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Islam is the path that Allah revealed so that man could reach his full potential and please his Lord and Creator. When a person is far from Islam, like someone flying high over a road in the desert, it may seem like a narrow and difficult way. But when you come close to Islam you find it is a broad path that is complete both in its scope and in providing flexibility for man's diverse needs.

Does merely accepting Islam with your tongue, "la ilaha illAllah" (there is no deity worthy of worship other than Allah), erase all human foibles and weaknesses? No. But practicing Islam does bring out in a person those positive qualities that can be recognized by people everywhere. Indeed the Prophet, Allah's prayers and blessings be upon him, said it best when he said that he had been sent to improve the manners (akhlaque) of the people.

Part of what makes Islam beautiful to me is the barakat (blessing) that Allah puts in gatherings of Muslims who seek to learn and practice His religion. I just came back from attending a two-week course of lectures on theology, religious law, and more -- some 150 students took part. They came from all over the world to become roommates and classmates; we were together when we prayed, ate meals, studied, played, and took exams.

And to testify to how blessed and uplifting those two weeks were, there were so many positive comments from the staff at the event-hotel, including a non-Muslim engineer who spoke to us as a group and said that he had never addressed a gathering at the hotel before but he was moved to do so by his interactions with us.

When one thinks of the challenges Muslims face today, discrimination and wrongful prosecution are high on the list. The founding fathers of America rightly feared demagoguery but hate- and fear-mongers have risen to power here throughout the country's history, persecuting whatever group was a convenient target at the time. Yet the way to combat such villainy is through educating our countrymen about what Islam is and how we live as Muslims -- and Allah asks precisely that of every Muslim.