Islam is Our Enemy: and other Muslim misconceptions


Source of info: Pew Research Center, 2012

According to a 2012 Pew Research Study, a majority of the world’s Muslims live in the Asia-Pacific region. The Middle East makes up only 19.8 percent of the world’s total Muslim population.

Josh Medlock, Staff

Fawaz Almutairi, political science senior who moved from Kuwait in 2008, was leaving a Louisville sports bar after a night out with friends when a man shouted at him from across the road, “Fuck off, you Muslim!”

This wasn’t the first time Almutairi, a former Muslim, had been judged for his Middle Eastern heritage.

“Sometimes I face racism issues,” Almutairi said. “Some people generalize. They think since [Osama] Bin Laden was a Muslim, every Muslim is like him.”

John Bowen, a professor in arts and sciences sociocultural anthropology at Washington University in St. Louis, said that American misconceptions of Islam and Muslims are common. On Sept. 5, as airstrikes from a U.S.-led coalition rained down on Islamic State militants in Syria, Bowen visited the University of Louisville campus to discuss some of the misunderstandings of Islam.

Bowen said many of these misconceptions come from, as Almutairi said, generalizing Muslims.

“That sort of block thinking, where ‘they’ all think alike and differently than we do, is something that, of course, is going to perpetuate prejudices against people who are different than we are,” Bowen said.

Myth: Islam Encourages terrorism

Jean Abshire, associate professor of political science, said it is important to differentiate between terrorist organizations such as the Islamic State and the actual religion of Islam.

“I’ve seen some people liken it to the Westboro Baptist Church being the poster child for Christianity,” Abshire said. “[The Islamic State] can call themselves Islamic, but it doesn’t mean their beliefs align at all with mainstream Islam.”

Abshire said the common misconception of Muslims being pro-terrorism primarily comes from the average U.S. citizen not knowing any Muslims. If a person hears of Islam only through the violent headlines from the media, it could lead to a skewed perception, she said.

Bowen said the media, and citizens across the world, have a duty to depict Islam as accurately as possible.

“Ideas have consequences,” said Bowen. “Publicly proclaiming false ideas about Muslims and Islam reinforce existing fears and can produce hatred.”

Myth: Most Muslims are from the Middle East

American culture often seems to associate Muslims with the Middle East, but data shows this idea is not accurate. According to a 2010 Pew Research study, most Muslims live in Asia and the Pacific (61.7 percent of the total Muslim population,) with Indonesia containing the largest number in one country.

The Middle East and North Africa make up less than 20 percent of the world’s population of Muslims. Iran, the country with the largest Muslim population in the Middle East, contains just 4.6 percent of the total Muslim population. Both Bowen and Abshire also emphasized that not all Muslims speak Arabic, which they believe to be a common misconception of Islam.

Myth: Islam Oppresses Women

The image of Middle Eastern women silently donning all-black coverings from head-to-toe like a ghost is often seen in movies and in the news. Abshire said that while Islam does call for women to dress modestly, this female garment, known as a burqa, isn’t required by Islam and isn’t necessarily forced upon them.

“Women wearing head coverings is not only a Muslim thing,” Abshire said. “I would definitely call it much more of a cultural thing than a religious thing.”

In Turkey, a country that is 99.8 percent Muslim according to the World Factbook, many women wear veils because they freely choose to—even while the government has actively discouraged it, Abshire said.

Myth: Muslims want a violent jihad against America

Jihad is a term often tossed around in the media to describe a religious war Muslims are waging against America and other western nations. Abshire said jihad is generally not understood by most Muslims to mean violence or an assault on America.

“Islam teaches against murder, teaches against violence,” Abshire said. “What jihad means for most Muslims is a struggle to live life according to the faith–it’s an internal struggle with the weaker self.”

Abshire also said Americans are not the only population to suffer from the atrocious acts of Muslim extremists like the Islamic State. Other Muslims are killed by these terrorist groups far more often than Americans are, and the extremists also hurt the moderate Muslim population in a non-physical way, she said.

“They have the offense at what is happening to fellow human beings and then the added offense of having it done in the name of their faith,” Abshire said.

Myth: Things will Never Change

Abshire, Bowen and Almutairi said stereotyping Muslims has caused numerous problems for the peaceful Muslims both in the United States and across the globe. Bowen said citizens must combat these stereotypes and misconceptions about Islam with education and understanding.

“I think the challenge for all of us,” Bowen said, “is to resist the temptation to follow some of our elected officials and blame Islam for the misdeeds of the few who proclaim to act in the name of Islam.”

Almutairi, who lives with the consequences of Muslim misconceptions daily, mirrored Bowen’s belief that Islam education is crucial.

“I think people should view Islam as just another religion,” Almutairi said. “Be informed on Islam in general. Don’t make something from nothing.”