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Shereen Malherbe

Writer & author of Jasmine Falling

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September 2017

Roundtable on Spiritual Abuse and Gendered Violence: We Believe You

Reposted from Muslimah Media Watch

 

Trigger warning: gender-based violence, spiritual abuse, victim-blaming, misogyny

On September 23, 2017, Omer M. Mozaffar published a Facebook post in which he wrote about “predatory behavior” on the part of Nouman Ali Khan, a Texas-based Muslim scholar and founder of Bayyinah Institute with millions of online followers. Since then, much of the Muslim internet has exploded with a wide range of reactions and discussions not only about Khan himself but also about other cases of abuse by people in positions of spiritual authority.

 

Fatin, Nicole, Sarabi, Shereen, Krista, and Eren try to unpack some of their thoughts here.

Eren: I have never been into the “celebrity worship” type of thing (particularly when it comes to male religious figures), not only because it is flawed form of  belief, but because it also requires a level of misogyny. I am not surprised when I hear cases of abuse (of all types) from religious “leaders” (there are movies about it!), but it still hits me hard and angers me  that many Muslims, both men and women, are willing to accept that a man’s respectability and career are more important than his accountability in cases of abuse. Abuse and non-consensual interactions cannot be framed as  purely “inappropriate interactions,” or a “minor sin,” as is often the case when we react  to these situations.

Fatin: There is just so much to there’s so much to unpack here. Whether this man is guilty or not makes no difference. Over the course of the last 24 hours, in conversations with friends and family I have seen this burden of proof argument play out and it worries me. People who do not know Khan personally are willing to aggressively defend him.  Women asking whether these accusers “approached him?” or “do we know they’re telling the truth?” How do we support women? How do we change our vocabulary so we aren’t shaming the victim even as we are trying to investigate claims?

Nicole: I’m one of the older ladies in the MMW group and have been a convert for a minute (I converted in 2000).  The  behavior of men in leadership positions in various masajid in four different countries has honestly been a significant contributing factor in (among other reasons) why i am unmosqued. I can’t tell you how many imams, faith leaders, spokes*men* i have seen who, at best, collect harems, and at worst, are sexual harassers who commit gendered violence. So I don’t want to dogpile Nouman Ali Khan (NAK) here- he is a symptom of a much larger problem affecting Muslim men in leadership.  I have tea to spill for days, but that isn’t the point here, beyond saying that one of the reasons i don’t belong to a group any more is because I have been around too many male Muslim faith leaders who “collect women”.

At the same time, I also don’t want to be one of those people who demonizes Muslim men-  it isn’t a coincidence that the imam in what I consider my “home masjid,”  in Memphis, Tennessee, a place I haven’t lived in over a decade, is beyond reproach in terms of his interaction with the women who attend his congregation (myself included), so I am by no means saying this is a “Muslim man” problem or that all Muslim men in leadership do this. But he is one of the few who acts right, and my loyalty is there in consequence.  And I think this is why a lot of people don’t speak out, or are wary to speak out against these Muslim men who don’t act right and do very bad things- the non-Muslim media are more than happy to throw stones at Muslim men whenever they can, for religious or racial reasons.  But the reality is, these men are not misbehaving in a vacuum.  I commend what Omer Mozaffar did in a widely shared Facebook post where NAK was called out- one of my issues in the greater Muslim communities is that misbehavior by males is often swept under the rug, while the smallest slight by a woman is often amplified. I’m tired of the days where brothers who cheat on and beat their wives can go to jummah their heads held high while a woman who does something like “be divorced”  is banished for eternity.

Sarabi: Like Nicole, I’m appreciate Mozaffar posting the details online. Though many people in the comment section claim he is slandering NAK, Mozaffar’s post appears to be fair and balanced; it doesn’t seem to me that he wrote his post in haste.

I initially reacted to the news with hurt and sadness, but not surprise. Unfortunately, we live in an age where these scandals come out of the woodwork every now and then. So often, in fact, that I half-expect any prominent male celebrity to be guilty of indecent acts. I expect it, but I still don’t want it to be true. The Bill Cosby scandal is still fresh in my mind, and I grew up hearing stories of pedophilia and sexual indecency in Christian churches. The problem is not restricted to Muslim communities and I don’t think it is only an issue with male leaders. Regardless of when, where, and how it happens, I stand against it.

Krista: I also thought it was interesting to see the story come first from Omer Mozaffar. I have a lot of feelings. On one hand, I agree with Nicole that this is an important instance of men holding each other accountable and not just closing rank around a predator to protect him. I also think it’s important to see men stepping in to do the work of calling people out, work that often falls on the survivors themselves. That can be a powerful step to take as an ally.

On the other hand, part of me is admittedly resentful at the fact that a man speaking out about abuse is more likely to be believed or to be seen as “neutral” because he is less likely to have been on the receiving end of this kind of behaviour. In how many other cases have women been the ones to break the story and to find themselves immediately discredited? I couldn’t believe all the people calling for the women themselves to come forward to “prove” their experiences, as if those calling for them to come forward were ever going to be sufficiently satisfied with their narratives in order to believe them. And of course, as screenshots from conversations with survivors have come out, many people have jumped right on them to discredit them.

The other concern I had about Mozaffar’s post is that, although I appreciate his current public efforts to speak out as a way of protecting the community from further predatory behaviour on Khan’s part, he wrote about a longer private process of trying to hold Khan accountable before things were made public. I do have to wonder, were any efforts being taken during those earlier periods of private discussions to at least warn the women around him to be careful?

Eren: Absolutely! And the fact that people keep demanding the women to make public appearances, to provide “evidence” and to show who they are, really saddens me. Why do we think that we are entitled to violate the women’s safety for the sake of our questions? Why are we more willing to accept  a man calling out NAK, but not willing to accept  that there are survivors around who have not only been violated, shamed and perhaps even threatened, but also put in a position where where their boundaries and privacy has been pushed for a while? Why do men, particularly powerful men, have the right to be safe, to remain unaccountable and to keep their reputations even when multiple women accuse them of violence??? Do we understand the very basis of abuse? One cannot consent to one’s own abuse. That’s that. Abuse is never consensual.

Sarabi: I also worry that the US media will use this story as a means to demonize Islam, and I worry that the survivors of the sexual indecency will be harassed within and ostracized by their communities. People may be quick to jump to NAK’s defense and suggest that the woman should have been strong enough to resist the temptations, but this argument suggests that the women wanted to be abused, which is never the case. Nobody, desires to be taken advantage of.  Though I don’t know enough details to assume guilt on NAK’s part, I stand with the survivors and I believe their stories.

As for what to do with the information we’ve learned from his lectures…What he allegedly did was deplorable, but that doesn’t mean his teachings are invalid. I’ll probably have to take it upon myself to do further research, but that should always be the case anyway. We shouldn’t accept one person’s interpretation of Islam. I listen to other sheikhs alongside NAK, so I’ll parse through their lectures and continue to try to find English translations of Islamic books. We don’t have to throw away everything we’ve learned. Rather, we should take this as a warning not to worship people, no matter how charismatic, and remember to make sure our information is well-sourced.

Shereen: I have also read comments about people being disappointed with NAK since the allegations arose, as they converted because of his lectures and so forth. I think it is important to separate Islam from a Muslim man or leader, no matter how famous or popular they become. Having said that, if you assume a position of popularity, then you must be aware that your conduct will be up to scrutiny and I believe try even harder to ensure your conduct is of good character. How this is handled, like responding on Facebook in my opinion is not helpful. It almost opens up the space for others who have no knowledge of the situation to pass judgement and also means any potential victims may fear their identities being shared to the masses online.

Fatin: Deen is such a personal thing.  When you find that spiritual connection, you want to bottle it in a jar.  For so long, if you didn’t read or speak Arabic, Islam felt inaccessible. We couldn’t read the Quran. We couldn’t understand the lectures. Then suddenly, scholars started appearing on the scene who spoke English. And they were using pop culture references and it felt cool. So we turned those scholars into celebrities. We became groupies; swarming them at conventions and wanting selfies and pictures. We excuse or brush off problematic statements or rude behaviour. We put them on pedestals.  It is the lure of celebrity and power that seduces these figures. It is intoxicating.  And their followers become enamoured with the spiritual connection; believing these figures are making them feel this way; rather than knowledge that comes from them. These figures are only vehicles for the knowledge.

The Quran warns believers not to worship His Prophets:

Say, O [Muhammed], ‘I am only a man like you to whom it has been revealed that your god is but one God; so take a straight course to Him and seek His forgiveness.’ And woe to those who associate others with Allah.

Nicole: Another issue I have had as more news has spilled is the power imbalance. This guy isn’t some dude. It is hard to say no to someone in power, and that makes me think that while some of these interactions appear consensual, how consensual are they when a man is as powerful in the community? What happens if you tell him no? Just look at the women getting dragged for calling him out! I remember the Nuh Keller scandal way back in the day (how many of us are old enough to remember k town divorces?) -some people looked like they were playing along or agreeing when in reality they were trying to save their skins, their families, their livelihood. That is why I feel the way I feel about NAK- the power dynamics make this more problematic. If he wasn’t in a position of power it would be different. But he is and I can see a lot of girls having a hard time telling him no when they would easily tell a rando to to eat a bag of green weenies.

Fatin: When I was living in Syria, a similar scandal happened with a very famous Shaykh. He had his group of followers, people who had pledged an allegiance to follow him.  From the outside, it looks very much like a cult. You have the leader, his bodyguards, his inner circle. There are exclusive meetings and only those in the know are allowed to attend. It becomes less and less about the knowledge and more about the proximity to power.  Then came the accusations of inappropriate private meetings and secret marriages. It all played out the same. Accusations became public as the followers started to leave. Then the shaykh goes public with a statement of his own denying the claim and using his knowledge of Quran and hadith to pepper his statement with authority and spiritual gravitas. The public came to his defence and the accusers and those who believe them were ostracized treated like transgressors of sin.

Shereen: This incident has made me think of a wider issue, why do we have so few female Islamic scholars and teachers? Ayesha (RA), the youngest wife of the Prophet (SA) was one of the most prolific female scholars in Islam and contributed to around 2000 ahadith, and yet now we find ourselves with few female islamic leaders to consult on Islam. I wonder with the victims of abuses of power, who are the victims going to, and who can they consult in these spaces?

Krista: I really appreciated a piece published a couple days ago by Sameera Qureshi on the HEARTfelt blog, which looks at issues around religion and sexuality. As the writer reminds us,

“As with everything on social media, this will all calm down within a few weeks, and the majority of our community will go back to living their own lives. Gender-based violence won’t matter or be a topic of importance anymore. Those working in the field will continue to fight for the rights of survivors and ways to hold perpetrators accountable. We’ll continue to stress over how many people attend training and awareness programs we’re hosting. It’s incredibly sad that methods of oppression only matter to the general public when people in the spotlight are involved.”

There have been a lot of statements in the last few days – including from this blog – about how we will always support and listen to survivors. But we need to be making those statements more regularly, perhaps especially when there’s nothing specific happening to make gender-based violence a “hot topic” in the community. To add to Shereen’s questions above, how can we make sure that we’re creating spaces where survivors always feel safe speaking out, where they always feel their concerns will be heard and valued?

Eren: And from all this, and as someone who does not only know a lot of survivors of spiritual and gendered violence, but who has also experienced sexual harassment from religious people, I can only say to those who have been abused, harassed or in any way wronged by  people they trusted with their own spirituality, I believe you. MMW believes you.

To those who have never experienced these situations, particularly cis-sexual men, you have to hold the people you trust in your communities accountable. It does not matter who the person is (in this case a pretty powerful dude). The burden of proof cannot rest on survivors. You are not entitled to that. But you are  entitled to ask religious leaders to be accountable for their advice, the way they profit from said advice (apparently NAK makes a lot of money from it), how they spread misogyny and patriarchal attitudes, and the instances when they are engaged in violence… particularly when that entails violence against Muslim women. Further, for those who believe NAK should be forgiven, it is totally cool if you can do so, but you are not entitled to ask survivors to do so. Similarly, forgiveness (from the relevant people) does not wash away the need for accountability, and that is our job as communities and as allies.

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Roundtable: Rohingya Muslim Genocide

Muslimah Media WatchTrigger and Content Warning: Colonial Violence, Racism, Anti-Blackness, Anti-Indigeneity, Gender-based Violence, Militarized Violence, Islamophobia, anti-Refugee Rhetoric.

In the past year Rohingya Muslims have been constantly featured by Western media outlets, particularly as their persecution in Burma/Myanmar has been deemed to be “ethnic cleansing” by the United Nations. The Rohingya community, which is primarily Muslim but also includes a Hindu minority, considers itself to be Indigenous to what is now Burma/Myanmar; Rohingya also currently reside in India, Bangladesh and Saudi Arabia. Burma/Myanmar does not recognize their claim to indigeneity, despite adopting the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, and does not recognize them as citizens.

The history of violence against the Rohingya has colonial origins that includes colonization by the British in the 19th century, persecution by the Japanese during WWII, and different military governments since independence in 1948. The nation-building process after independence further entailed racial discrimination against the Rohingya based on anti-Blackness and Islamophobia, even when not all Rohingya are Muslim and not all Muslims in the area are part of the Rohingya community. By the 1970s the constitution of Burma/Myanmar did not recognize the Rohingya, which has prevented them from being recognized as citizens. Hence, for decades, the Rohingya (among other groups, including other Muslims) have been stateless.

Since 2015 militarized violence against Rohingya people has increased. The violence is largely attributed to the head of state,  Aung Sun Suu Kyi, a recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize (1991) for her activism against Burma/Myanmar’s military regime and her efforts  for the country to become democratic. She has also been presented with other human rights-related honours and holds honorary Canadian citizenship, which some Canadians believe should be revoked by the Canadian government due to her involvement in the Rohingya genocide. To date Burma/Myanmar faces few sanctions for its human rights abuses and still receives armament from Israel, among others. On September 2017, Burma/Myanmar also blocked UN  aid to the Rohingya community.

One thing to note is that the ongoing discrimination and violence against the Rohingya community did not become a largely publicized media issue until fairly recently, despite the fact that documentation of Rohingya persecution and human rights violations against the community date back to the early 20th century. Similarly, the issue was largely ignored and downplayed by governments and organizations who are said to be committed to human rights, until fairly recently. Countries with large Muslim populations have also made only symbolic pledges of solidarity, including Saudi Arabia. Since 2012 almost half a million Rohingya have been displaced and many more have been murdered.

Shireen, Eren, Sobia, Fatin and Shereen share their conversation in this post.

Shireen: I can’t even get started on the (formerly) lauded Aung San Suu Kyi who has been ridiculously silent on this issue, to the point where her friend and ally Bishop Desmond Tutu publicly spoke about her toxic silence, by saying “If the political price of your ascension to the highest office in Myanmar is your silence, the price is surely too steep.” Her treatment of this situation (vacuous comments or stone silence) is deplorable.

Last March, Suu Kyi was interviewed by Mishal Husain and she was particularly nasty during the interview. After being challenged by the award-winning presenter, the flustered leader made a bigoted comment “No one told me I was going to be interviewed by a Muslim.” This further shows that her regard for Muslims, in general,  is non-existent. She also has a history of ignoring calls from the United Nations in regards to the violence (although she would not be the first head of state to do so).

Eren: First of all I would say that my prayers and my solidarity are with the Rohingya Muslim community, the colonized, the displaced, the stateless, the persecuted, the murdered, the survivors… But picking up on Shireen’s comment,  what is happening to the Rohingya community, unfortunately is all very common to Indigenous communities across the globe. And as angry and outraged as I can be with Burma/Myanmar’s government and its de facto leader, Suu Kyi, I am the most angry at the international community, at human rights institutions, at every Western country that claims caring about human rights, because the reality of things is that no government and no institution has ever cared enough about Indigenous communities. The UN Human Rights Chief just called the genocide of Rohingya Muslims “textbook example of ethnic cleansing.” Hmmm… okay cool… so what? What are we going to do about it?

Shireen: Well, now that aid organizations and the UN are getting involved, the government is further ignoring Medecins Sans Frontieres and Human Rights Watch‘s calls to stop  the violence and has gone as far as blocking UN aid!

The ways in which Rohingya Muslims are being affected by the violence is staggering- more than 400, 000 have been reported to have left Burma/Myanmar by any means possible. These innocent people are being massacred, bodies being pulled from rivers on the border of Bangladesh. They are being rejected and brutalized from their own land. Bangladesh, the country where many Rohingya Muslims live as refugees,   is trying to cope with the fact that the violence has intensified and that little  aid is making it across borders. In 2012, Bangladesh had refused to admit Rohingya Muslims for asylum. The government argued that they had no legal, moral or ethical responsibility to do so; but in the past few weeks the Bangladeshi government offered land for a refugee camp.Yet, them coming around to accepting refugees is still problematic in that Bangladesh’s refusal to help makes it complicit in a case of genocide. Forget the helping of fellow Muslims and giving them respite and support, forget even the horrible violent crimes and violations committed against women and young girls; but can we imagine advocating for protecting man-made and colonial borders while people are being burned alive for fun?

Eren: The thing is that it is not only Bangladesh that is complicit. No other country has stepped in, other than symbolic gestures of concern and solidarity. This situation has been going on for decades! Unfortunately we live in a world where Indigenous peoples aren’t privy to genocide… we call it “cultural genocide;” we call it a byproduct of colonialism; we call it “development,” etc. Not to mention that the burden of “proving” genocide lays with Indigenous communities around the world, particularly women. It is women who have to look for their missing family members; who have to bury their children; who are raped and violated over and over again by militias, army, Blue Helmets and even aid workers! Wanna know why this has been going on for so freaking long and no one cares? Because like in Guatemala and the Maya people and Darfur with the Fur, Masalit and Zaghawa, it isn’t genocide until you, as an Indigenous community, can show that “enough people” have been killed; that it is “racially or religiously motivated;” that there is a paper trail showing intent; and that the perpetrators are really responsible… until then, it is just an unfortunate security matter, maybe even human rights violations, but nothing else.

Sobia: Part of the problem, is how ignorant we are about the issue. The other day I read, in a Canadian newspaper, a brief history of the persecution of the Rohingya in Myanmar during and post colonization. That piece was the first piece of writing I had read on this particular history, and it was laid it out so well. This was also the time I learned, for the first time, that the Rohingya have been facing persecution for over a century now. We’re talking since the late 1800s/early 1900s. Yet, as Muslims we NEVER talk about this. I have grown up hearing so much about the Palestinian cause (as we should); yet, even though my family is from the same region as Myanmar (Pakistan), and even though there are Rohingya refugees in Pakistan (who don’t have equal rights), I never heard a word about this persecution. In various khutbahs I’ve heard prayers for the Palestinians, and sometimes Chechens, Kashmiris, Bosnians as well, but never the Rohingyas. It had me thinking about who we, in our Muslim communities, prioritize for empathy and who we relegate to the bottom of the list, if they’re on the list at all. What is it about who we, within our communities, care for and whose existence we never acknowledge? What does this sudden attention to the suffering of the Rohingya, despite their century of suffering, tell us about not just the international community at large, but our Muslim communities, as well?

Eren: For me what it comes down to is that, as Muslim communities across the world, we often  dismiss and look down at Indigenous peoples, be it Bedouins, Marsh Arabs, Batwa, Imazighen, Tzotzil, Maya, Pashtun, Tutsi, Fur, Masalit, Zaghawa, Palestinians, etc. Yes, we hear about the Palestinian struggle a bit more; but even that has taken years to be more widely understood, let alone being really supported. Let’s not forget that it took the massive expulsion of Palestinians from Kuwait (and their rejection from other countries) for people to really pay attention. We still hear a lot of negative comments about Indigenous communities, particularly when they are Black, in mainstream Muslim spaces. As Muslims we have an issue acknowledging Indigenous peoples humanity and right to life. Instead, we sit, and we ask… “hmmm… is this genocide? Oops! Too late.”

Fatin:  Yes, in fact, before discussing doing a roundtable for MMW I didn’t really know much about the situation in Burma/Myanmar. However when I saw this tweet by Nikki Haley, US Ambassador to the UN, on September 13th , I felt it was pertinent to the conversation. Just as Eren said, it’s all about proof. “IF reports..are true.” She literally posted this with a photo of a woman and child crying in anguish and is calling that pain into question.  As ambassador, Nikki Haley should have information available to her that makes this tweet both callous and egregious. Her following tweets call an end to the violence and thank Bangladesh for hosting refugees fleeing Burma. Interesting, since the United States has taken such a violent stance on refugees. So now what? More discussions by UN panels? What gets done to actually protect the Rohingya population?

Eren: See… all these tweets that UN personnel are now releasing and the ways in which mainstream media covers the issue, make me want to smash my computer… This is what I was telling Shireen, governments and multilateral organizations, like the UN, are now playing the “let’s prise Bangladesh (after their refusal three years ago) and pretend that we are doing everything by the book and hope no one notices that the we let this slide for decades” game… mmmm, what?

Fatin: Social media is always a blessing and a curse in situations like these. It’s valuable for spreading the word and raising awareness. But at the same time, a flooding of images can have people scrolling right past them. I have been guilty of this myself. Between wars and natural disasters, desensitization to these crises sets in. Not to mention feelings of helplessness as conflicts continue for decades. On the other hand, it’s heartening to see to see protests around the world and some Muslim majority countries denouncing the violence.  But is that enough?

Shereen: I also was not sure how to participate in a conversation about what is happening to the Rohingya Muslims, but I could not remain silent because I feel like there must be something we can do to help. I think it is time we start to rethink how we view refugees, and as Eren mentioned, how we conceive Indigenous peoples within our own communities. With the world’s current refugee crisis we are, ‘witnessing the highest levels of displacement on record.’ This affects primarily Indigenous and Black communities in developing countries.

The use of fear tactics in USA and the world’s governments using refugees as scapegoats for the world’s problems has left me feeling angry and disappointed. For example, an article by The Economist discussed the refugee crisis as a ‘potential solution’ for the much needed younger workers in an ageing European workforce. This is unacceptable. We need to put pressure on our leaders to devise positive integration methods that don’t play on an imagined fear to win votes but instead gives us practical solutions to a humanitarian problem that is impacting all of us. The current stance of deploying fear tactics and an oversimplified deduction that the problems stem from refugees or ethnic minorities has happened repeatedly throughout history following economic recessions and has only led to devastating consequences for everyone. We cannot allow that to happen again.

Eren: So now what?

Shereen: I believe in humanity, and I believe it is our duty to help those being persecuted in whichever way we can. We all have individual talents, be it writing, art, social media platforms, fundraising, donating or even physically volunteering. So instead of thinking that we can’t do something, or that our contribution will be too small, I ask that we do whatever we can so these communities know they are not alone. Post on your social media, protest,  set up a fundraiser or volunteer. Every little thing helps.

Reposted from Muslimah Media Watch

A Summary of Several Unsurprising Reports on Islamophobia in the UK and US

Muslimah Media WatchRecently, The Independent reported on a study finding that discrimination in the job market adversely affects employment prospects for young Muslims. The Independent reports on the study as if the information is new, but three years ago Roger Dobson wrote an article on a study with similar findings for the same periodical. The gist of both pieces is that regardless of skin color and despite outstanding academic results, Muslims have a higher unemployment rate than white Christians of the same age and qualifications.

In the November 2014 article, Dr. Khattab of Bristol University is quoted as saying that while skin color is often a component of discrimination, religion and perceived cultural background have the ability to override racial biases. That is to say, U.K. employers tend to prefer white faces, but if those white faces belong to a Muslim, then the anti-Muslim bias is more likely to prevail. Similarly, brown-skinned employees are looked upon less favorably, but Hindu or Christian Indians may receive less of a penalty than their Muslim counterparts.

According to the newer study, “only 6 percent of Muslims [are] in higher managerial, administrative, and professional occupations, compared with 10 percent of the overall population.” The study does not specify which positions Muslims are more likely to hold, but does 18 percent of Muslims aged 16 to 74 are “more likely to look after home and family” as opposed to just 6 percent of women in their age range with other religious backgrounds doing the same. The article suggests that this is at least in part due to Muslim women’s inability to find suitable work.

The Independent’s study comes on the heels of the Pew Research Center’s August 2017 updates on its report, “Muslims and Islam: Key Findings in the U.S. and Around the World.” In addition to projecting the growth rate of Islam in the future, listing the countries with the most Muslims and calculating approximately how many Muslims live in the United States, Michael Lipka also discusses overall opinions of Muslim-Americans and non-Muslim-Americans about Islam and Muslim behavior.

In short, people with less education, white Evangelical Christians and Republicans are more likely to look unfavorably upon Muslims, believing the majority of Muslims are anti-American. By contrast, slightly more than half of the Democrats polled believe that very few Muslims are anti-American.

Of the Muslims polled about “western” (European and North American) characteristics, over half described westerners as selfish (68%), violent (66%), greedy (64%), immoral (61%) and arrogant (57%). Opinions of non-Muslim westerners and Russians about Muslims are more mixed. About half described Muslims as fanatical (58%), honest (51%) and violent (50%) while fewer than half described Muslims as generous (41%) and arrogant (39%).

Interestingly, people from the U.K. reported the least amount of anti-Muslim sentiment in their country (28%) whereas Hungarian citizens reported the highest (72%). Also noteworthy is the fact that 92% of the U.S. Muslims who responded to the survey said they were proud to be an American, and 80% said they were satisfied with the way things were going in their lives today.

As a North American Muslim with friends across the globe, I find none of this information is particularly surprising, though the numbers are somewhat encouraging. It may seem that Islamophobia has been on the rise since Trump’s campaign, when in actuality at least part of the issue is that Islamophobic people are simply becoming more outspoken.

Of course, even a small number of people who exhibit extremist tendencies can be dangerous. For example, KKK membership was between 4% and 6% of the U.S. population in the 1920s. The First Klan appeared in the 1860s, after the American Civil War. Its members were violent, lynching and brutally assaulting people of color at night. The Second Klan, however, focused on spreading its bigoted ideology and targeted anyone who was not a white, American-born Protestant. Their extremist teaching led to extensive rape, murder and torture of anyone who did not fit the Klan’s image of a “pure American.” Rising Islamophobia is similarly dangerous. In the U.K. the 28% of citizens who are against Islam are enough to stifle, and in some cases prevent, the economic and social advancement of Muslims.

Neither The Independent nor the Pew Research Center released information on the number of U.K. citizens who personally knew a Muslim, but the Pew Research Center did gather such data on U.S. citizens. The conclusion is simple yet important: those who knew Muslims responded with more favorable opinions of Muslims and Islam as a whole.

Islamophobia stems from a perceived difference of values and is often based on media portrayals of and tangential interactions with Muslims. These people have fallen prey to the “Danger of a Single Story;” they allow these fleeting exposures to color their opinions of an entire group.

Muslims are not immune to the danger of a single story, but those in the U.S. and the U.K. spend their days surrounded by people who might not look like them and who likely hold different belief systems. They are already exposed to multiple stories and can draw their conclusions from those. Because Muslims are the minority in both nations, though, most of the people In the U.S. and the U.K. are unlikely to run into a Muslim in their daily lives so they must take it upon themselves to find reliable information. Although meeting and making friends with Muslims might help change the opinions of non-Muslims, it is neither practical nor possible for every non-Muslim to meet a Muslim and have a conversation, and such conversations may or may not have an effect on systemic forms of Islamophobia. Initiatives like those in some New York public schools, legislating school holidays that recognize non-Christian religions, may be one way to spark some conversations about diverse religious groups. Let’s hope we can see this kind of initiative, as well as efforts at other social and political levels, in order to eliminate some of the barriers to cultural communication, understanding and acceptance.

Reposted from Muslimah Media Watch

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