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20/20 Asks: What is Islam?

As a proud American woman — a proud American Muslim woman — I was cheering Diane Sawyer on as she conducted an investigation called “Islam: Questions and Answers” for NBC’s 20/20. The broadcast was 20/20’s response to questions and controversy spurred by the community center planned to go up near Ground Zero.

Diane Sawyer opens the episode. Image credit: ABC.

The report includes commentary from many walks of life, including children, neighbors, theologists, authors, students, and religious leaders. Some are Muslim; some are not. Regardless, 20/20 poses a thoughtful and largely respectful investigation that portrays moderate Muslims in a very positive light.

The broadcast begins by highlighting the fact that there are only 2-3 million American Muslims, and 75% of Americans report that they do not personally know a Muslim person. American Muslims are mentioned as having twice the college degrees than the average American and a higher income than the average. It is also mentioned that 7,000 Muslims serve in U.S. military troops, “fighting around the world for the American dream.” Sawyer also cites that notable popular figures include Muslims, such as Miss U.S.A. (Rima Fakih) and a number of NFL players.

One segment of the piece is entitled “Does the Koran Advocate Violence?” Sawyer’s co-anchor explains, “…the Quran only calls for Jihad against invaders threatening a Muslim home.” The broadcast goes on to say that “the killing of innocent civilians is expressly prohibited in Islam… That is a belief shared by more than a billion moderate Muslims around the world.” Executive Director of Interfaith Youth Core, Eboo Patel, makes a very strongly delivered testimony. “The way we moderate Muslims feel about extremists who hijack Islam… We look at them and say, ‘Who are you?’ We’re afraid of them… That person is our enemy.”

An eager group of Sunday schoolers makes its TV debut. Image credit: ABC.

NYC fireman Farooq Muhammad was called to action on 9-11, and he makes a troubled cameo in the broadcast. He mentions that the name “Muhammad” is printed on his uniform, and that on 9-11, “People were asking me what was going on as if I had something to do with it.”

Imam Faisal Raouf, the man championing the community center proposed to be built blocks away from Ground Zero, publicly dedicates himself to protecting American non-Muslims from any future extremist attacks. “It is my duty as an American Muslim to stand between you, the American non-Muslim, and the radicals who are trying to attack you,” he says.

Bravo to 20/20 for producing an objective and positive piece about Islam, and for giving moderate American Muslims a chance to speak out and educate our nation about the peace and respect that are central in our religion. The show presents a diverse picture, inviting the viewer to truly comprehend what it means to be an American Muslim. To view the broadcast, click through the videos on this page or watch the full episode at

9 thoughts on “20/20 Asks: What is Islam?

  1. I saw this when it came on. I agree the broadcast highlighted good points of islam, but in my opinion wasn’t overly positive. would be great to hear what otherse think.

  2. I think it’s extremely important to call attention to news reports such as this one! As Muslims we need to raise awareness of what the media is saying about Islam. Thanks for this article!

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