Shaukat Malik is a Muslim-American in Maryland. A native of Pakistan, he arrived in the United States in 1980.

For a moderate Muslim who has lived continuously in the West for more than thirty-eight years, the protests against the interfaith center proposed for Lower Manhattan is a wakeup call.

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It highlights a deep distrust of Muslims and of our moderate belief system. In my version of Islam, I share my God and prophets with the Christians and the Jews, and hold them in equal reverence. I firmly believe that our religion is determined at birth by God and we must respect all religions. The only role of religion in my life is to give me hope and help me become a good citizen.

I do not need to grow a beard but those that do for symbolism are exercising their personal freedom -- and, perhaps without realizing it, are helping the environment by not wasting the water and energy consumed in the shaving process. I do not need any intermediary to pray for me to God, and strongly believe in the absolute separation of church and state.

Save for a tiny minority, Muslims do not subscribe to the orthodox brand of Islam that mistakenly assumes that Muslims are superior to all others and all humanity must be converted to Islam. If God wants us all to be Muslims, he surely has the power to make us so.

As human beings, we have every right to be very angry with the 19 madmen who killed thousands of innocent civilians on Sept. 11, 2001.They were identified as Islamist terrorists -- as if a body of Muslim nations had ordered the attacks.

Fifteen of the nineteen hijackers were Saudi citizens, and are a product of the repressive kingdom that rules with an iron fist, using clerics as the enforcers. Through a system of subsidies and patronage, the kingdom has created a population of frustrated young men who are unemployed, disgruntled and angry. Osama Bin Laden and Al-Qaeda have exploited this frustration.

To avoid creating future monsters, instead of criticizing the creation of an interfaith center we should be concentrating on reforming the brand of Islam practiced in the Middle East. Kings and dictators in the region should embrace a more representative form of government. They should study Turkey's transformation to a democracy, promoted and underwritten by a previously conservative Islamic party.

The promise of the Statue of Liberty and the U.S. Constitution's unique recognition of the inherent rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness are crying out to the better judgment of the political pundits and misled majority.

If it is not safe to have an Islamic center two blocks from Ground Zero, who will decide on the exact distance needed for safety? What about the feelings of the Muslim mothers who also lost their sons on Sept. 11? Are they not also hurting? Like their fellow Jewish and Christian mothers, they all grieve for their loss. Instead of apportioning the levels of blame, we should target the enemy that caused us the pain.

America's celebrated ideals of separation of church and state and freedom of religion are on the line. If we give in to the location of the Islamic center what will be next?

In any democracy, we are entitled to our views. But we must be reasonable. This is how persecution of the Jewish people started in Germany. Through propaganda and caricature, the Jewish population was blamed for the recession. The firebombing of Jewish-owned shops and the looting of Jewish property led eventually to the transportation of Jews to concentration camps. Six million Jews were slaughtered as the world stood silent.

To blame Muslim Americans for 9/11 is simply a crazy idea.

We must support this center and give a voice to the very large moderate majority around the world that has been silenced by terrorists. To do otherwise would be tantamount to robbing the land of the free of its freedoms.

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