February 25, 2015
On Sunday night, I received a frantic email from a friend who lives on the West Coast. She wrote in her email that as she was walking out of her local grocery store and her caught sight of an attaractive newspaper titled, “Good News Northwest.” Out of interest, she picked up the paper and browsed through it. Soon she saw an article titled “A Terrorist’s Fairy Tale” by Michael Paul. She sent me a scanned copy of the two-page article. After a quick search on Google I found out that Michael Paul is a former Muslim from Iraq who has now become an Evangelical Pastor who primarily ministers to the Muslims sharing the “Good News” with them.
My friend was upset by the misrepresentation of Islam in the article and wanted to know how she could respond to it. Frankly, I have no problem with Christians proselytizing Muslims because after all there is freedom of religion and freedom to preach in America. But what is troubling about the article was the way the author was stoking the flames of fear in the hearts of the readers.
Paul claims that he has no qualms against the Muslims per se but the problem is with the religion of Islam (coincidentally this is the claim made by most Islamophobes). He says, “Our problem with Islam is not with the people, but with the religion which controls the people.” He also claims that the “Qur’an directs, conquering the land of infidels through deceit and violence.” In the end he talks about the Charlie Hebdo attack and Islam’s (supposed) restriction on freedom of speech. “Why don’t the Islamic leaders publish peaceful articles clearing up the perceived misconceptions of unbelievers?” the author wrote and to which he answered, “It is because they are indoctrinated to hate those who oppose Islam and to dominate all disbelievers by the sword.”
My friend was genuinely worried about the impact this article might have on the unsuspecting residents of the small town she lives in. She definitely has reasons to worry because most people learn about Islam from those who are not Muslims. The problem also lies in the fact that many who hold negative views about Islam actually do not know any Muslim first hand. In a Pew Research Study published in July, 2014, adherents of various faiths were asked to rate members of different religious affiliations on a thermometer type scale indicating those favorable on the warmer scale of the thermometer and those not on the colder part. The Muslims received the lowest ranking standing at 40% just a percent below that of the atheists. The numbers had a positive outcome if the person surveyed actually knew a member of the faith in question. The survey found that 38% knew a Muslim whereas 59% knew an atheist.
So, is it fair to say that Islamophobia in America is real?
The Washington Post reported that anti-Muslim hate crimes are five times higher today than they were before 9/11. According to the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reports there were almost 500 cases of hate crimes in 2001compared to 20-30 per year before 9/11. Although this number has seen a significant drop in the subsequent years it’s still maintaining an average of 100-150 incidents per year.
The last couple of months have been witness to several examples of growing Islamophobia in the US. When Duke University announced that it would allow the Muslim call to Prayer (Adhan) to be sounded from the bell tower, Rev. Franklin Graham came down hard on the university’s administration threatening withdrawal of funding. The university then rescinded its plan citing some possible threats on campus. After the Charlie Hebdo attack, an event under the title of “Stand with your Prophet in Respect and Honor” in Garland, TX, drew a group of about 500 protesters who picketed in front of the Garland Independent School District. The protest was headed by none other than one of the most notorious Islamophobes, Pamela Gellar who has been active in placing anti-Islam bus ads in major cities, such as, Washington D.C.
There have been numerous other incidents of intolerance against the Muslims but what really shook the community was the cold blooded murder of three Muslim students in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. The failure of media’s timely coverage of the killings drew instant criticism on social media such as, Twitter. Soon after this tragic incidence, an Islamic center in Houston was purposely set on fire. The perpetrator of this crime confessed to the arson. In another incident, an Islamic school in Rhode Island was vandalized with graffiti painted on the door. This time the criminal boldly wrote that “this is hate crime”.
To be sure, it is an undeniable fact that groups like ISIS, Al-Qaeda, and Boko Haram, are committing unfathomable atrocities in the name of Islam. However, it is a great injustice to judge the religion of Islam based on the behavior of these groups.
President Obama made this notion quite clear at the Countering Violent Extremism Summit when he said, “Al Qaeda and ISIL and groups like it are desperate for legitimacy. They try to portray themselves as religious leaders -- holy warriors in defense of Islam. That’s why ISIL presumes to declare itself the ‘Islamic State.’ And they propagate the notion that America -- and the West, generally -- is at war with Islam. That’s how they recruit. That’s how they try to radicalize young people.
We must never accept the premise that they put forward, because it is a lie. Nor should we grant these terrorists the religious legitimacy that they seek. They are not religious leaders -- they’re terrorists.”
Shahina Bashir is the chairperson of the Ahmadi Muslim Women Writer's Guild, USA. She is a free lance writer for the Examiner.com. Her letters have been published in several newspapers including Washington Post, NY Times, and LA Times. Follow her on Twitter.
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