By Derek Fawaz, CW50 and CBS 62 intern
Due to the political conflict in the Middle East and the global problem with ISIS, there is a great deal of fear and misunderstanding towards the religion of Islam. Many Americans are adopting the perception that if you are a Muslim, you are associated with terrorism. In the process, “Islamophobia,” or the dislike and prejudice against Islam or Muslims, has grown stronger.
As with almost all prejudices, the problem originates from lack of knowledge. In America, most people who are embracing “Islamophobia” are not researching Islam or interacting with Muslim people to understand their way of life. Instead they are focusing their attention on the radical form of the religion that is practiced by the extremists overseas. Muslim American Attorney, Nabih Ayad, stated in an interview, “The negativity towards Muslims in the media has created a population of people who just accept what is reported instead of investigating the problem.” As a result, kids going to school are not only causing harm to children who follow the Islamic faith, but doing an injustice to themselves by not taking the time to learn the other side of the issue. With this in mind, Muslim kids should stand their ground and teach their peers that they practice a religion of peace and equality.
Growing up in Dearborn, Michigan, I was exposed to a large Muslim community in my schools. My high school had many Muslims who were humble, kind people who never talked about their beliefs, but chose to blend in with others. In a way, this was a good thing except they should have spoken up about how “true” Islam is practiced, in comparison to the extremism occurring abroad. At the time, I asked a couple of kids how they felt about the attacks committed by Al-Qaeda. All of them said they were disgusted or that their religion was being used by murderers for politics. Recently, Osama Siblani of the “Arab American News” stated, “Every chapter of the Quran, the Islamic holy book, begins with ‘In the name of God, most gracious, most merciful.’ It doesn’t make sense for the religion to teach people to commit violence.’” If the kids at my school had openly discussed how Islam inspired them to be better people, it might have created a greater understanding for our school and the outside community. For example, some of the Muslims I spoke to talked about how Islam inspired them to interact with people of every culture and religion. Not once were they ever under suspicion of committing terrorist acts, nor suspected of any wrong doing.
As with all faiths, Islam is a religion practiced by people of every demographic and race in the world including Europeans, Africans, and the majority of Southeast Asia. In fact, there were Muslims in my school who were Polish! In a way, one can interpret “Islamophobia” as another form of social racism. Islamic scholar Dawud Walid of the Council of American Islamic Relations stated that Islamic prejudice goes back to World War I when there were still prejudices against the Irish Catholics and Italian Jews. In 19th Century America, police officers often felt it was “convenient” to pin crimes on Italian Jews because they could not speak English to defend themselves. The Irish Catholic immigrants were stereotyped for their “rowdy” behavior. It was revealed that their questionable conduct was inspired by the negative treatment they received from the British in their native Ireland. Now, we have an understanding of the Irish Catholics and Italian Jews because they proved their devotion to the nation and educated others about their beliefs. Muslim kids might do well to follow this example by reminding other kids that their people are contributing a great deal for America. Ayad stated, “We have people working in the military, national security, even in the White House with President Obama.”
During my research, I read an article by Marwa Eltagouri of “The Chicago Tribune” who talked about her experiences as a Muslim growing up in school and facing ridicule during the September 11th attacks. One incident she mentioned dealt with the time her teacher was discussing world religions in her class. Marwa’s teacher found out she was a Muslim after reading her well-versed essay on Islam, inquiring why she did not talk about it in class. I wish more teachers would treat their students this way because terrorism is affecting everyone.
It is a tragedy that because of the negativity there are Muslim kids in school who feel too ashamed to stand up for their faith. There was a story reported in the “Huffington Post” back in 2011 about a young Muslim boy, Omar, who was a middle school student in Washington D.C. While visiting the Washington Monument for a field trip, one of the students commented, “Don’t bomb any of the sites.” Why aren’t the teachers correcting these kids? Omar wanted to let it go, but his Mom reported it to the school, knowing it had something to do with his Muslim faith and Arab heritage. The Principal took action by approaching the teacher who denied hearing the comments. As a result, the case was put to rest. One thing is for certain, both teachers and parents need to understand that kids who are practicing Islamic prejudice at an early age are becoming almost as bad as the people causing the terrorism abroad. The comments that were thrown at Omar on his field trip are equal to someone insulting a Christian for causing the 1st Crusade or saying that all Jews are the same as Bugsy Siegel.
Bullying, or prejudice of any kind, usually results from our fear of the unknown. Muslim kids who are bullied in school need to speak up about their religion and how their faith does not support the beliefs of ISIS, Al Qaeda, or Daesh. In addition, the schools and parents need to work harder to teach their kids that if this kind of behavior is not addressed, it could develop into hate violence. If schools found ways for non-Muslim children to build a strong camaraderie with Muslim kids, we could grow to understand that they are not people of violence, but peaceful citizens. Regardless of what ethnicity or religion, we all would do well to recognize Islamic prejudice and discuss why it exists. Osama Siblani of the “Arab American News” brought up a great point when he said, “Islam, Christianity, and Judaism all preach love and benevolence and are innocent of terrorism.” Three religions. One common theme. And that, is the point.
Derek Fawaz is a writer and an aspiring filmmaker from Dearborn, Mich. with a passion for research. Derek is an intern at CBS 62 and CW50, a graduate of the University of Michigan Ann Arbor with a degree in Screen Arts & Cultures. He is also a Communications student at the University of Michigan Dearborn.