Misguided Messages: To combat Islamophobia

By: Malcolm Musoni

About 1.6 billion of the world’s population is made up of Muslims, but that hasn’t stopped those who believe in Allah (their name for “God”) from being the most persecuted religion.

Just a month ago a terrorist attack on a French satire cartoon resulted in fresh examples of Islamophobia. Islamophobia is not an ideology or a fictitious term made up to ridicule those for having an opinion. Islamophobia is a term for the fear, hatred and prejudice of the Islam faith. The term gained popularity after the 2001 Sept. 11 attacks when many Americans started to vocalize their fear based on ignorance toward Muslims and this is now growing faster than ever.

Junior Sara Ashar knows firsthand about Islamophobia. As a minority in a high school where her classmates are predominantly caucasian and Christian, she has had to inevitably prepare herself for attacks on her beliefs every day. She said, “It’s kind of hard sitting in a class and having a teacher bring up what they had been taught about Islam and sharing it with the rest of the class. I’ve heard some comments from teachers and students, but nothing that has made a dramatic effect or anything.” Ignoring and avoiding comments attacking your beliefs is easier said than done.

Looking at Sara one would not know that she is Muslim. There is no set look or characteristic that can help you identify a Muslim. That entire motif is based on essentialism. Sara herself, has opted to not wear the hijab headdress that many Muslim women wear.

The biggest misconception of the Muslim religion according to Sara are the rules regarding women. She said women wearing a hijab is 100 percent optional and is between the woman and her relationship with Allah himself. Secondly, women are indeed allowed to have jobs outside the house, but rules formed under radical Islamic leaders have prevented many Muslim woman in the region from doing so. Sara explained, saying, “My own aunt in Pakistan owns an independent business and is at times more successful than her husband my uncle.”

Many of the misconceptions that are held about Islam are formed from what we see in the media. James Eagan Holmes, the shooter who perpetuated the mass shooting at a Colorado movie theater in 2012, was a Catholic. By all definitions he is a terrorist committing an attack of domestic terrorism, but the media didn’t call him a “radical Catholic” or address his faith at all when they covered the mass killing. He was labeled a sick, caucasian, impressionable man, and this coverage is opposed to what they would have done if Holmes had been a Muslim man doing the same crime. The media reports noting the religious views of criminals when it comes to crimes by Muslim people fuels Islamophobia.

Sara has spent the majority of her summer in the Middle East visiting her extended family. She spoke of the difference between the reality and the media portrayal. “I’ve personally traveled to war-torn countries like Saudi Arabia and Pakistan, and it is so different from what CNN or Fox portray it to be. Yes, there are attacks and violence within the countries like any country, but they are beautiful, peaceful countries that I have enjoyed my time visiting.”

Contrary to popular belief, the Islamic faith is a very peaceful religion. The basis of the religion like Christianity is about love and believing in a higher power. There’s a verse in the Quran (the Muslim equivalent of the Bible) that says, “Whoever kills an innocent human being it shall be as if he has killed all mankind. And whosoever saves the life of one, it shall be as if he had saved the live of all mankind.” That entire passage dismantles the myth of a violence-based Islam and proves that the basis of the religion is like any modern religion of our time.

Just this week Didier François, a Frenchman who had been kept captive by ISIS, the media dubbed “radical islamic” terrorist group, broke new ground stating that during his 10 months of captivity his captives didn’t have even have a Quran. He went on to state that their motives were political, not religious and the Quran had nothing to do with their violent ideologies. It just happened to be that they were Muslim.

Sara, like many of the 1.6 billion Muslims around the world, is disappointed by the portrayal of her faith but is determined to not let the ignorance falter her faith. She said, “It’s disappointing to know that the rest of the world blames the wrongdoings of one upon an entire religion. I will never condone these atrocious acts, and I can guarantee neither would any other Muslim.”

It’s time to let ignorance based fear falter and let education prevail.

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