By Michael D. Calabria
Reflecting St. Bonaventure University’s mission and values, SBU’s Center for Arab and Islamic Studies upholds the God-given worth of every individual. We welcome all good people of faith to our programs and classrooms because we feel that an educated America makes not only for a better country but also for a better world.
Muslims have been a part of American society for well over a century. They were among the African slaves brought forcibly to the United States, and then among the many different immigrants who came in the late 19th and early 20th centuries seeking freedom from injustice, gainful employment and a better life. They worked in the textile mills of the Northeast, owned and operated businesses and farmed the land in the Great Plains.
Today, several million American Muslims, both native-born and naturalized, continue to be part of the rich fabric of American cultural and religious diversity, and active participants in every profession and walk of life. In particular, Muslims continue to be a vital part of Western New York communities. They came to make better lives for themselves and their families, and in the process they have enriched our lives and, as is the case with the medical professionals, have even saved our lives.
There is no doubt that terrorist groups such as al-Qaida, the Islamic State, Boko Haram and others that claim a Muslim identity continue to pose a serious threat to life and liberty, and have seriously damaged attitudes toward Muslims and the Islamic faith. What is often overlooked, however, is that it is Muslims themselves who are most often the victims of terrorism worldwide. Muslim scholars, activists, political leaders and clergy consistently denounce such violence perpetrated in the name of Islam.
Civilization owes to the Islamic world some of its most important tools and achievements. From fundamental discoveries in medicine to the highest planes of astronomy, the Muslim genius has added much to the culture of all peoples. That genius has been a wellspring of science, commerce and the arts, and has provided for all of us many lessons in courage and in hospitality.
Given the tragic reality of terrorism in our world today, it is tempting simply to blame Islam and its adherents. To do this, however, is to overlook the complexity of geopolitics and the various underlying causes of terrorism, and thus unwittingly perpetuate discrimination, prejudices and worse.
Moreover, it perpetrates a great injustice against the vast majority of Muslims in the world, in our country and in our community who aspire to lives of true faith, freedom and lasting peace.
Michael D. Calabria, O.F.M., is the director of the Center for Arab and Islamic Studies at St. Bonaventure University.