The other day in class, Dr. Pierce read us an email he had received in light of this course. Without providing too much information about who had sent the email, it was clear that the sender were misinformed about the worldview Islam provides its followers. For example, that Islam does not embody liberty, freedom, justice, and equality. We talked about how this misinformation can lead to confusion about who Muslims are, and that such misrepresentations have lead to Islamophobia and other discrimination against Muslims in the U.S. I myself am taking this course because I am uneducated on Islam in my home country and the issues its people face. As such, I am coming into this course with many unknowns in regards to American Muslims.
This past Friday afternoon we attended a prayer service (I believe named Jumu’ah for the Friday congregational prayer) at the Masjid Bilal mosque in Lexington, KY. While we were there, I realized several misconceptions of my own and of the American public about the Islamic community.
First of all, the sheer diversity of the community is something to be mentioned. There were people of African, Asian, and European descent all gathered together. In my own ignorance—a product of my upbringing and childhood community—when someone mentioned “Muslim,” I would often think immediately of someone of Arab descent, either wearing a turban or hijab. Though these characteristics are representative of some cultures’ Islamic identity, there is much more diversity of people and beliefs within Islam than often presented. In fact, most people at the mosque were dressed in what they had worn to work, whether that meant a shirt and tie, a long-sleeve t-shirt shirt and pants, or even scrubs. It was eye opening to see this.
My second point of contention about mainstream American views of Islam within our borders stems from the aforementioned diversity. I was confronted in the mosque by the wide diversity of race, dress, and belief, meanwhile noticing immense unity; they do not allow such diversity to divide them. Coming from a Christian background, I have noticed that when people inside the Church are diverse, they often split. This is sometimes found in the form of moving to a different denomination’s church or, in other cases, founding their own denomination. This goes to show that maybe Islam is not the more separating of the two religions. I believe Americans should be educated on the peacefulness and unifying forces embodied in Islam. Often times, the image of divisive and violent Muslims gets front-line news (even more-so displayed since the rise of ISIS). However, American press often downplays Christian violence and hate. Though Westboro Baptist Church is the most famous contender for violent acts, many other churches express support for violence, including Verity Baptist Church in Sacramento, CA. After the massacre in Orlando’s gay nightclub, the pastor of this church was quoted saying, “the tragedy is that more of them didn’t die” (http://www.nytimes.com/2016/06/28/us/pastors-praise-anti-gay-massacre-in-orlando-prompting-outrage.html). As if their lives didn’t matter! What I want to draw our attention to here is that no American in their right mind would look at this pastor and say that he represents the whole Christian identity. So why do we do the same for Islam? The answer lies somewhere in our collective lack of knowledge and interaction with Islamic communities and beliefs. Imagine that our knowledge of Christianity were limited to violent Christian acts like the aforementioned and the Crusades; we would seriously mistake Christianity’s message. Likewise, Islamic heritage should be studied to more deeply and truly understand its message. Without this, we have the detrimental effects we have today, like Islamophobia.
Furthermore, in class, we have talked about how mainstream American ideas have depicted Islam seems un-American or anti-American. However, on Friday, I saw many people who contribute to American society, and in the same job positions of people I know. It is this relatability that would impact the minds of non-Muslim Americans if they were to see Muslims in their place of worship. It would change their minds from thinking Muslims are foreign to understanding them as Americans with a different religion than their own.
It is additionally important to recognize these people in their historical and social reality. There are many prominent Muslims in American society who have been successful, but their names are often not emphasized or even mentioned. In his book, “Muslims and the Making of America,” Amir Hussain highlights many of these people: from Muhammad Ali and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, to the Grateful Dead and Public Enemy, to Fazlur Rahman Khan and Mohamed Zakariya, American Muslims have contributed to all walks of life in American culture and society. It is imperative to view Muslims therefore as contributors to our society, rather than as destroyers.
Lastly, with the current President-Elect Donald Trump endorsing policies of barring certain Muslims from entering the U.S (http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/americas/donald-trump-muslim-ban-registry-berlin-attack-twitter-you-know-my-plans-immigration-racism-a7489611.html), our nation’s figurehead directly identifies and targets all Muslims from certain areas as violent. Though there is an argument for protecting the nation against terrorism, what the general American audience receives is yet another representation of Muslims as violent; with this, we receive yet another example of uneducated views of Islam propagated into an unknowledgeable American community. This is dangerous. Americans must acknowledge American Muslims as members of society who belong to a different religion and not as combatants against the culture to which they contribute.