It is important to push back "against the narrative that Muslims represent terrorism and extremist ideologies," said U.S. Representative Andre Carson, one of only two Muslims in Congress.
The Indiana Democrat told VOA Urdu that Muslims need to present a positive image to American society.
“A lot of terrorism activities are thwarted because Muslims are working with the law enforcement agencies and they are part of the law enforcement agencies. But you never hear about these stories,” he said. “America is ours, and until we dismiss the negative notions of what it means to be a Muslim, we will still face this kind of discrimination across the country.”
Carson was referring to the temporary detention Monday of a Muslim student from suburban Dallas who was pulled from class after he showed a homemade clock to a teacher who mistook it for a bomb. Ahmed Mohamed was questioned by the principal and police, then was handcuffed and taken to a police station.
Larry Boyd, chief of police in Irving, Texas, told CNN that after school resource officers determined the device was not a bomb, officers investigated whether Mohamed had brought the device to school with the intent to create alarm. Boyd said it was against the law to make even a phony bomb.
Representative Keith Ellison, the first Muslim elected to the U.S. House, told VOA Urdu that Mohamed was doing what every kid his age should be doing, yet some people treated him like a criminal.
“There are bigoted, unfair people all over the world, not just here in the United States,” Ellison said. “But this is not a static situation. American Muslims and people of other faiths who believe in inclusion are busy, too. And we are reaching out, moving forward, building the bridges to make sure that a young Ahmed Mohamed can build that clock, can be creative and innovative.”
As Ahmed's story spread across social media, Twitter erupted with support for him. The hashtag #IStandWithAhmed was tweeted more than 1 million times.
President Barack Obama invited him to the White House, and Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg posted that he wanted to meet him. A NASA scientist asked Ahmed to give him a call in a couple of years for a job opportunity.
Texas Governor Greg Abbott also weighed in, cautioning that he did not know all the facts but saying that police were wrong to detain the boy.
'Environment of fear'
Ellison said Muslims have a lot to offer to the United States, and once their contributions are better known, things can change for better.
“There are over 30 clinics set up in low-income communities across the United States, founded and run by Muslims, where people of any faith can go and get health care service for free," he said. "A lot of Muslims are running for office, offering free legal advice and starting businesses so that people can get jobs.”
Some Muslim organizations have blamed the “environment of fear” created by anti-Muslim rhetoric for suspicions against the Muslim community. The Council on American-Islamic Relations said Ahmed's case was an example of the climate of hate and manufactured fear around the religion.
But Ellison admitted that the number of fair-minded and good people in the country by far exceeds those who try to present Muslims or any other group in a bad light.
“This is a great country, and most people are with us," he said. "Most school systems would be honored to have him [Ahmed]. What we cannot do is retreat and heed the bullies, bigots and the haters.”