Since 9/11 the world has changed and many of us along with it. Like most Americans I remember where I was, who I was with, and the raw emotions that seemed to pour from my soul as the towers fell. I also remember how those events gave birth to what may be the biggest and most dangerous lie of this generation and one that I once believed. The lie that says Muslims are our enemy.
Looking back, we can now see how 9/11 caused American culture to make an almost immediate shift in its perception of Islam. From New York to Los Angeles, and in most small towns in between, people were thinking about this religion and its followers often for the first time. Unfortunately, we were also being hammered by media outlets, politicians and religious leaders suggesting what we saw that morning was a reflection of the 1.8 billion Muslims we share this life with.
Even over a decade later, the images from that September morning continue to haunt our minds and prey on our deepest fears, whispering that we should be enemies.
I consider myself very fortunate to have had some remarkable experiences that have helped shift my perception back to reality regarding our Muslim neighbors. It started with a friendship with a man I now consider a brother, his name is Mohamed. A few years ago Mohamed, his wife and children welcomed me into their home and lives. Our friendship grew quickly, effortlessly, even when we encountered what many would have considered divisive issues, like religion.
Our shared humanity was more than enough for a friendship to form and then when we realized all the other things we had in common we quickly became like brothers.
We shared many meals and cups of tea, our children played together and they laughed together. We often talked about politics, religion or any other newsworthy currents events. We also talked about the impact of terrorism and how a tiny minority, falsely carrying the Muslim name, was powerful enough to warp the perception of so many here in America.
It was Mohamed and his wife who prayed for me when I first traveled to a predominantly Muslim country in North Africa where I spent time serving in a refugee camp. They also prayed for me when I visited Palestine, where I saw firsthand the reality of the Holy Land that is grossly misrepresented through the filter of western media. And they continued to support me when I went to places like Iraq and the Syrian border.
In each of these mostly Muslim countries I was constantly met with an offer of friendship, much like the one I had received from Mohamed and his family. At the same time, I was learning a very significant truth: Our Muslim neighbors are not our enemies, they are in fact our friends.
However, with political campaigns in full swing (especially for those of us living in Iowa) this great big lie has been reignited and is spreading like wildfire across the country. Powerful people are exploiting our fears and gaining considerable support along the way.
Like all religions, including Christianity, there will always be outliers doing radical and terrifying things. But as neighbors we have to decide if we will look at these incidents as a reflection of the whole group (in this case 1.8 billion people) or will we take steps toward understanding each other more accurately.
Hopefully more Americans will turn off the news, tune out the political rhetoric and consider having a meal or tea with someone who follows Islam. Because when we spend time together as neighbors this lie is exposed and the people we once considered enemies will most likely become our friends.