OK, so your neighbor is Muslim. And you sat behind a woman who wore the hijab in your chemistry class. Oh, and that one time you visited NYC and called a taxi, the driver happened to be a garrulous Muslim man. Not to mention, you dine at Aladdin’s Halal Kabob and Hookah House at least once a month. So that makes you an specialist on Islam and Muslims, right?! Wrong!
As soon as the media reviled the identity of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev and older brother, Tamerlan, the Boston Marathon Bombers, I was forced to listen to ridiculous speculations about the radicalization of Muslims in America. All of a sudden everyone was an “expert” on Islam and Muslims.
But there is so much people don’t know about American Muslims and the ordinary, American lives we live. Many people assume that we attend madrasas — that is just the Arabic word for school by the way — that teach us how to assemble explosives. In reality, most of us spend our weekends catching up on sports (March Madness was freaking awesome), watching “reality” television, and pretending to be gourmet chefs while counting the sticks of butter we’ll need for Paula Deen’s next fatty concoction.
However, the rise of Islamophobia in America is no surprise. The tragic attacks of September 11, have spurred the circulation of false and misleading information about the Muslim community in America. In recent years, the word “terrorist” has become synonymous with “Muslim.” Unfortunately, this sentiment is echoed by Western academic discourse, and proliferated by some Western media/news organizations like FOX. When a tragic event like the Boston Bombings occur, this false image of radical Islam is further reinforced. It’s not surprising that many Americans are afraid of Muslims. If I thought someone in my neighborhood was strapped with a suicide bomb vest and prepared to get 72 imaginary virgins I’d be a little freaked out too. But what ever happened to overcoming that which we are most afraid of? Has the old adage, “Conquer your fears” become a completely dead platitude? I don’t think so!
I’d like to challenge you all to overcome your fears. If in fact, you fear long bearded men in ankle pants then perhaps you should try growing a beard and wearing baggy ankle pants. On second thought, skip the ankle pants and just go with the beard. The beard won’t turn you into a terrorist. It’s just facial hair! After all, no one ever complained about the handsomely shaggy George Clooney look. If, on the other hand, you fear fully covered women in black abays or burkas, then I encourage you to try wearing a loosely fitting black dress. And to think, I assumed everyone thought Harry Potter cloaks were awesome.
Physical appearances do not negate one’s beliefs or personality. Don’t make an assumption about a person based on what they look like. If all assumptions were accurate then a man in a mustache is a creepy individual who lurks around children in the playground, or, a porn star. I mean, how fatuous does that sound?! The problem with stereotyping is that it paints an oversimplified, and in most cases false, picture of a particular group. These stereotypes engender misconceptions that result in the alienation of that very group from society. If all Muslims were terrorist with a penchant for destructive havoc, then you wouldn’t be reading this article because the over 1.6 billion Muslims in the world would have annihilated this planet and rendered it like a scene from Tom Cruise’s new movie Oblivion.
If you truly want to learn about the fastest growing religion in the world, then I suggest seeking objective knowledge about the faith I love and choose to practice. What better source of information on Islam than from a Muslim? Yes, I’m that crazy. I’m suggesting that you meet an individual who adheres to the Islamic faith. It’s natural to feel some diffidence about approaching a random stranger and asking her/him questions about Islam, but it is a necessary step to help eliminate misconceptions so that we can learn to respect one another. Instead of relying on unbalanced and biased media outlets go out and meet Muslims.
I promise we won’t chase after you and let out a stream of invective that advocate for the killing of “the infidels wherever we find them” — a Quranic verse that is too often misquoted and taken out of context. Trust me, we aren’t that dramatic. Nor will we force you into becoming Muslim. Believe it or not, Islam teaches that there is no compulsion in religion.
Most Muslims will be more than willing to answer your questions. It’s the most reliable information you can get. If you’ve ever dreamed of becoming an Islamic connoisseur of some sort or you merely want to find out if that unusual sounding book your neighbor is reading is going to turn you into an eerie arthropod, then I urge you to accept my challenge and meet a Muslim. You have taken the first step by reading this article and it only gets easier from here. I hope that you meet an eager and voluble Muslim who is both willing and capable to answer whatever questions cross your mind. Most Muslims, like me, are not easily offended so your questions will not be daunting. All questions should be considered innocuous because there should be no propriety in learning.
If all else fails, feel free to follow me on twitter, @theVeiledVixen, and inundate my account with questions.