MuskogeePhoenix.com, Muskogee, OK

January 18, 2010

THE PEOPLE SPEAK: Aid worker says most Muslims want peace


I am writing this in response to Catherine White's Jan. 11 letter to the editor, "America allows Islamic infiltration.”

From 2006 to 2009, I served as a Peace Corps volunteer in Tanzania, an East African country where a third of the people are Christian and another third are Muslim.

So during that time, I had the chance to learn about Islam. It was quite an experience.

I talked to Muslims during Ramadan, the month in the Islamic calendar when that religion's believers are not supposed to eat or drink anything during the day.

In doing so, I learned why they fast then, and also how important it is to them.

I got to celebrate both Eid ul-Fitr, the holiday that ends Ramadan, and Maulid, the Prophet Mohammed's birthday, with Muslims.

I was in Stone Town, Zanzibar — an island a few miles off the coast of mainland Tanzania where nearly everyone is a Muslim — in 2007 during Eid al-Adha, the day Muslims return from their annual pilgrimage to Mecca. So, I saw firsthand how they observed that.

I made friends with several Muslims while I lived in Tanzania.

In my time there, I did not meet any who subscribed to al-Qaida's extremist ideology of taking over the world and converting everyone to Islam, by any means, even violence.

None of them had any interest whatsoever in that. They were all as saddened and horrified as the rest of us by that group's attacks on innocent civilians, particularly the 1998 East Africa embassy bombings — one of which took place in Tanzania — and 9/11.

Based on what I saw while I was over there, the vast majority of Muslims want what everyone else wants: peace, a good life for themselves, and a better one for their children.

Matt Ehlers

Muskogee