A pregnant Muslim Egyptian woman was stabbed to death in a German courtroom in 2009. The twenty-eight year old German man repeatedly stabbed her sixteen times. She bled to death in front of her child and husband (“Islamophobia” Global n.p.). Islamophobia is a relatively new term that refers to the fear of Islam and Muslims Some sources also include discrimination and hostility towards Muslims in their definition. Therefore, Islamophobia can be defined as the irrational fear of and hostility towards Islam and Muslims (“Islamaphobia” Opposing n.p). In a U.S.A Today Poll done in 2007, thirty-nine percent of Americans admitted to feeling some sort of prejudice against Muslims. About the same percentage favored Muslims to carry some sort of ID in order to prevent terrorist attacks. About one in four people said that they would not want to have Muslims as their neighbors (Kumar n.p). However, majority of Americans have seemed to developed better attitudes towards Islam/Muslims. “According to an ABC News/Washington Post poll in 2010, 37 percent of Americans had favorable opinions of Islam and Muslims” (“Islamophobia” Opposing n.p). About sixty percent of Americans surveyed admitted that they weren’t that knowledgeable about Islam. “It seems that the foundation of Islamophobia, for many, may be a simple lack of information” (“Islamophobia” Global n.p). Islam has nothing to fear.Order now
The media plays one of the major roles in fueling this fear. By portraying horrifying scenes from around the world, the media introduces fear into “large populations, especially in countries where the average household watches television eight hours a day” (Beuhler n.p). The media seems to excel when covering conflict, especially when it comes to the Islamic world, which is filled with conflicts. The film industry has also been blamed for advancing Islamophobia by portraying Muslims and Arabs as the “bad guys” in Hollywood and Bollywood movies. Such movies influence how Muslims are viewed. The Hollywood film industry has defended itself by stating that they have avoided using Muslims as the villain since 2001. Similary, Bollywood, the Indian film industry, defended itself by claiming that most of their famous actors are Muslim. (“Islamaphobia” Opposing n.p)
Although Islamophobia has been around longer, the term itself was first used in 1997 when the Runnymede Trust published Islamophobia: A Challenge For Us All. The report outlined the common beliefs of all Islamophobes. All of which are entirely false.
One of the beliefs of Islamophobes is that Islam is a monolithic religion (Runnymede Trust n.p). They believe that Islam has certain built-in, fixed characteristics that make it violent, anti-democracy etc. and not open to changes. Not only is this idea false, but it also serves as a basis for all other misconceptions. Islam is practiced in numerous countries all over the world. Nearly 1.5 billion people around the world are Muslims. Of these, eighty-five percent are Sunni and fifteen percent are Shiites. Within these two branches are even more different sects. There are several countries whose population is a majority of Muslims. In each of these areas, Islam looks different. As the religion spread, it adopted traditions and customs of the people there. The Sufi Islam practiced in India is very different from the Wahabi Islam practiced in Saudi Arabia. Therefore, the belief that is Islam is a monolithic religion is absurd. (Kumar n.p.)
“Like all religions, Islam has adapted” (Kumar n.p). Religious texts may be fixed, yet the thoughts and practices they are made to defend are always changing, based on historical occurrences that are free of religious ideology. Islam isn’t any different compared to other religions. It rose in one situation, amid a trading community in the towns of 7th century Arabia, in the middle of a society organized on a tribal basis. It thrived within the series of great empires. It continues today as the authorized ideology of numerous countries like Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Iran, Sudan etc. (Kumar n.p.) Although a monolithic religion is nothing to fear, the idea that Islam does not incorporate other values has seemed to cause hostility. However, Islam “is diverse and progressive, with internal differences, debates and development” (The RunnyMede Trust n.p).
Another common misconception is that Islam is a sexist religion. Many people believe that Muslim women need to be “rescued” and liberated. This was one of the arguments that Bush used to justify its war on Afghanistan. The British also used a similar argument to justify war with Egypt. They believed that the women were oppressed by the head scarf and needed to be liberated from it. How does a piece of clothing oppress someone? Don’t Christian nuns have some sort of head covering as well? First of all, all of the world’s major religions are in a way sexist. Don’t Christian’s believe that Eve was created from Adam’s rib? Weren’t the women thought to be witches burned at stake in both the US and in Europe? In addition, while Muslim ruled countries like Pakistan, Indonesia, and Bangladesh have elected women as president, the US still hasn’t.(Kumar n.p)
Furthermore, there has been a lot of debate about the role of women in Islam. The Quran, like any religious text, can be interpreted in several different ways. There are verses in the Quran that give women the same rights as men and that allowed them to own and inherit property which wasn’t allowed at the time in the Arabian society. However, there are also verses that limit their rights as well. Islam may have values that seem sexist, yet, it’s not the only one.
As Islam spread, it adopted the cultural practices of various empires, including that of the Persian and the Byzantine empires. In the Christian Byzantine Empire, the genders were separated. Women weren’t allowed to be to be seen in public. They had to be veiled, and were given only basic education. “As the expanding Islamic empire incorporated these regions, it also assimilated these cultural and social practices” (Kumar n.p). Basically, the practices that Islam adopted came from the customs of Christian and Jewish societies that were conquered. Sexist attitudes towards women were common among Christians and Jews as well. Even the liberal Western society’s greatest thinker, Aristotle, believed that the male “is by nature superior, and the female inferior, and the one rules and the other is ruled” (Kumar n.p).
Another common myth is that Islam is a naturally violent religion. It is thought that growth of political Islam is the result of the teachings of the Quran. In September 2005, in a Danish newspaper called Jyllands-Posten, a cartoon was published that showed Muhammad with a bomb in his turban (“Islamophobia”). This was meant to be a visual depiction of Islam being a violent religion. Many believe that “jihad” is what Islam preaches. It has been defined as a “holy war”. However, the Arabic term itself just means “struggle”. The actual Arabic term for war is “al-harb”. In a religious sense, “jihad” has several meanings. “It can refer to internal as well as external efforts to be a good Muslims or believer, as well as working to inform people about the faith of Islam” (Kabani n.p). War is only one way of Jihad, and comes with certain regulations. It is only used when there is no other peaceful alternative, and no innocent are to be harmed. Innocents such as children, women, and those not involved directly in the war. Therefore, the term jihad has two meanings, one referred to the greater Jihad and the other as the lesser. The greater, superior jihad refers to the struggle within oneself and one’s weakness. The lesser jihad, can be referred to as self-defense.
The claim that Islam was spread through war has caused many people to believe that Islam is a violent religion, and is also the major reason of their fears of Islam. Islam was in fact spread through war. The Muslims armies defeated the Byzantine and Persian empires and started an Islamic empire in the two decades after the Prophet’s death. The warfare between the Byzatine and Persian empires before allowed the Muslims to defeat them. Many of the people were tired with the war to an extent that some welcomed the Muslim armies. “Once in power, and unlike their orthodox Christian counterpart who persecuted heretics and ruled through fear, intimidation, and terror, the Muslim invaders gave people the choice to either convert to Islam or pay a tax” (Kumar n.p).
Similarly, Christianity rose to power through conquest and conversion. It first spread in the Roman world and then in areas such as, Armenia, Arabia, Europe, Eastern Africa and Central Asia. And this is without the Crusade, or the religious wars. These wars were started by European Christians that was motivated somewhat by religious desire to capture Jerusalem, and to gain wealth. In 1099, the first Crusade, the crusaders murdered almost the whole Muslim population of men, women and children. They burned the Jews to death as well as their places of worship. The same type of violence occurred during the Third Crusade when King Richard beheaded thousands. On the other hand, when Saladin, the king of Egypt, retook Jerusalem, violence and revenge against the crusaders were forbidden. Jews were allowed to rebuild their synagogues with state money given to them. The churches were left untouched. The history of Christianity is just as violent as Islam’s. Therefore, the fear of a religion due to its history of war is irrational.
After 9/11, the sales of the Quran increased as Americans sought to find an explanation for 9/11. In contrast, when the “ U.S. bombed and destroyed Afghanistan and Iraq, the people of the Middle East didn’t rush off to buy religious texts to look for explanations of U.S. policies” (Kumar n.p).Why? Since there aren’t any cultural or religious explanation for these wars. No religion or culture is responsible for the action of one person or group. Does anyone know Klebold’s, one Columbine shooters, religion? What about Rudolph, the bomber of the Atlanta Olympics in Georgia. What about the bomber, Kaczynski, in Montana. Or what about the manslaughter of the Tech massacre, Cho, in Virginia? Even with all the media coverage, no one probably knows what their religion was. It was not that important. Yet, everyone knows Nidal Hasan’s religion. Unlike the rest, his religion seems important. It no more explains his horrifying actions than those shooters who religion is not know. The only thing it does is support the surviving belief that Islam is violent. Any violent action done by someone identified as Muslim “becomes the responsibility of the religion and its 1.3 billion followers” (qtd. in Beuler n.p).
Islam has nothing to fear. The belief of Islamophobes, whether it’s fueling their fear or hostility, has occurred due to their lack of knowledge. What most people know comes from the media which is not entirely accurate. Their beliefs that Islam is monolithic, sexist, and violent are invalid. Although a monolithic, sexist religion should cause fear, it could cause hostility. Only a religion’s violence should, which Islam is not.
“Islamophobia.” Opposing Viewpoints Online Collection. Detroit: Gale, 2013. Opposing Viewpoints in Context. Web. 14 Feb. 2014.
“Islamophobia.” Global Issues in Context Online Collection. Detroit: Gale, 2014. Global Issues In Context. Web. 14 Feb. 2014.
Kumar, Deepa. “Islam and Islamophobia.” Isreview. March 2007. ISR. Web. 05 Feb. 2014
“Islamophobia: A Challenge For Us All.” Runny Mede Trust. Runny Mede Trust. n.d. Web. 02 Feb. 2014.
Kabani. “WHAT JIHAD IS.” Islamic Supreme Council. Islamic Supreme Council.n.d. Web. 15 Feb. 2014.