Islamophobia in American Society
Bismillah al-Rahman al-Rahim
(In the name of Allah, the Most Gracious, the Most Merciful)
“And they resented them not except because they believed in Allah, the Exalted in Might, the Praiseworthy”— Surah Al-Buruj 85:8
Islamophobia and discrimination against Muslims is on the rise in America society. According to the Oxford Dictionary, Islamophobia is simply defined as a hatred or fear of Muslims. Even the Qur’an1 mentions that Muslims will be targeted and persecuted in Surah Al-Buruj, “And they resented them not except because they believed in Allah, the Exalted in Might, the Praiseworthy” (Qur’an 85:8, Sahih International). However, Islamophobia is more commonly defined as an irrational fear and unfounded hostility towards the people of Islam. Although, Islam is not new to the Americas no more than Christianity or other faiths are. It is speculated that there were Muslims aboard Columbus’ ships, yet there is definite, documented proof that Muslims first arrived to the Americas from Africa on slave ships more than 400 years ago. Shaikh Dr. Abdullah Hakim Quick estimates over 30% of African slaves were Muslim. The next significant influx of Muslim immigrants was during the mid-1800s to the early 1900s as Arabs of Lebanon and Syria migrated to the United States.
Although Islam has been practiced in the Americas for more than 400 years, Muslim discrimination prior to 9/11 gave way to intense Islamophobia after the events of 9/11, thanks in part to the sensationalism of American media, which in some cases has become a catalyst to discriminatory and violent acts against thousands of innocent Muslims in America. Now, in light of recent events in Paris on November 13, 2015, Islamophobia is beginning to affect the very fabric of American society as civilians commit senseless acts of violence and some law makers propose what seems to outlaw Islam entirely from American society.
Even still, people who threaten and carry out violent acts against Muslims are by U.S. law considered to be terrorists themselves. According to the FBI, 18 U.S.C. § 2331 defines domestic terrorism as involving “acts dangerous to human life that violate federal or state law; appear intended to intimidate or coerce a civilian population; to influence the policy of a government by intimidation or coercion…”
Islamophobia and Muslim hate crimes were relatively low prior to the 1990s. It was about 1995 when mosque vandalism started to become increasingly common. This was partly due to the fact that media outlets were quick to blame Muslims for the bombing of the Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City, when the two culprits who carried out this terrorist attack were actually a part of the Christian Identity Movement and had nothing to do with Islam. The Council for American Islamic Relations (CAIR) began keeping reports on anti-Muslim hate crimes every year since the Oklahoma City Bombing and reported over 300 accounts of harassment and violence against Muslims in 1995. In fact, within one year of this incident, violent crimes against Muslims rose from 5% to more than 70%.
With each passing year, those numbers continue to rise with a majority of the incidents involving women wearing a hijab2 along with workplace harassment and discrimination. Then the events on September 11, 2001, coupled with the anti-Muslim rhetoric in the media, happened and even more Muslims feared for their own safety as anti-Muslim hate crimes grew exponentially. CAIR reports a 43% increase in Muslim hate crimes in general in the year following September 11, 2001. Even the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) saw a 250% increase in lawsuits against employers who discriminated against Muslims and those assumed to be Muslims, such as Sikhs, Middle Eastern, Arab, or East Asian. In a statistics report that Gallup conducted in 2011, it showed that Islamophobia and Muslim discrimination reported incidents again spiked in 2010, as 48% of racial or religious discrimination victims were subjects of anti-Muslim discrimination.
Now, in the aftermath of the Paris attacks that occurred November 13, 2015, Islamophobia and Muslim hate crimes are on the rise yet again. Mosques across the nation are again being threatened, vandalized, and set on fire. In recent weeks, Muslim women, especially those who wear headscarves, are being threatened and assaulted all over the United States. Hate mail and threatening voice mails are also being left for mosques across the nation. Documenting Oppression Against Muslims, also known as DOAM, has documented several incidents across the United States involving violence and threats against Muslims. The following are just a small fraction of incidents fueled by Islamophobia and Muslim discrimination:
Islamophobia and Muslim Discrimination Prior to Paris Attacks
- Ahmed Mohamed, age 14, built a clock and his teacher had him arrested because she thought it was a bomb. Fortunately, no charges were filed and Ahmed and his family will be moving to Qatar, a Muslim friendly country.
- Mervat Soliman and Mohammad Soliman were physically assaulted in a parking lot after the assailants made racial slurs regarding their race and religion. Police instead arrested Mervat Soliman and forcefully removed her headscarf before she was allowed medical treatment.
- Zaid Abu Naim was shoot and killed after anti-Muslim comments were made during a road rage disagreement at a traffic intersection.
- Three Muslim college students, Deah Shaddy Barakat, 23, Yusor Mohammad, 21, and Razan Mohammad Abu-Salha, 19, were shot dead in their apartment by their neighbor over an alleged parking dispute.
Islamophobia and Muslim Discrimination Post to Paris Attacks
- Muslim taxi driver shot in the Hazelwood neighborhood in Pittsburg, Pennsylvania.
- Muslim student at the University of Texas attacked because the individual thought he was taking orders from ISIS.
- Officers shoot a man with a rifle in Norman, Oklahoma who called 911 saying he was going to shoot Muslims.
- Martin Schnitzler threatens to “firebomb” mosques and shoot Muslims, including 2-year olds, in Pinellas County, Florida.
- An Orlando couple, Amir and Nehal Elmasri, returned home with their four children after feeding the homeless to find that three gunshots had been fired into their home.
- Sara Beebe, former military, was arrested after tweeting threats to the Muslim community in Dearborn, Michigan.
- Islamic Society of Central Kentucky in Lexington, Kentucky received death threats via email on November 27, 2015.
Muslims around the nation have an increased fear of backlash on their community, not only from the Paris attacks but from the tragic events that unfolded in San Bernardino, California on December 2, 2015. It has finally been brought to the attention of the American people that in 2015 there have almost been more mass shootings than there are days in a year. Many news sources and government officials cite that there have been 355 mass shootings this year. However, someone has been diligent in keeping track of the mass shootings in America since 2013 and has compiled a list for 2015, complete with links, at Shootingtracker.com that puts the number at 353 mass shootings. Interestingly enough, the majority of these mass shootings were not committed by Muslims. In fact, only two were carried out by those claiming to be Muslim, yet the media fails to bring up the religion or ideology with most of these shootings involving non-Muslims; that is if they cover the story at all. For the shootings they are willing to cover, they are quick to blame Muslims and defame Islam. They also have longer air time if a suspect with a supposed Islamic religious background is involved.
Even still, David Bowdich, the FBI Los Angeles Assistant Director in charge of the San Bernardino shooting, said in a press conference on the night of December 2, 2015 that it is only a “possibility of terrorism but he is not willing to go down that road yet”. This shows that he does not know the definition of terrorism as defined by U.S. law, which is posted to the FBI website. A person does not have to be Muslim for it to be terrorism. By U.S. law, any mass shooting is considered an act of terrorism. Even the media is guilty of not calling it terrorism unless a Muslim is involved.
Republicans React to Trump's Muslim Ban Idea
The media and law enforcement agencies aren’t the only ones contributing in part to Islamophobia. Republican presidential candidates may have helped fuel Islamophobia in late 2015 as many have added anti-Muslim remarks and proposed policies to their campaign speeches. Donald Trump goes on record to support a Muslim database, requiring all Muslims in America to register, much like Nazi Germany did with the Jews during the Holocaust, the United States Japanese-American internment camps during World War II, or the war on Native Americans placing them in Prisoner of War (POW) camps, commonly referred to today as reservations. He also believes all mosques and places where Muslims congregate should be shut down and there should be surveillance on each and every Muslim in America. Eventually, Trump went so far as to suggest banning Muslims from the United States, or at the very least refusing any more Muslims to enter the United States at all.
Do you believe there should be a ban on Muslims in America?
Jeb Bush Only Wants to Help Christian Refugees
The debate on whether the United States should allow in any more Syrian refugees took a discriminatory turn. Jeb Bush and Ted Cruz both have displayed their discriminatory views against Muslims as they both suggest only accepting Christian refugees into America and denying Muslim refugees. This is after a fake Syrian passport was found with one of the terrorist who were responsible for the Paris attacks. Both presidential candidates mention that by allowing only Christian refugees, they will have to prove they are Christian, in addition to the current one year waiting period.
How is it that a nation that reverberates a need to focus on humanitarian efforts across the globe can now turn their backs on women, children, and families seeking asylum from war torn areas of persecution and genocide? How is it that a nation built by people fleeing persecution and tyranny have their descendants turn their backs on helping those seeking refuge today? It is unconscionable for this nation’s leaders to set forth such discriminatory practices and lead the American people astray from the basic principles that this country was founded on. As citizens of this great country, more people need to speak out against these unfounded fears of “what ifs” that corrupt the nation’s leaders into unwarranted actions. For those who are fortunate enough to know Syrians and the Syrian culture, they know that the Syrian culture is one of generosity and hospitality, even in the face of poverty. In turn, stricter background checks could be implemented, and are not unreasonable as long as they are not based on discriminatory practices.
Should Syrian and other refugees be allowed to come to the United States?
Muslim-Americans and Ben Carson
Presidential candidate, Dr. Ben Carson, goes on record to say that a Muslim should not be president of the United States because it goes against American values. When in fact, Dr. Ben Carson’s statements against a Muslim president goes against the U.S. Constitution, which is the foundation of this country. Dr. Ben Carson also believes that the tenets of Islam do not line up with Judeo-Christian values, which clearly shows his lack of knowledge on the matter. However, he also goes on record to state that even a Christian shouldn’t become president, either. Of course, it was once thought that having a Catholic president, such as John F. Kennedy, was going against American values, as well. Many people today would disagree with this. It should not matter the race or religion of the president. What should matter is who will be the best to lead America in a way that is tolerant of all people and uphold the equality our forefathers set forth for this great nation.
The True Islamic View on ISIS
Despite all of the anti-Muslim rhetoric and misconceptions fueling Islamophobia, American society as a whole needs to understand that terrorism has no place in Islam and a majority of the estimated five million Muslims in America do not believe in acts of terrorism at all. Many Muslims continuously speak out against violence of any kind, as Islam is a peaceful religion. In fact, there are several hadiths3 and Qur’an verses to back this up. Prophet Muhammad (pbuh4) said, “Those who go to extremes are doomed. He said it three times.” (Sahih Muslim 2670) He also said that the Muslim is the one from whose tongue and hand the people are safe. (Sahih Sunan An-Nasa’i 4998) This denotes that not only are extreme thoughts and, as the media puts it, radicalization against the teachings of the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) but that true Muslims safeguard the rights of all people, including non-Muslims. Mufti Menk, the Mufti of Zimbabwe, mentioned in an interview with Islam Explained that in history non-Muslims felt safe under the rule of Muslim leaders. He brings up examples during the time of the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh), the Turkish and Ottoman Empires, as well as Umayyad Period and the Abassid Period in history where Christian, Jews, and all people had a sense of security under the leadership of Muslims.
Another hadith that supports the fact that Muslims respect all people, regardless of faith and background, is when Abdullah bin Amr narrated that the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) said, “The companion who is the best to Allah5 is the one who is best to his companion. And the neighbor that is the best to Allah is the one that is best to his neighbor.” (Sahih Jami` at-Tirmidhi 1944) In other words, if a Muslim wished for Allah to be pleased with them, then they should treat everyone around them with the respect they deserve; Muslim and non-Muslim alike.
With regards to the terrorist attacks carried out by pseudo-Muslims not properly practicing the true beliefs in Islam, Allah says in Surah Al-Ma’idah, “…whosoever kills an innocent human being, it is as if he has killed all of mankind, and whosoever saves a life, it shall be as if he has saved all of mankind.” [Surah Al-Ma'idah 5:32] The Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) also adds, “Whoever killed an innocent person, shall not smell the scent of Paradise.” (Sahih Al-Bukhari 6914) Coincidentally, this coincides with the teachings of Judaism and Christianity within the Ten Commandments of “thou shall not kill.” In fact, terrorists who say they are doing such horrifying acts supposedly in the name of Islam have violated every rule handed down according to Sunan6 by the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) during a time of war and before going into battle. Some of these include:
- “Do not kill any child, any woman, or any elder or sick person.” (Sahih Sunan Abu Dawud)
- “Do not wish for an encounter with the enemy; pray to God to grant you security; but when you [are forced to] encounter them, exercise patience.” (Sahih Muslim)
- “Do not uproot or burn palms or cut down fruitful trees.” (Sahih Al-Muwatta)
- “Do not slaughter a sheep or a cow or a camel, except for food.” (Sahih Al-Muwatta)
- “Do not practice treachery or mutilation.” (Sahih Al-Muwatta)
- “Do not kill the monks in monasteries, and do not kill those sitting in places of worship.” (Hasan Musnad Ahmad Ibn Hanbal)
- “Accustom yourselves to do good if people do well, and to not do wrong even if they commit evil.” (Al-Tirmidhi)
- "Do not destroy the villages and towns, do not spoil the cultivated fields and gardens, and do not slaughter the cattle.” (Sahih Bukhari; Sahih Sunan Abu Dawud)
What many people in the United States and around the world fail to understand is that Daesh, formerly referred to as ISIS/ISIL, has killed more Muslims than non-Muslims according to a 40-page report published by the United Nations and Human Rights Office. Therefore, the Daesh is at war with the world, not just non-Muslims but Muslims alike, and in no way represents Islam. However, they utilize this false representation of Islam as a way to divide and conquer the world. So, as Americans debate on whether to eliminate Muslims from the United States, less time is spent on monitoring real enemies and threats to the world
Many Islamic scholars are asking Muslims around the world to take a stand by being available to answer questions and educate misguided people regarding the truth to what is really taught in Islam. Dar al-Ifta al-Misriyyah and the Grand Mufti of Egypt, Shawki Allam, have launched a campaign called, “Not in the Name of Muslims.” It is the hope that more people will learn about Islam not necessarily with the intent to convert, but to shed light on many misconceptions that fuel Islamophobia so that people will realize that extremists and terrorists do not represent Islam. Even President Obama said on December 6, 2015, in his address to the nation speech emphasizing to Americans that ISIL does not represent Islam and that America is not at war with Islam.
“…We cannot turn against one another by letting this fight be defined as a war between America and Islam…ISIL does not speak for Islam…millions of patriotic Muslims reject their ideology…The vast majority of terrorist victims around the world are Muslim…To succeed in defeating terrorism, we must enlist Muslim communities as some of our strongest allies rather than push them away through suspicion and hate.”— President Obama, Address the Nation Speech December 6, 2015
Islamophobia: Key Issues and What You Can Do
In a panel discussion, Imam Dr. Ihsan Bagby, an associate professor in Islamic Studies at the University of Kentucky, mentioned that according to several studies, including Gallup and Pew, 60% of Americans have a negative view of Muslims. In contrast, 40% of Americans have a positive view about Muslims. It is interesting that of these two percentages, 70% of those polled said they had never met a Muslim before, or at least not that they know of.
Be Active in the Community
The first step that will help dispel misconceptions about Islam is for more Muslims to become active in their communities. They can volunteer and offer community based services such as food banks, caring for the homeless, and medical clinics. Muslims can take a proactive role to reduce Islamophobia by taking opportunities to educate the public regarding the truth about Islam. Imam Dr. Bagby noted that 2/3 of Muslims in America are active within their local mosque. Despite what government agency training materials say, Imam Dr. Bagby confirms that Muslims who are active within their local mosque are twice as likely to be positively involved within their community.
Host Open Mosque Events
One way to educate the public through community involvement is for local mosques to host open mosque events and extend an invitation to the entire community to come to observe and learn more about Islam. Open mosque event can also be a platform for addressing any questions or concerns the community may have. Fortunately, some communities are already doing this. More communities around the nation should consider doing the same. This isn’t an event for trying to convert people, as true, practicing Muslims do not believe there is compulsion in religion. The Qur’an teaches us this in Surah Al-Baqarah, “There is no compulsion in religion. True guidance has been made clearly distinct from error…” [Surah Al-Baqarah 2:258] A mosque open house will allow those of other beliefs better understand Islamic beliefs and practices. Open mosque events are designed to create community cohesion through friendly interactions. Dialogue Society has published a manual for organizing an Open Mosque Day in local Muslim communities.
Similarly, interfaith meetings can be held at other locations, as well. By partnering with area churches of different faiths to host open interfaith dialogs, this would open the doors to learn about all religions with the hope of promoting a better understanding of each other, including eliminate any unfounded fears about Islam and other faiths. Imam Dr. Ihsan Bagby found that 65% of Muslims he surveyed had at some point or is currently involved in an interfaith dialogs across the nation. Interfaith dialogs allows for the opportunity to create a shift in paradigm, encouraging people to interact and learn about the thing they may demonize based on previous falsified information.
Law Enforcement Training
Another step in preventing Islamophobia in American society is tackling the training provided to law enforcement officials such as the FBI, local law enforcement, and military personnel. According to Wired Magazine, the FBI training material prior to 2011 was based on false, biased information regarding the religion of Islam. The material provided made any Muslim who practiced their faith and attended the mosque regularly for prayer had the potential to be a violent terrorist. This simply is not necessarily the case. Contrary to popular belief, Islam actually is a religion of peace when practiced properly. In fact, despite what the former training material said, the more pious and devout a Muslim is to Allah and Islam, the less likely it is they will commit any crime, much less a violent crime.
Although the former training materials have since been modified, the malignity of the exploitation of falsehood found in the former materials have already taken root in many of those who received the former training. Most of the former and current training involves racial and religious profiling, which is in a direct violation of the First Amendment as it says, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof…” New training of law enforcement and military personnel needs to include an actual scholar of Islam to help dispel the falsehoods regarding the religion and stereotypes against mainstream, practicing Muslims.
Another key component in countering Islamophobia is addressing the sensationalism of yellow journalism that various media outlets use to defame Islam in an attempt to boost ratings and convince viewers to their false, subjective point of view. Most of the negative views of Islam comes from listening to the news media. Some news stations are quick with assumptions and echo each other with biased misconceptions and stereotypes regarding Muslims. This provides a platform to influence public opinion with anti-Muslim rhetoric that isn’t always based upon facts or anything that resembles the truth. A North Carolina University professor, Christopher Bail, used software originally designed to detect plagiarism to analyze more than 1,084 press releases and 50,047 newscast transcripts and newspaper articles to study how Muslims are reported in the news. He discovered that these media outlets led to “contours of mainstream discourse” with reference to Muslims and Islam.
There needs to be more accountability when it comes to the media. Journalists need to return to reporting the news with more objectivity and disengage personal views and emotions regarding any group of people. Just as a person or media organization can be sued for libel or defamation against an individual, there needs to be tougher laws to hold media organization accountable for promoting malice, discrimination, and falsehoods against any group of people, including Muslims. Even if a retraction is made at a later time, the damage is already done. State laws should be stricter and tougher penalties need to be applied regardless of the retraction being made.
Steve Johnson, from WHNT TV, sits down with Dr. Deborah Abu-Alrub, the Director of the Islamic Speakers Bureau of Alabama, Dr. Nauman Qureshi, the President of the Huntsville Islamic Center, and Dr. Frank Broyles, a Presbyterian Minister to discuss the growing concern of Islamophobia. The full interview can be viewed in a 6-part video series.
However, Muslims can be more proactive and work with local media. The news stations could be utilized, especially during the early morning and midday news casts. People are booking spots all of the time to spread the word about events, charities, and much more. Just as many local news stations create a time slot for ask a doctor or ask a lawyer, they should consider a time slot for ask a Muslim. This would allow callers to call in and ask question or address any concerns they have about Islam. After all, most people who dislike Muslims do not know a Muslim except what they see portrayed on the television. Another option would be to allow more Islamic programming. There are television shows and channels for other religions, so why not allow Islamic programming so Americans can learn the truth about Islam from practicing Muslims and Muslim scholars instead of the daily news stations.
Islamophobia has no place in American society. It violates the core of American values and laws that this country was founded on. Furthermore, when the media and politicians fan the flames of Islamophobia, it influences discrimination and violent attacks against Muslims in America. By the definition of terrorism, based on U.S. Law, Islamophobia is another form of terrorism, and this kind of hypocrisy should not be allowed in the war against terrorism or have a place in American society altogether. Once the American people can come together in mutual respect and understanding of one another, it is then that the American society can heal and be on its way to becoming the greatest society this planet has ever seen.
1 The Qur’an is considered to be a sacred text in Islam. The Qur’an is the oral revelation to the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) by the archangel Gabriel from God. It is considered to be a continuation to the teachings of prior Prophets (peace be upon them all).
2 Hijab refers to the head scarf Muslim women wear, where the face is shown. However, the hijab is not just the head scarf but dressing modestly in loose-fitting clothing that covers the body, including the arms and legs.
3 Hadiths are considered to be the sayings and wisdom of the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) compiled carefully by Islamic scholars. Hadiths are subjugated to grades, such as sahih (authentic), hasan (good), da’if (weak), and maudu (fabricated).
4 PBUH is short for "peace be upon him". Muslims usually say ʿalayhi as-salām after mentioning the prophets (peace be upon them all) as a sign of respect, which roughly translates to peace be upon him.
5 The word Allah is the Arabic word for God. Even Christians in Arabic-speaking countries use the word Allah for God.
6 The term Sunan is the plural form of Sunnah, which generally means the way one conducts themselves, such as manners and acts in daily life. Sunnah is often referred to the actions and personal behaviors of the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh).
© 2015 Linda Sarhan