything better than reason, or anything more perfect or more beautiful than reason.
And by it are rewards and punishments. Verily a man has performed the pillars and all good deeds; but he will not be rewarded but in proportion to the sense he employs. And we all know G-d says to us many times to us in Sura Ar Rahman: And which of the favors of your lord will ye deny?. It is important then for leadership not to deny a gift of G-d and that is the right of the individual expression and the voice of the people.
And G-d trusts Man.