In the weeks since the San Bernardino shooting and Paris attacks, anti-Muslim rhetoric and attitudes of some Americans have increased greatly. Some believe that Islam preaches a set of beliefs that are designed to target and destroy Western civilization, and as a result, Muslim people living in America are a danger to society. However, it should be apparent that most followers of the world’s second largest religion are rather well-intentioned and a diverse group of people.
Muslims, the adherents of Islam, make up 1.57 billion of the world’s over seven billion people. They do not solely live in the Middle East, but also have roots in Southeast Asia, China, and northern Africa. A small percentage of Muslims (in comparison to the astounding figure) live in the Americas and Western Europe. The religion has two denominations, Shia and Sunni, which differ in who they believe should have succeeded the prophet Muhammad as the religious leader of the religion, and have a number of differences to this day.
While Islamophobia has been around prior to the turn of the century, its most virulent and malicious forms have roots in the social climate following September 11, 2001, when four separate but coordinated terrorist attacks targeted major U.S. landmarks and hubs and killed nearly 3,000 people. In the days following, incidents of extreme hate crimes by Americans against who they perceive share the same beliefs as terrorists. Other groups, such as Sikhs (Sikhism is a South Asian religion unaffiliated with Islam that only sometimes shares a region with most followers) and Christian Arabs, have been mistakenly painted as Muslims due to sharing similar skin tones and phenotypes
Incidents of Islamophobic actions have followed these incidents, alarmingly. Some mosques and Sikh temples have been vandalized in the days since, and have also been the target of shooting threats. One such example was a man who killed an Indian immigrant only four days after the 9/11 attacks, and the rates of hate crimes had skyrocketed immediately following.
Anti-Muslim rhetoric, however, stretches far beyond the physical manifestations of threats and gun violence. Many are quick to question how Islam can be fair to women, given the portrayal that women are forced to wear hijabs and niqabs (headscarves that obscure part or all of the head) and that they are not allowed to participate in what we think should be components of our basic rights, such as voting, driving, and the freedom to walk alone. Like many other religious texts, the Qu’ran (Islam’s holy book) has demeaning passages towards women.
However, it should be noted that a lot of this comes from Westernized portrayals of a religion deemed too foreign. In the modern day, many women do not adhere strictly to dress codes more popular in Muslim countries, and it should be noted that only one country (Saudi Arabia) prohibits women from driving. The Qu’ran does not prohibit women from driving or list a specific dress code for women. There are a number of prominent Muslim feminists, and feminism and Islamic theory have quite a number of proponents behind it.
While both terrorists and the Muslim population both identify as adherents to the religion, members of the former are quick to denounce groups like al-Qaeda and ISIS as not truly following the religion, which preaches acceptance and peace. It is easy, especially with the context of media portrayal and fearful attitudes, to believe that the unknown is bad. However, we should take a crucial look and dive into learning more about the changing world to see how we could possibly reshape a Western view of Islam.
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