A religion should be judged by the understanding and practices of the majority of its followers.

And I'm not just talking about Islam. I'm talking about every religion.

Let me tell you a little bit about the ways in which my faith requires its followers to conduct their daily lives, regardless of where in the world they live.

Although I spent almost the first half of my life in another country with a completely different culture, language and a Muslim majority. When I first moved to the United States 13 years ago, I felt I had only one major obstacle to overcome: learning English.

I knew that once I learned the language, nothing was going to be an issue for me, and that has a lot to do with the principles of my faith.

Being a minority in a completely different culture has never been an issue for me, and that's because I was taught that you can be a Muslim anywhere you like.

One of the best virtues of Islam is respecting the laws of the nation in which you live. This is an important Islamic principle.

In my research for this week's column, I read several entries and articles on MuslimMatters.org and Suhaibwebb.com, sites dedicated to enhancing the understanding of Islam.

Islamic scholars consider citizenship or a visa a "covenant of security," or a contract between that individual and the state in exchange for safety, security and obeying the laws of that land.

This applies to both born and naturalized citizens of any country, Muslim or not. A covenant in Islam doesn't only mean a written or even a verbal contract, but a moral understanding, meaning that when I enter one's house or one's country, I ought to respect its people and rules.

Not doing so is considered treasonous and a major sin, said Hussam Ayloush, executive director of the Greater Los Angeles chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR-LA).

"You cannot engage in warlike behavior or criminal activities against people who have trusted you," Ayloush said. "Prophet Muhammad taught us that one is not a true believer until he loves for others what he loves for himself. I am sure we all love to be treated with goodness and integrity."

This principle is not only about respect, but about loyalty, commitment and love for the country that has given you a home.

The Prophet Muhammad once said, "Whoever kills someone who is protected under a covenant, then he shall not even smell the scent of Paradise."

The Prophet also said, "The (true) Muslim is he whose people are safe from (being harmed by) his tongue and hand."

I know there have been plenty of headlines for at least the past 10 years about so-called Muslims who have committed outrageous and horrific atrocities toward innocents, those of their own countries and those of countries that have given them security, opportunities and a chance at a good life.

To me, these are worthless criminals, not Muslims. They do not represent or respect Islam, and they do not speak for me or my religion.

Religion — any religion, not just Islam — should not be jerked around or falsely claimed by criminals, though history has shown us otherwise.

When you read or hear about criminals, even if they claim to commit their crimes in the name of your religion, whether Christianity or Judaism or any other, how do you feel? I imagine you feel as repulsed as I do when I hear about Muslims committing crimes.

Most Muslims in America are highly educated and good citizens; they contribute greatly to their country. And it's not just because this country is great and deserves the best, but because our religion commands us to be good citizens.

I understand that to some, Islam might seem complicated and foreign. But I'm here to tell you, I share with you many values, principles and virtues. If we choose to point out our differences, we will never see the overwhelming common ground on which we already stand.

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Meet the writer

Mona Shadia will participate in a "Roundtable on Dr. King's Legacy & the Occupy Movement" at Christ Our Redeemer AME Church's third annual Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. Interfaith Conference from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday, 46 Maxwell St. in Irvine. Mona will be available to meet readers and answer their questions.

MONA SHADIA is a reporter for the Huntington Beach Independent. An Egyptian American, she was born and raised in Cairo and now lives in Orange County. Her column includes various questions and issues facing Muslims in America. Follow her on Twitter: @MonaShadia