Opinion: We must not forget value of religious people in society

Annual Women's March Takes Place In Cities And Towns Across The Country

NEW YORK, NY – JANUARY 19: A large crowd marches down 6th Ave. while participating in the Women’s March on January 19, 2019 in New York City. This year marked the third year of the Women’s March which still drew large crowds in New York despite a public dispute between organizers. (Photo by Stephanie Keith/Getty Images)

Source: The Mercury News

This month my son Ismael turned one. For his birthday, I wrote him a letter in which I tell him we named him after Prophet Ishmael in the Qur’an and Bible. But when he gets this letter, will he care that his name means something in the Abrahamic faiths? Frankly, I sometimes wonder if he will care about religion at all.

Current trends would have us believe that he might not. For the first time ever, more Americans identify as having “no religion” than any other group. Generation Z appears to be the least religious generation. That’s good news, experts tell us: these kids might not be religious, but they’ll be more tolerant.

As a mom, this bothers me. I don’t want Ismael to be religious or tolerant; I want him to be religious and tolerant. As a PhD candidate who studies religion among youth, my academic expertise reassures me it’s not only possible to be both, but that one can cultivate the other.

How? For one thing, religion plays a central positive role in American civic life. Political scientists Robert Putnam and David Campbell show in “American Grace,” religious believers are more charitable to both religious and non-religious causes. Those who regularly attend a house of worship are also more likely to volunteer for secular issues. My own research on American Muslim students confirms this, and I see this also at local mosques. From Black Lives Matter to the Women’s March, much activism and volunteering happens around causes that are essentially neither Muslim nor religious. This is because most religions have a social justice and service mission that serious adherents take, well, seriously.

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