WASHINGTON, Sep 2 : Rejecting stereotypes about Islam, Pakistan’s ambassador to the United States on Sherry Rehman Sunday underscored that the globally practiced religion and democracy are not only compatible but also complement each other.
She was speaking at a forum at a largely attended 49th annual convention of the Islamic Society of North Americain Washington D.C. this week.
The envoy told the gathering of intellectuals and diplomats that Pakistan would be accomplishing a landmark democratic transition with the completion of the constitutionally mandated term of the democratically elected government.
Islamabad, she said, remains firmly committed to safeguarding rights for women and minorities. She also cited Pakistan’s long tradition of giving women high positions of responsibility in government and private sectors.
“The pervasive misconception that we must all battle to debunk is the belief that Islam and a modern democratic society cannot co-exist,” she remarked.
Ambassador Rehman noted that the association of Muslims with hatred and extremism stems from a fear that Islam is fundamentally incompatible with a democratic and modern way of life.
“The political and economic vitality of the North American Muslim Community demonstrates what we have always known — that democracy is not only compatible with Islam but is its central tenet.”
Islam, she said, stands for equality, unity, tolerance, and rights of people and the global religion allows peaceful co-existence of different faiths in the society.
“I come here not to defend Islam from the charge that it is incompatible with democracy. Rather, I come here to prove that Islam and democracy are intertwined, always have been and always will be.
“Islam is not the caricature that has been hijacked by extremists, but rather a peace-loving religion of equality, opportunity and tolerance,” she said while canceling out some misperceptions about the religion.
She noted that the active Muslim Community of North America is living proof that misconceptions are easily shattered; that Islam and a modern democratic society are not mutually exclusive.
Islam includes members of every race, ethnicity, and nation on every inhabited continent on earth, she said.
North America is a living example of Islam’s international reach, as well as its complexity and diversity.
“The ethnic makeup of the community mirrors the plural nature of American society, with believers from across the racial, cultural, and economic spectrum.
“The values at the core of Islam transcend the superficial differences in skin color, gender, sect, geography, and nationality. Islam is not limited by the artificial boundaries established by wealth, nations, or society.
“That is why I sincerely believe that the Muslims of North America have a unique perspective to share with the global Islamic community. You exist as living proof that Islam is not only compatible, but complementary with modern democratic society. And just as you demonstrate the universality of Islam, you also manifest the fact that the American dream is alive and well.”
The ambassador noted that the United States has been a welcoming home to Muslims, and it is a country where Muslims have prospered, flourished and become fully integrated at every level of society.
At the same time, she noted that the North American Muslim community has and continues to face some clear challenges in the post-9/11 world.
The negative impacts stemming from September 11th, negative media coverage and lack of understanding, continue to resonate and reverberate, she said referring to instances of suspicion and discrimination.
“And yet, in the face of these setbacks, the North American Muslim community is thriving, probably more so than any other place in the world. You all are turning negative stereotypes on their heads through your eagerness to participate; to become engaged citizens in North American society — economically, socially and politically. In the United States, the majority of Muslims report that they are U.S. citizens and overwhelmingly express faith in the American dream, believing that hard work will lead to progress.”
Contrary to commonly held misperceptions, the ambassador said, Islam advocates for basic human rights, the most fundamental of which is freedom.
North American Muslims exercise these rights every day and practice their religion openly. According to a recent survey conducted by the University of Kentucky, the number of Islamic places of worship in the United States rose 74% in the past decade. Muslims exercise their right to vote.
She said in Islam equality is a fundamental value and all believers are equal in the eyes of Allah.
According to a Pew Survey, nine-in-ten American Muslims agree that women should be able to work outside the home. Seven-in-ten American Muslims say gender makes no difference in the quality of political leaders. A 2009 Gallup poll also reported that 59% of Muslim-American women actually work.
The ambassador Islam has historical roots in tolerance and inclusion.”
This principle is put to the test on a daily basis in North America. Muslims live and work shoulder to shoulder with people of all faiths.
In truth, the North American Muslim community provides a perfect example of how the pillar of zakat can mold with modernity, resulting in exciting innovations.
She also discarded the notion Islam cannot thrive in the modern world. “I believe young North American Muslims growing up today would fundamentally disagree. The Islamic youth of North America are growing up in an age of information freedom and within a governmental structure that strives to give all an equal voice. This new generation can serve as positive role models both domestically and internationally. By continuing to prosper and advance, they demonstrate both to the West and to the Muslim World that the tenets of Islam do not clash with democracy and modernity but rather complement them.”