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.