Today, I stand up for the rights of American Muslims.
My day job is designed to confront the sickening growth of anti-Muslim bigotry all too prevalent today. But it was in Lexington that I was nurtured in a religious community from which I learned hospitality, selflessness and generosity of spirit.
I have followed with interest reports on the hearings surrounding the proposed Islamic Center on Armstrong Mill Road, especially in the aftermath of discriminatory comments which have arisen at recent community meetings.
Some attendees at a recent River Park Neighborhood Association meeting suggested the center might result in "no-go zones" in Lexington (a false concept that went viral in the aftermath of the Paris terror attacks, for which something both Fox News and CNN have apologized.)
Other attendees voiced concerns over the proposed center being at a higher elevation than other buildings in the area, with one participant saying she suspected those inside would be looking into nearby houses and backyards with a telescope. These accusations are not based on knowledge of the community itself, but rather on fear mongering.
My hope is that the community in which I was raised will continue to extend hospitality, courtesy and respect to its Muslim members as they would to those of any other faith. Lexington has always been a place in which religious expression is welcome in the public square, and this should continue to be true for all who call Lexington home.
Since moving from the area, I have had the opportunity to get to know many Muslims from different backgrounds and locations. In Egypt and Lebanon, as well as in the U.S., I have experienced incredible kindness from individuals and families who have opened their homes and lives to me. Within these communities, I was struck by the similarities to the principles with which I was raised, such as compassion, a commitment to family and a strong sense of justice.
When I returned to Lexington after living in Egypt, my eyes were newly opened to my American Muslim neighbors who I had not paid enough attention to notice before. From restaurant owners to doctors and engineers, Muslims are part of Lexington's thriving and growing community. And as part of this city, there should be no debate over the desire of that community to have a space of its own.
There are many cities across our country in which the construction of a new Islamic center or place of worship has been met with uninformed and hateful speech.
In many of these communities, arguments about traffic patterns and the like have unfortunately been used to mask bigotry, subjecting Islamic centers to a level of scrutiny not applied to other new buildings.
As Muslims strive for greater inclusion in the American public square, they are met far too often with discrimination. This should not be considered a "Muslim issue," but rather a deep concern for all Americans.
The Christian, Jewish and Muslim leaders with whom I work may differ vastly when it comes to certain theological questions, as well as on social and political issues.
However, they agree that prejudice and policies targeting a particular faith community are an affront to all because they break down the very values of religious freedom and inclusion that make America unique.
To love a community or a country is to call it to be its best self, and that is what I call on Lexington to do now. When the city holds a public hearing today, join me in recognizing the right of the members of this community to have a place to call their own.
Continue to honor the religious freedom that so many immigrants, since the birth of this nation, have come here in search of.