Understanding Muslim Americans

You can see Sharmin Tohin's worry in how she wrings her hands. If as a Muslim New Yorker she lives in fear, then we've failed. And if we've failed, she and her husband say it is for one reason: an ugly human flaw that we can hate what we don't know. Muslim Americans say now more than ever they feel misunderstood.

Mohammed Tohin is the founder and president of South Asian American Voice. The group's goal is to promote dialogue. He sees two sets of rules for how we see violence. When it's by a Muslim, Americans associate it with religion, and call it terrorism. But if it is by a Christian, as in the case of the recent shooting of two engineers in Kansas City by a white man, it is treated differently -- as the act of a troubled individual. To Tohin, in both cases, a Muslim or Christian is unworthy of his religion. Even when they associate their actions with a group like ISIS, which to Tohin, twists Islam to unrecognizable lengths.

For Tohin and his wife, Muslims in America are about the estimated 3 million like them living in this country, the overwhelming majority of whom are law-abiding. Figures which included Captain Humayun Khan awarded the Purple Heart, he was one of 6,000 Muslims serving in our military. He was killed in Iraq in the line of duty.

Muslim contributions to the United States even predate Muhammad Ali's towering influence.

Yet today, despite violent criminals from all races and religions, Islam connections are highlighted, even when Sharmin Tohin takes their two daughters to school on the Upper West Side, she feels the fear. She says some people look at her as if she is some kind of "alien."

While the gap of understanding seems substantial and some still judging whether or not someone is going to be violent just based on the color of their skin or their choice of religion, Tohin and his wife are optimistic and see a path to things getting better and it begins with leadership. They say three voices need to speak out against hating the unknown, beginning with, as Tohin carefully states: his own president. Then the media and then community leaders must speak out.

This is the path to peace as Tohin clearly sees it. Whether it will be traveled, who knows?