By Admir Rasic
Out of the major world religions, Islam is among the most misunderstood. Misconceptions about Muslims and Islam generally boil down to three main themes: Muslims are not loyal to the United States, women do not have equal rights, and Islam is a violent religion. These misconceptions, among many others, are primarily perpetrated by a well-funded network of Islamophobic organizations, as highlighted by the Center for American Progress’s Fear Inc. and Fear Inc. 2.0 reports. These bigoted efforts have increased the rates of unfavorable views of Muslims between 2002 and 2013.
Over the past year, I have made an effort to meet with local lawmakers and leaders in order to present the true face of American Muslims and Islam. A frequent concern that was discussed was how truly American a Muslim can be. This is problematic for two reasons. Firstly, nearly 20,000 Muslims serve in the United States military, some of which have died fighting in Iraq or Afghanistan. Secondly, questioning an American Muslim’s Americanness sends the message that our everyday neighbors look at us with suspicion. I find it truly heartbreaking when a person questions my American identity and instead makes a clear distinction about what it means to be a Muslim and what it means to be an American, as if the two are mutually exclusive.
Muslim women are oftentimes incorrectly perceived as unequal to men in Islam. Looking at Islam’s history and teachings, we find that Islam guaranteed women rights in the 7th century, well before women enjoyed those same rights well into the 20th century in Europe and the United States. Specifically, women had the right to inheritance, child support, and to initiate a divorce. Also, according to Islamic teachings, women remain their own legal entity during marriage, can keep their own last names, and have no marital expectation to be housewives. As a matter of fact, if men want the housework to be done, they are responsible to complete it themselves. My wife reminds me of this fact nearly every day. Finally, some of the first women to convert to Islam were business owners and military commanders.
That Islam is seen as a violent religion is not surprising. Primetime television news has increasingly featured negative reports about Muslims. Troublingly, American Muslims are significantly underrepresented. Out of the major world religions, American Muslims most strongly oppose violence against civilians. In regards to global violence, Robert A. Pape, Director of the Chicago Project on Security and Terrorism (CPST), wrote that “Islam isn’t to blame – the root of the problem [violence] is foreign military occupations.” Islamic teachings forbid perpetrating violence, and only allow for it in cases of self-defense. In fact, Muslims that regularly attend mosque services are more likely to be engaged in their communities and be more tolerant. Additionally, Muslim clerics and religious organizations from over 90 countries on six continents have condemned violence in the name of Islam.
Globally, but especially in the U.S, Muslims face great difficulties when challenging the perceptions of Islam. Many individuals that perceive Islam negatively oftentimes bring up Muslim majority countries such as Saudi Arabia to attempt to prove that Islam is not compatible with the modern world or democracy. These people fail to understand the distinction between ethnic or tribal customs that are codified into law and Islamic teachings, especially concerning human rights. At the same time, impressive achievements by Muslim majority countries are ignored, such as the fact that at least seven countries had or currently have women heads of state. Muslims are also tolerant as evidenced by the recent Marrakesh declaration reminding Muslims in Muslim majority countries of their obligations to protect minorities. In the United States, American Muslims are the second most racially diverse religious group in part due to Islam’s powerful teachings on racial equality.
I would challenge all people to research the facts when talking about Muslims and learning about Islam, keeping in mind to use credible sources. Failing to do that leads to dislike, hate crimes, and bullying of a group of people not much different than yourself.
Join SpokaneFAVS for a Coffee Talk forum on “Religious Misconceptions” at 10 a.m., Feb. 6 at Revel 77, 3223 E 57th Ave. Rasic is a panelist.
Admir Rasic was born in Bosnia-Herzegovina a few years before the start of the Yugoslav wars. He and his family and lived in Germany as war refugees before moving to the United States in 2000, making Spokane their new home.
He is a proud dad of a 2-year-old daughter and the son of a concentration camp survivor. “I am grateful to God for all of the blessings in my life,” he said.
He received a bachelor’s degree from the University of Washington in English Literature and enjoys playing soccer, reading books and meeting new people. His goal is to make the world a better place for his daughter.
Great defense of Islam Admir, thanks for engaging the issue. Most of your arguments are well presented in my opinion but man, it’s just so hard getting over the atrocities on American soil and abroad, Saudi Arabia, being one of the big ones for sure. I am not sure how to defuse fear in a country warring with Islamic Jihadists and might possible declare war through congress. Face to face engagement is critical to building understanding but even still it’s made harder with each horrific event. You’ve got your work cut out for you for sure, thanks for sticking with it here and being willing to be in the midst of difficult times.
I believe at one point there is a willful ignorance of the facts. More Americans have been killed by non-Muslim extremists in the US than by self-described Muslims. Likewise all of us are far far more likely to be killed by gun violence than by a terrorist attack. I urge you to please stop making a clear distinction of what it means to be American and what it means to be Muslim. An individual is both an American and a Muslim.
I tried explaining that Muslim majority countries do not represent Muslims in general. Saudia Arabia has a population of 28.83 million people, meaning Saudis account for 1.69% of all Muslims. It is grossly unjust to judge Muslims, especially American Muslims by the actions of foreign governments; not to mention the fact that Saudia Arabia is run by a reformist reactionary theology that most Muslims find repulsive. Additionally, how is it appropriate to judge Muslims by the actions of some governments or extremist groups, but not apply that same criteria when talking about other religions and governments? For example, Myanmar’s Rohingya minority is among the most persecuted groups in the world, yet I do not see anyone assigning blame to Buddhism or questioning our security in the face of Buddhist extremists. Likewise, Joseph Kony’s exploits (using child soldiers, rape, etc.) as a Christian extremist are well known, but we aren’t worried about getting over the atrocities that are committed on American soil by Christians or abroad.
I know that the common reply to all of this is, “Buddhists and Christians aren’t attacking American soliders, but Muslims are.” The fact is that our security interests are in the Middle East and this region receives more attention and coverege than other regions in the world. It is easy to rally people against a common enemy (the United States), especially if that enemy is seen as acting as an empirical force in the region. Regardless, the violence in the Middle East is analyzed at a much higher rate, due to our interests, than violence in the rest of the world. The fact that Middle Eastern extremist groups are constantly being discussed in the media exagarates their actual competencies and influences. Basically, we see “highlight reels” of dispicable behavior and conclude that this is what Muslims are all about.That is a huge disservice to Muslims globally, and it manifests itself as backlash against local American Muslims.
I can’t hyperlink my sources so here they are:
I didn’t say anything about being Muslim, I just said the attacks on American soil make the whole issue very loaded. Seems pretty obvious by your jab reactions. But like I said, good on you for stepping into it, good luck.
How is a three paragraph response a “jab reaction”?
Is it possible you didn’t make yourself clear in your first comment, and maybe something like clarifying yourself before shooting back at him would be appropriate?