by Liz Putney and Erica Reinhardt
We decided to work together on this post because it is a topic that is very important to both of us. Erica attended a rally in New York City so she was able to see the prejudices that some Westerners have against Muslims firsthand. We were clearly aware of the discrimination against the religion of Islam, but the fact that an event was held for people to “say something nice about a Muslim” says a lot. I, Elizabeth Putney, am very interested in the relationships between Westerners and Muslims and the conflicts that continually arise between us both. I actively look for ways to get involved in the proper representation of Muslims, as I know many Muslims who are the kindest people I’ve ever met, and I want to erase the stereotypes that exist today in the world. I hope that by writing this activism post we are able to shed light on the idea that a person’s religion or beliefs do not make them bad.
If you were asked to say something about a Muslim, what would you say? On March 8th in Union Square Park in New York City, I, Erica Reinhardt, sat on a step with around 75 other people. I sat watching and listening as people went up one by one to say something nice about Muslims through a megaphone. The purpose of this event was to prove that there are generalized ideas about Muslims and what they believe in, but the majority of Muslims in the United States don’t fit into these generalized ideas.
“I know a Muslim, she dresses traditionally and she’s pretty cool,” “I am a Muslim and I love America and all of the people in it,” “I am a Muslim but you probably wouldn’t know because I don’t wear the traditional clothing and I don’t have dark skin,” “You can’t define a person based on their faith.” Just because you don’t understand a concept or faith, doesn’t mean it’s wrong. The quotes above are the ones that I find to be the most compelling from this event because they were eye-opening. A religion doesn’t define who a person is and often times it is hard to understand this concept. I feel these quotes exemplify how, even though a religion may have strict guidelines, followers cannot be defined or stereotyped by these guidelines.
As I listened I started to recognize that people would highlight things about Muslims’ personalities, not only how they dressed and what they believed in, but also who they were as individuals. Traditional Muslim garb, the hijab and niqab, is very distinct and many people know what it is which allows for so many people to pass judgments so quickly. But what many people don’t do is take the time to get to know the people dressed in their traditional clothing. Along with the idea of getting to know Muslims on a personal level rather than having skewed opinions based on their attire, people spoke upon Muslim characteristics such as being pretty cool or loving America. Muslims are so oppressed that they feel they have to explicitly state their love for America to prove that they are good people just like us. Lastly, I want to highlight that this entire event was based around Westerners who prejudge the Islamic religion based on what they know of radical Muslims.
The Islamic religion is a belief system that only encompasses 0.9 percent of the American population. Many Americans make judgments about Muslims based on the most well-known branch: the radical Muslims. The radical Muslims are responsible for many of the detrimental terrorist attacks in the United States and because of these unfortunate extremities, many Americans make generalizations of Muslims based on what is widely discussed in the news. Muslims are judged and oppressed by Americans who aren’t able to or lack the desire to personally get to know Muslims. Just because someone doesn’t understand a religion doesn’t mean it’s wrong. Westerners who are prejudiced against Muslims have their Western ideals and implement their power as the majority, non-Islamic and view Muslims all as terrorists: performers who are capable of mass-destruction. In reality, as Westerners who are prejudiced about Muslims, we have no right to generalize other religions and concepts as “bad” just because we don’t understand them. Generalizing a group because people simply don’t understand the said group and their beliefs is a theme I found in Jenny Nordberg’s The Underground Girls of Kabul: In Search of a Hidden Resistance in Afghanistan.
In Nordberg’s writing, Western Society’s eyes are opened to the concept of bacha posh. A bacha posh is a pre-pubescent girl dressing as a boy to do things such as make money for her family or receive an education. Nordberg’s work allowed for many people to be informed of Afghanistan culture. Ultimately, it is hard for many people to read The Underground Girls of Kabul and not pass judgments because in the eyes of Westerners who are hyper-aware of women’s rights, a bacha posh highlights the oppression of women. Although it is hard not to pass judgments on things that are newly introduced to us and are abnormal in our lives, it is necessary. The bacha posh is not something that Western society is aware of but now that many of us are, just because we don’t understand it or support it doesn’t mean it’s something that we can claim to be wrong. It is simply different. Similarly, just because many of us don’t believe in Islamic beliefs doesn’t mean they’re wrong and we have no right to pass judgments or oppress Muslims for their differences.
Men and women all over the world face oppression and discrimination because of their religion. Recently, prejudice and hatred against Islam has been widespread and I think it is something that needs to be changed—change can be accomplished by spreading awareness about the truth of Islam. The religion of Islam was started in the 7th century and is said to be the fastest growing religion in the world; it is expected that there will be over 3 billion Muslims around the globe by 2025.
Studies from 2015 done by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission show that there were nearly 4,000 religious complaints reported in the workplace, and almost half of them were about Muslims. Muslim women in the workplace must worry constantly about matters that white Western women may take for granted. Imagine a male employee offers his hand during introductions or an invitation is sent to all employees for a get-together at the local bar; maybe someone makes a joke about a Hijab or Salah. These events would probably not affect white Americans, but for Muslim women these are serious problems that cause immense amounts of discomfort, and most people wouldn’t even realize it. In order to erase the intolerance and generalizations made about Muslims, we must learn and make known the truth about Islam.
The truth of Islam is that it is not inherently violent, nor is it inherently peaceful. Something that none of the anti-Muslim critics are aware of is that Muslim societies are among the least violent in the world with respect to deadly intentional violence worldwide. However, campaigns of political violence in which Islamist radical groups, such as ISIS, are one of the warring parties are now the world’s deadliest—and by a huge margin. These radical groups, along with Western perceptions and differing beliefs, account for much of the reasoning behind the negative thoughts surrounding Islam.
CAIR–the Council on American-Islamic Relations seeks to be a leading advocate for mutual understanding and justice. CAIR works with national and local media to ensure that Muslims are being portrayed correctly to the public. On CAIR’s website, anyone can report incidents or take action by signing petitions against the Muslim ban and other prejudices against Islam. I recommend that everyone check out CAIR to see what they can do to be involved in the important issue of discrimination against Muslims. However, the most important way that we can be proactive about this growing issue is to spread awareness and acceptance. We have no right to judge those around us for their beliefs or what they choose to wear, and we must be accepting of everyone always, as we expect others to do the same for us.