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Tension Marks US-Muslim Relations


Since President Obama's inauguration speech, and especially after his Cairo address to the Muslim world, Muslims around the world have been waiting for concrete steps to improve U.S.-Muslim relations. A group of scholars, diplomats and American-Muslim leaders are recommending practical steps to achieve that goal.

Since the September 11th attacks, U.S. relations with the Muslim world have been tense, with a rise in anti-American sentiment on one side and rhetoric linking Islam with terrorism on the other.

President Obama's speech to the Muslim world called for a new beginning based on mutual respect and mutual interest.

"So long as our relationship is defined by our differences, we will empower those who sow hatred rather than peace and who promote conflict rather than the cooperation that can help all of our people achieve justice and prosperity," the president said.

President Obama said he will fight the stereotyping of Muslims.

Shaun Casey is professor of Christian ethics at Wesley Theological Seminary in Washington. He says the president already started in Cairo.

"The president said in his speech that violent extremists represent only a tiny fraction of the Muslim world, and I think that is the distinction that he needs to make," Casey says. "He needs to avoid somehow feeding the stereotype that all Muslims are terrorists, and he needs to spend a lot of energy educating the American public on that distinction and those facts."

There are more than 1,000 mosques and Islamic centers in the United States, serving between five and seven million Muslims.

Amr Ramadan is deputy chief of mission at the Egyptian Embassy in Washington. He says tensions between the Muslim world and the United States are not religious but political.

Muslims, he says, are waiting for President Obama to take steps to solve the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. He says the president's approach requires improving the dialogue between Muslims and non-Muslims.

"One very positive consequence after the speech in Cairo is that many Christians in America are engaging with American Muslims and trying to talk more on religious and cultural issues. We have seen that starting."

Nihad Awad is executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations. He says President Obama should speak out against anti-Muslim rhetoric and discrimination against Muslims.

"We should have [a] clear stance by the U.S. government and intellectual leaders to fight against Islamophobia and anti-Muslim discrimination that has been rampant after 9/11."

Muslim activists, like pop star Youssef Islam, once known as Cat Stevens, have been barred from the United States, although recently Islam was admitted.

Awad says U.S. visa policies should be changed to allow Muslim intellectuals and business leaders to travel to America without fear of harassment at points of entry.

Awad notes that President Obama cannot act alone and Congress must help to fix the damage done to U.S.-Muslim relations over the past several years.

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