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Harmful Misconceptions Impacting Muslim Americans

Islamophobia Reaches Record Heights In the United States


With terrorism on the rise in the past couple of decades, hate and fear have skyrocketed with it. While Islamophobia has existed for a long time, its prevalence in the United States has peaked more recently. In the past few decades, Muslim-Americans have been the target of hate crimes, the burning of mosques, bomb threats, assaults, and discrimination in a multitude of forms. Transitioning to the past year specifically, the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) states that Islamophobia has reached a new high in the United States. More than 6,700 civil rights complaints have been made, including racial assaults, workplace discrimination, issues with law enforcement, denial of public accommodation, and more. It is additionally noteworthy that these numbers are the official reports filed. Islamophobia has impacted even more Muslim Americans than these numbers indicate. According to a survey conducted by the Othering & Belonging Institute at UC Berkeley, 76.7 percent of Muslim women in the United States have faced Islamaphobia and 58.6 percent of men. 


Manifestations of Islamophobia


Islamophobia can manifest in a multitude of ways. Although physical or verbal assault is what becomes publicized in the media, there are many other forms of Islamophobia. While sometimes verbal harassment is clear and intentional, some Americans hold prejudices that they attempt to hide, and these prejudices can appear in microaggressions. Many of these microaggressions against Muslim-Americans include endorsing religious stereotypes, exoticization, pathology of different religious groups, assumption of one's own religious identity as the norm, assumption of religious homogeneity, and denial of religious prejudice. These often express incorrect perceptions of Muslims and alienate Muslims by othering their religious practices or beliefs. Studies indicate that these microaggressions can cause psychological and physical stress and harm. This likely contributes to why nearly all of the U.S Muslims in a study at the Othering & Belonging Institute at UC Berkeley reported that Islamophobia has caused harm to their mental health and well-being. It is clear that while not every expression of Islamophobia presents itself as intentionally violent or abusive, Islamaphobia in all forms has a profoundly negative impact on the lives of Muslim Americans. So what are some fundamental misconceptions that can contribute to Islamophobia? And how can we debunk them?


Myth #1- Islam is Extremist and Violent.


In a 2015 Pew Research Center study collected in 11 countries with significant Muslim populations, citizens overwhelmingly expressed negative views of ISIS. Not only do most Muslims find terrorism inherently wrong, but terrorism has stigmatized their religion, harming many Muslims in the process. Most Muslims do not carry violent beliefs and do not consider those with these beliefs to be true Muslims. The religious verses used to justify religious terrorism, and stigmatize Islam as violent, are taken out of context. These verses can even be used to refute religious terrorism. For example, the verse “kill them where you find them” is referring specifically to self-defense and justice. When read in context, it can be understood that the “them” refers to terrorists who killed innocent people for their faith. This can be applied to Muslims speaking out against religious terrorists. Leading Muslim groups and scholars consistently condemn the violence that Muslim extremists preach. For those who truly study Islam, it is clear that it is not the violent religion that many stigmatize it as. In reality, scholars studying the Qur’an describe Islam as a peaceful religion. The Quran contains verses such as “therein they will hear no abusive speech, nor any talk of sin, only the saying, ‘Peace, peace'’' and “aggress not: God loves not the aggressors.” It is therefore evident that the violence and extremism some speak of are not truly endorsed by the Quran or most Muslims.


Myth #2- Extremism Only Exists In Islam.


Terrorism is an extremist interpretation of any belief, and extremism is not unique to any religion. It is common knowledge that history is marked by violence and conquest under the name of religion; however, many modern forms of religious extremism are not widely publicized. For example, Christian extremism is still prevalent in current times. Many violent rioters who stormed the capital in 2021 believed it was under the name of the Christian god. One rioter stated, “I wanted to get inside [the Capitol] so I could plead the blood of Jesus over it … I just felt like the spirit of God wanted me to go into the Senate room.” The pope has additionally spoken on Christian extremism, comparing it to other forms of religious extremism. He explains that verses in the bible can be interpreted as endorsing conquest. He states, “it is also possible to interpret the objective in Matthew’s Gospel, where Jesus sends his disciples to all nations, in terms of the same idea of conquest.” It is clear then, that members of even widely accepted religions can interpret religious texts in extremist ways. So why is Islam the only target of an extremist stigma?


It is important to question why news that reinstills prejudice is projected, while other stories are buried. It is no mistake that the media more widely covers extremists from certain backgrounds and not others. Christianity is the predominant religion in the United States, influencing the media to censor news that could negatively stigmatize it. While Muslims also make up a large portion of religious Americans, they are still in the minority, and therefore largely perceived and treated as others. The failure to publicize extremism from every religion has introduced and reinforced a negative stigma specifically targeting Muslim Americans, when in reality, extremism can stem from any group of beliefs, and this is not unique to Islam.


Concluding Thoughts


 


It is clear that upon further research, Muslims are not the people that the media projects them as and faulty individuals come from every background. These misconeceptions highlight that the public needs to question its sources and do more summative research, before perpetuating harmful stigmas that hurt its fellow citizens. The inequity found in the news targeting specific religions creates and perpetuates stereotypes that stigmatize minorities while continuing to put the dominant groups on a pedestal. Therefore, Americans must work to introduce religious equality in the media and be more aware of the dangerous power that targeting others carries.


 


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