Practicing tolerance

Aslam Abdullah, executive director of the Islamic Society of Nevada, relates how, in leading a College of Southern Nevada class with a local rabbi, one student asked him directly, "How do I know you won't try to kill me?"

The anecdote illustrates the kind of stereotypes Muslims live with every day in the United States, and the kind of fear their presence instills in some residents of Clark County. The 9/11 terrorist attacks and the continued national security threats posed by Islamic extremists here and abroad turn some of our most generous, valuable and productive citizens into terrorism suspects simply because of their faith.

Mr. Abdullah and the Islamic community are following two wise courses to reverse some of these sentiments.

First, they unequivocally denounce all acts of terrorism, especially those committed by Muslims in the name of jihad. Second, they are engaged in vigorous outreach and community service so those of other faiths can witness their commitment to the Las Vegas Valley first-hand.

The news makes their cause challenging.

Intellectually, most Americans understand the difference between radical Islamic terrorism and our peace-loving Islamic neighbors. Still, we might avert our eyes at the market or ignore the opportunity to say hello. But our Muslim neighbors are our best hope for peace. It is their majority voice that can stand up against the radical minority in the world.

The next time anybody thinks about acting on his fear and suspicion by lashing out at someone who merely looks like a Muslim, remember this: There are roughly 17,000 followers of Islam in Southern Nevada. They are our neighbors, colleagues and friends, our physicians, our engineers, our teachers. They want to live in peace and harmony; to raise and educate their children to grow and prosper.

Practice your freedom. Overcome fear of the unknown. Invite a Muslim neighbor to coffee. Visit a local mosque. You will find it filled with Nevadans trying to make our community a better place to live.