Fighting Islamophobia: Debunking the Most Widespread Muslim Stereotypes

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It is safe to say that the recent events from 9/11 to present day have raised a widespread impression that Islam is a religion that is preaching violence to their believers and that because they are the fastest growing religion in the world, that they forcibly convert people to follow the religion of Islam. Because of the power of media playing a major role in everyone’s lives today, whatever media says about something will be widely recognized and accepted. However, this shows the world how ignorant we are because Islam’s true teachings are not like this and it is our role as humans to be able to educate ourselves to make our perception of Islam go away. Mahatma Gandhi once said, “I became more than ever convinced that it was not the sword that won a place for Islam in those days in the scheme of life.” Muslims do not walk around with swords forcibly trying to convert non-Muslims. Instead, they focus on their actions and maintaining a positive relationship with their neighbors. They will then let the person deciding to convert in the hands of them and Allah. It is a very harsh statement to say that Islam preaches violence and all acts of violence from Muslims targeting the Middle East and the West is directly linked to all 1.6 billion Muslims living around the world.

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The first step is to define what Islam’s true teaching really means. Islam in Arabic means the submission to God. The word Islam comes from the root consonants of s-, l-, and m. Many different words can be created by inserting these three letters with vowels in Arabic such as salam meaning peace, tasleem meaning surrendering, eteslam meaning to surrender, and salemma meaning to be saved (Ludin 12). The similarities each of these words have is to achieve peace and safety beyond their control. The name Islam was given to the religion by Allah when he states, “This day I have perfected for you, your religion and completed My favor upon you and have approved for you Islam as religion. But whoever is forced by severe hunger with no inclination to sin - then indeed, Allah is Forgiving and Merciful” (Surah Al-Maidah verse 3). Anyone who is a practicing believer of his religion regardless of his Muslim or non-Muslim background believes that their religion is a way of life. It will help them overcome obstacles they face in ways that are mentioned in their holy practices or mentioned by their holy prophets. Muslims believe that Allah has perfected this religion to prevent people from doing more harm than good to themselves and the world around them. However, it is sad to say that we are not following Allah’s true teachings of someone that is “Not arrogant, condescending, ready to harm others, or even kill because they do not agree with them or don not share their belief system” (Ludin 21). One of the major things that Muslims can do is attaining a consistent level of excellence, a respectful, friendly relationship with our neighbors (Muslim and non-Muslim), being patient and having trust in Allah that whatever he does, he is doing it for the best of us.

One of the major principles of Islam is uplifting humanity. Muslims believe in the life after death and it’s “Similar to the Torah in Judaism and the Gospels in Christianity, the Qur’an affirms the reality of life after death and the continuation of human existence in the ‘hereafter’ where man will be confronted with the truth of all that he has done, be it good or bad, while on earth (Turner 58). Our ability to reach the end goal of uplifting humanity depends on us being able to fulfill the promises to help make the world a much better place. About a quarter of the Qur’an is written about the hereafter so it crucial that Muslims make the right decisions and be accountable for their actions. The Qur’anic portrayal of heaven centers on a highly idealized image of a garden. The Quran provides a lot of evidence that killing the innocent is wrong and should be condemned; He states, “On account of that incident, We ordained for the Children of Israel that whoever kills a person, except as a punishment for murder or mischief in the land, it will be written in his book of deeds as if he had killed all the human beings and whoever shall save a life shall be regarded as if he gave life to all the human beings. Yet, even though Our Rasools came to them one after the other with clear revelations, it was not long before, many of them committed excesses in the land” (5:32). If a killing is presumed to be for a good cause, “In the Name of Allah,” then it is evident from this verse that the organization committing these cruel terrorist attacks is wrong. The uplift of humanity is to make the world a much better place for all of us, both emotionally and socially. These presumably accepted terrorist attacks from extremist groups like ISIS and Al-Qaeda, are not supposed to be condemned. If an ordinary person just kills one person, it will be as if he is killing all human beings. Now, imagine terrorist groups killing innocent civilians on a much larger scale than killing just one person, they will never even get a glimpse of what heaven is like.

Humans possess free will. If a well-known Muslim scholar does a sinful act it is his choice what he does with his body and how he nourishes it. Unlike humans, “Angels possess consciousness but not free will: their obedience is unwavering but it is never blind. Because they face God directly, they accept God’s commands instantly” (Turner 118). Humans are not angels and it is safe to say that we too make mistakes in our lives. Although God has every human's fate accounted for, they possess the free will and can control their own mind and body to either follow the path that Allah gave them or can deviate from it and go astray. Just like any other human there are Muslims who commit atrocities, abuse people’s rights and become involved in unacceptable activities. These actions are not directly associated with Islam’s true teachings but a major reason for their actions is because of their emotional instability, of easily being influenced by others perspectives, their environment they lived in, or their upbringing. These actions from a criminal are not directly adhered to their religion they consider themselves as but as of free choice.

One of the major reasons why there is this evolved word of Islamophobia is because there is no other word that creates more fear in the ears of non-Muslims is the Arabic word, jihad. Non-Muslims don’t quite know the true meaning of jihad which means to struggle and strive greatness whether it is “an internal or external efforts to be a good Muslim or believer” (Jihad) or your day-to-day life as a Muslim-American living through discrimination. Muslims are encouraged to face their own jihad to strengthen their own beliefs and emotions to hold their anger and be patient. There is another form of jihad which is done by violence and it may be the reason why non-Muslims have been directly associating that with Muslims being violent. The military jihad is required to protect their religion against others. It has to be a legal battle between the two opposing sides and both groups are fighting because is no other peaceful alternative that will equate to the level of achievement they will have after the military action. Islam allows the use of force and killing but there are strict rules directly applying on who gets killed. Killing innocent women, children, or elders not willing to fight must never be harmed in any way is forbidden in Islam (Jihad). The fight has to be fought on a battleground and must never reach civilian lands. The Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) told his followers at the time when coming back from the battle, “This day we have returned from the minor jihad to the major jihad” (Jihad). This means that after returning from the battle the real struggle is coming home and improving the betterment of our own selves and our character. This is a very powerful statement that we all can have all the strength in the world to win a battle but it will all be nothing if we do not have the strength in improving our character and our relationship with our neighbors. Jihad is a very simple yet misunderstood word that non-Muslims and some radical Muslims don’t understand and it is every one of our jobs to be able to inform our fellow neighbors of the true meaning and message of this word.

On the contrary, terrorism can nevertheless be a vague term that is now linked with Islam. According to the United States, Federal Bureau of Investigation terrorism can be best defined as the “the unlawful use of force or violence against persons or property to intimidate or coerce a government, the civilian population, or any segment thereof, in furtherance of political or social objectives.” The word terrorism is directly associated with Muslim terrorists killing innocent civilians in a civilian noncombatant population, ISIS and Al-Qaeda being the most popular terrorist groups founded by Muslims that bend the true meaning of Islam to fit their standards. However, these terrorist attacks that are most commonly done today by Muslim organizations like ISIS and Al-Qaeda are clearly, as stated above, a rejection of Islam and they clearly violate the life and the struggles the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) had gone through to make Muslims be where they are today.

Terrorism as a political tool dates back to prior to Islam. One of the very first terrorist organization were the Zealots which began in 4 B.C.E. The Zealots were an organized guerilla-style terrorist group who relied upon the terrorist strategies of provocation, intimidation, and propaganda of deed in order to accomplish their political and religious objective. The Zealots were one of the four philosophical sects of the Judea and launched this organized revolt against the Roman Authorities (Zealots). Terrorist organizations dated back to the existence of Islam and it is evident that Muslims are not the founders of terrorism and terrorism predates Islam originating with the Jewish Zealots group which used armed attacks and other terrorist techniques to overturn the Roman Empire in Judea. Gerard Chaliand, a co-editor of a wonderful book, The History of Terrorism, provides an explicit rundown of all the terrorist organizations such as Zealots of Antiquity mentioned above, to the Assassins of the Middle Ages, the 1789 Terror movement in European Bolshevik Terrorism during the Russian Revolution, Stalinism, resistance terrorism during World War II, and Latin American revolutionary movements in the late 1960’s, and lastly, the modern form of transnational terrorism we see in Islamic terrorism from terrorist groups like Al-Qaeda and ISIS (Gerard et. Al.). It is evident that the misperception that all terrorists are Muslims is truly a misperception by the evidence and published works from various sources like The History of Terrorism.

Another major and widespread terrorist organization that we know in American history were the Ku Klux Klan (KKK). The KKK in its original incarnation was initially founded in 1865, died out soon afterward and was revived in 1915 and became a major political organization in a number of Southern and Midwestern states with a group estimated to be in the millions (Ludin 87). Still today, the Ku Klux Klan is still invisibly active in many parts of the South and Midwestern states of America striving to promote white supremacy in America, yet the media and the judiciary system do not take efforts into their own hands to take them down. Media plays a very critical role in helping to spoon-feed non-Muslim Americans to think that Muslims are all bad. Their way of doing this is by only talking about Muslims when a Muslim has done something terribly wrong. Media has made it so that any ordinary American using media as his way of attaining knowledge of the outside world is being manipulated by their reports on Muslims and without truly finding a Muslim and getting to know him better, they will always believe what media portrays them to be.

The product of the misinterpretations and bending the messages of Islam’s true teachings are Muslim groups creating terrorist organizations and making themselves think what they are doing is wrong. Of all the different techniques Muslim terrorist use to destroy humanity and increase their chances of not seeing the eyes of heaven, their most popular technique is committing suicide. However, suicide is haram just like murder is haram and killing civilians in the name of Allah is also haram. One of the Prophet Muhammad’s narratives is when someone who kills someone else in the name of Islam will go to hell. And when they were asked why they are going to hell, he said, ‘Because they weren’t fighting truly for God (Ludin 89).” Aside from your free will, Allah determines your fate and when you will die. If you try to control when you die you will not be considered a martyr but you will be a person who thinks they can control their fate. To fight truly for God is jihad, and jihad, as we know from earlier, is a Muslim’s own personal struggle with their own self and the world around you. These terrorist organizations think they are doing it for God is wrong because it is not from the true teachings of the Qur’an.

There is no doubt that what is going on with terrorist groups like ISIS and Al-Qaeda killing innocent civilians whether Muslim or non-Muslim under the name of Islam is wrong. However, media as a whole is also doing something wrong and that is that they are manipulating the minds of our fellow neighbors thinking that all Muslims are terrorists.

Muslims came to America for freedom and the ability to practice their true religion freely. A real Muslim American is not hiding behind closed doors of his mosque and trying to find a way to bomb a central location of his city. A true Muslim American goes to the Mosque and asks God for guidance and support to overcome his jihad and be able to become better citizens of the state. A true Muslim wishes himself the best just as much as he wishes his neighbor. A true Muslim makes sure his neighbors don’t miss a day where they had to miss one meal just to cut down the cost of living. A true Muslim makes sure that his good character outside of the house equates to his character inside of the house. True Muslim shows love to his family just as much as he shows love to his friends. A true Muslim gives respect to his or her elders. A true Muslim gives charity to their local organizations before giving charity to places far away from their current residence. This is just a condensed version of what Muslims should be on a day-to-day basis but it is helpful to understand that we are all going through our struggles to having excellence in character.

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