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Extremists for centuries have claimed religious reasons for their barbaric actions, creating a backlash against others who are truly following their beliefs. Today we are seeing that play out in Michigan, as members of our local Muslim community are facing hatred, harassment and vandalism in retribution for acts happening half a globe away – acts that they are quick to condemn themselves.

Judging someone on the basis of their religious beliefs is just as unacceptable as judging them on the color of their skin, or their gender. Unfortunately, due largely to ignorance, we are seeing stereotyping playing out here in Michigan in the wake of the deplorable series of beheadings, terrorist attacks on schools, hostage taking and other uncivilized behavior in the Middle East, Pakistan and Australia.

Our friends and neighbors of the Islamic faith are not responsible for the violence done in the name of religion around the world. We join in denouncing those who racialize and minimize Islam, blaming it for geopolitical tensions and using it as an excuse for more violence rather than developing a better understanding of Muslims and the Islamic religion.

As we always have, we stand united with our Muslim sisters and brothers, especially during this time when their religion has been hijacked by extremists. Indeed, Muslim religious leaders from across the region spoke out against ISIS on Aug. 15, with Imam Mohammad Elahi, of the Islamic House of Wisdom, calling ISIS “a bunch of gangsters” that does not represent Islam.

To expand our community of peace, we encourage you to learn more about the culture and faith of our Muslim neighbors. It is important always, but especially at this time of global fear and tension, to expand the circle of civic friendship. We suggest the following:

Arrange a visit to a Mosque by contacting the Michigan Muslim Community Council at www.mimuslimcouncil.com.

Arrange a presentation on Islam by the Council of American Islamic Relations. More information available at www.cairmichigan.org.

Join the Take on Hate Campaign. Learn more at www.takeonhate.org.

Read the recent study by the Institute for Social Policy Understanding on Islamophobia available at http://www.ispu.org/islamophobia,which addresses the rise in fear and hate expressed toward Muslims in the U.S. The study also provides specific examples of successful collaboration to combat this fear, which is usually directed at other people of color, immigrants and women.

In this holiday season that sees the world draw together, it is important for all to realize that peaceful American Muslims live and thrive in many Michigan communities. They are our neighbors, friends and co-workers, and contribute to the rich fabric of our communities and the strength of our economy. We cannot allow stereotyping and irrational fear to drive our actions against the vast majority of Muslims who reject the extremism of ISIS, and believe that loving practice of their religion can make our state and nation a better place.

Steve Spreitzer, is president and CEO, Michigan Roundtable for Diversity and Inclusion; Kary Moss, is executive director, ACLU of Michigan; Matthew J. Wesaw, is director, Michigan Department of Civil Rights; Cary McGehee, is president, Michigan Coalition for Human Rights.

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