I write this as a Muslim even though being a Muslim does not define me. In fact, I have a very secular outlook to life and last time I knelt down to pray was more to impress my grandmother than Allah - I was 7 or 8.

So, why am I speaking as a Muslim? Let me explain. This year, I received an email from the US Government informing me that I was no longer eligible to travel to the US under the Visa Waiver Programme. Despite being born in Scotland and holding British and New Zealand passports, I was regarded as a threat and a potential extremist purely based on my parentage.

The incident reminded me again that, in the current political environment, Muslims have little influence in determining how they are defined. The nationality and religion they are born into matter and will impact their lives whether they like or not.

I have therefore decided that, for the sake of the majority of peaceful Muslims, to embrace my Islamic heritage and to celebrate, build and promote what is good, beautiful and uniting about Islam: think solace, comfort, charity, hospitality, empathy, kindness. The alternative is to denounce the religion I was born into because of the actions of a minority.


But doing that would only play into the hands of extremists; their goal is to declare themselves as the only true Muslims by dismissing my mother, grandmother and over one billion of other peaceful Muslims as infidels.

It is time for secular Muslims, feminist Muslims, gay Muslims, bisexual Muslims, lesbian Muslims, transsexual Muslims, Marxist Muslims and all the other shades of Muslims to come out, in greater numbers, and proudly say that they are Muslims too. It is also time for Muslims to accept that extremism, violence, racism, anti-Semitism, homophobia, oppression and patriarchy are rife amongst many Islamic cultures. But Muslims need to talk about these issues in an open and transparent way and acknowledge that the extremists who carry out vile acts of terrorism are Muslims too.

In fact, the reason that the main religions have enjoyed such longevity is because, much like a good book of poetry, they are able to reflect their readers' values and aspirations. In other words, a violent person's religion is always violent whereas a peaceful person's religion is always peaceful. Yes, it is true that the literal translation of Islam, like most other religions, can be used to justify some expressions of violence, but it is a mistake to assume that the journey to extremism starts with the belief in Islam.

There is no doubt that the majority of the global terrorism today is carried out by Islamist groups but 50 or 100 years ago, it was communists, anarchists, fascists and others who resorted to terrorism to achieve their goals. Nobody blamed Christianity or atheism then so why are we blaming Islam now?

In today's modern digital age, it is fortunate that the works of eminent Islamic scholars such as Tariq Ramadan, Reza Aslan and Hasan Minhaj are easily accessible online. These Islamic leaders provide us with a very different interpretation of Islam that is in tune with the values of a liberal and progressive society.

In fact, last year Aslan and Minhaj penned an open letter to the Muslims on same-sex marriage. Having declared their disagreement with homosexuality being haram in Islam, they concluded their letter by saying: "Bottom line is this: standing up for marginalised communities, even when you disagree with them, is not just the right thing to do, it's the Muslim thing to do. Remember that whole God is merciful and compassionate thing? That extends to all people, not just those who are straight. Celebrate. Don't tolerate. Love really does win."

As a Muslim and as a human being, I stand in solidarity with the LGBT community in America and elsewhere, as they mourn the loss of their loved ones through a vile act of hatred. Let us be guided by love, not hate, because love is the only way.

Donna Miles-Mojab is an Iranian New Zealander living in Christchurch.