When an angry neighbor murdered three Muslim students in North Carolina, my Facebook feed lit up.

Tragic, I thought, and I scrolled on.

Then another post caught my eye. A Muslim friend cried out that the triple murder was a hate crime — and fumed that the news was reporting it as a “parking dispute.”

Regardless of whether this particular shooting was a hate crime, such incidents are on the rise. The Washington Post recently reported that hate crimes against American Muslims are five times more common than they were before the 9/11 attacks.

So it’s clear that some Americans do harbor resentment or negative stereotypes of Muslims. I wonder how many of them have actually met a Muslim before.

Only 0.6 percent of Americans today are Muslim, but I grew up with several Muslim friends. Most were American-born to Pakistani immigrant parents. Some were religious, others were not.

Muslim Americans Praying

Fort Meade/Flickr

My closest Muslim friend never wore a headscarf, but in high school she obeyed her parents’ wishes that she avoid alcohol and dating. Later, in college, she went to rock concerts and had crushes on boys.

Back then, she thought she’d never marry a Pakistani — but she ultimately had a traditional arranged marriage as a young adult. Today, she and her husband are both physicians and live in a mostly white Midwestern suburb. Their full-time jobs are saving lives.

Another close Muslim friend from high school, also an American born to Pakistani parents, is now studying law. He’s religious, but his Facebook feed is mostly witty musings about U2, Jon Stewart, Harper Lee, grammar, and even Fifty Shades of Grey (although I doubt he read the raunchy trilogy himself).

I recently dated a Muslim man — an ethnic Somali who moved here from Kenya. He told me he fasted for Ramadan and abstained from pork and alcohol, but he didn’t mind dating non-Muslims like me.

My point? Muslims are as heterogeneous — and as normal — as members of any other religious group. They share more in common with non-Muslims than they differ from them.

In my view, the only problem with Muslims in America is that there aren’t enough of them. Because if there were more, we’d all know that they’re just like any other group of Americans (maybe just with less beer drinking).

And maybe then, the senseless acts of hatred against American Muslims would become a thing of the past.

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Jill Richardson

OtherWords columnist Jill Richardson is the author of Recipe for America: Why Our Food System Is Broken and What We Can Do to Fix It. OtherWords.org.

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