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Guest view: Religious tolerance is tested in America

This country was founded on the basis of many freedoms, none more important than the freedom of religion. In fact, to the Founding Fathers, neither women nor blacks were elevated to the same level of consideration.

Unfortunately, the freedom of religion has not prevented the prejudice and animosity of one religious group for another from arising. Often, the feelings arise from different practices, cultures or mannerisms. We fear what we do not know and do not understand. Sometimes, anger is based upon the actions of a person associated or believed to be aligned with a particular religion. This can be most troublesome because those whose actions offend us often do not speak, reflect or represent the overwhelming majority of those practicing that religion. Guilt by association exacerbates misperceptions and further alienates us from each other.

This is an easy trap in which to fall. It requires little thought, time or deliberation, and it is wrong. The first question should be: Do I really understand what are the main tenets of the religion I question? The ultimate test should be whether that religion adheres to good will toward others and moral behavior.

It is wrong and unfair to condemn, castigate or shun our Muslim brothers and sisters for the brutal and barbaric acts of misguided and aberrant groups which have been uniformly condemned by Muslim leaders.

It has been suggested that our sentiments are related to our intolerance of differences. We don’t like the way they look, the names they have been given, the languages they speak, the holidays they celebrate, the holy book they hold dear and their cultural practices.

What breaks down those differences is to personalize the individual and recognize the commonalities, intellect and feelings each possesses.

We do not know the motivation for the murder of three Muslims in Chapel Hill. Rather than dwell on the individual who is responsible for this heinous act, it is fitting that we examine the life of one of the wonderful human beings lost forever.

Deah Barakat – yes, his name sounds “foreign” to us – was a doctoral student at the University of North Carolina. He was described by one of his professors as “generous, thoughtful, kind, and conscientious.” He was involved in helping others, building houses for Habitat for Humanity, offering free dental work for the poor, and had hopes of providing dental care for Syrian refugees displaced by groups that have hijacked the name of Islam for their perverted ends. Barakat was married less than two months ago. He had his whole life before him.

His senseless death has deprived us of a promising individual, a humanitarian, a person of good will who followed the Golden Rule. The fact that the Prophet Muhammad he followed may be different than the God we worship did not prevent him from loving his neighbor as he loved himself.

Is it not time we showed our Muslim brothers and sisters that we can do likewise?