Peace. Salaam. Paix. Shalom. It doesn’t matter how you say it, what matters is what you mean WHEN you say it. “Peace” is used both as a greeting and a departure, but the meaning behind it is “harmony and the absence of hostility.” It means “I recognize you as a fellow human being who wishes only the best for you as you would for me.” Any long time hip-hop listener knows how frequently the term is used, and for better or worse how little significance is given. We “chunk up the deuce” or “peace out” without even thinking about the meaning behind it. Main Source even made a song about it years ago.

From a young age I liked the phrase “As-salamu alaykum” because it embodied a deeper sense of the meaning of peace to me. It wasn’t just a casual greeting, it was a respectful one. A non-Muslim understanding of the phrase is “peace be unto you” and the typical response “wa alaykumu s-salam” is understood as “peace unto you as well.” In this case you’re not just stating peace as harmony or a lack of hostility – you’re stating peace is a state of mind that can be given and received between like-minded individuals. You can literally “increase the peace” by promoting friendship between complete strangers. I don’t know you at all, but I want you to have peace, and hey you want it for me too. That kind of human kindness is inspiring.

The rising tide of anti-Muslim prejudice (which is often inaccurately called Islamophobia) is a rejection of peace in ANY language and a call to bigotry and hatred. It is a response born of fear created by the incorrect and wicked perception that “Muslim = terrorist” or that “Arab = Muslim = terrorist.” Ascribing that notion to people based simply on their skin color or religious faith ignores the fact that almost every dominant group throughout history has wielded their power in frightening ways. The Crusades were an act of terrorism, but all Christians are not automatically assumed to be converting non-believers at the point of a sword. You don’t see the term “Christianophobia” thrown around, nor do you see “Europeanophobia” even though the native population of North America was almost wiped off the map by settlers from Europe from the 15th century on.

Rejecting anti-Muslim prejudice should be a simple matter. It’s the recognition that every religion or ethnicity has extremists, and no one owns the title of spreading fear strictly on their own. Ku Klux Klan members often portray themselves as Christian, whereas the majority of people who practice the faith reject that form of extremism. The teachings of Christ stress love and tolerance for all, not just for those who look like you or live in the same geographical area as you. Assuming a follower of the Islamic faith to be an extremist is incorrect thinking, a shortcut perpetuated by the likes of FOX News, because it’s more profitable to make you afraid of everything. The more fear you can sell, the more you can make people watch the news to know what to fear, and the more you can make people buy what they think they need to be “safe.”

The next time someone tells you that Islam teaches hate, tell them they’re actually the ones spreading hate. The basic tenants of Islamic practice so far as I (a non-practicing Westerner) can tell involve praying five times a day, doing kind deeds for the poor, and making a holy pilgrimage to Mecca – to name a few. There’s nothing about “terror” in there. Judging 1.6 billion people of faith worldwide by the actions of less than 1% of 1% of believers is just plain STUPID. It’s tabloid journalism, it’s sensationalistic news reporting, and you’ve bought into the hype. Unfortunately there’s fear-mongering on all sides. It’s easy to stereotype “the decadent West” or “the fat ugly American” too, and until we all collectively come to our senses and stop demonizing people we don’t know because they come from a different country or religious background, the cycle of violence will never stop. Stopping the cycle of fear and hatred should be what peace is all about.

As-salamu alaykum.

PS: The author of this editorial offers no opinion favoring any one religious belief or practice over another and should not be construed as doing so. The point here is that bigotry of any kind toward religious belief should never be tolerated, no matter what heinous act is committed allegedly in the name of said belief.