The undercurrent of ugly anti-Muslim bigotry in America is in danger of migrating from the fringes to the mainstream because some candidates for president have made or entertained hateful comments about Muslim Americans and their faith.
Republican Ben Carson said he “would not advocate that we put a Muslim in charge of this nation.” Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal says he could only support a Muslim candidate “who will respect the Judeo-Christian heritage of America.” And GOP frontrunner Donald Trump failed to correct a supporter who called Muslims “a problem” and said, “we have training camps growing where they want to kill us.”
If Trump is looking into training camps for Muslims, I can help. I’ve attended several of them – at Fort Benning in Georgia, Fort Bragg in North Carolina and Fort Polk in Louisiana – and so have many other Muslim Americans.
Muslims have served our country in the armed forces since the very founding of our nation. Patriotic Muslims continue to defend their country to this day. I served for about four years as a paratrooper with the 82nd Airborne Division, but I’ll be the first to tell you that I’m no hero.
Let me tell you about two of my heroes. Kareem Rashad Sultan Khan answered the call to serve his country after 9/11 and made the ultimate sacrifice. A recipient of the Bronze Star and Purple Heart, Cpl. Khan was killed in action on Aug. 6, 2007, in Baqouba, Iraq. He was only 20 when he was laid to rest at Arlington National Cemetery, under a star-and-crescent gravestone.
I didn’t know Khan, but I did know Sgt. 1st Class Matthew Kahler. Matt was a Lutheran from Granite Falls, Minn., and he was my friend. I served alongside him, and when I completed my enlistment, he continued to serve until he was killed in action on Jan. 26, 2008, while on patrol in Afghanistan.
I share these stories to make the point that we’re all Americans. And that heroism, patriotism and loyalty is not the province of any particular religion. So I’d like Carson to explain to my 10-year-old son and 6-year-old daughter why they shouldn’t dream of one day becoming president because of their faith.
He, Trump, Jindal and other hatemongers simply don’t understand our history and don’t represent American values.
Our Founding Fathers understood the importance of religious tolerance and regarded Islam as a great religion; Thomas Jefferson owned a Quran. They understood that knowledge and wisdom can be learned from many sources, including the Quran. And in their awareness of Islam and other religions, our founders had the wisdom to enshrine in our Constitution that “no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States.”
America is a beacon of hope and freedom in a troubled world, and it’s those values that have drawn so many immigrants like me to not only live a life of opportunity but also defend those very American values that have made our country great.
Waseem Bawa is a business consultant and serves on the board of trustees of the Sacramento Area League of American Muslims (SALAM).