Breaking apart misconceptions of Islam
By Mercedes Deutscher, Staff Writer
On February 10, three young people—Deah Shaddy Barakat, 23, Yusor Mohammad Abu-Salha, 21, and Razan Mohammad Abu-Salha, 19—were fatally shot dead in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. Craig Stephen Hicks, their next-door neighbour, was charged with their murders. According to the Chapel Hill Police Department, this tragedy was the result of an ongoing parking dispute, although other motives are being considered. Barakat and the elder Abu-Salha, Yusor, were a newlywed couple who were both pursuing careers in dentistry. Razan was an architecture student. All three of these young people were Muslim.
I believe there is more to this story than a simple parking dispute, and I think there is a reason the police haven’t yet ruled out religious bias. I believe that as a Western society post-9/11, we live in a shroud of Islamaphobia. We need to diffuse this fear.
Muslims have not been exempt from being profiled by the media. It is chilling to see that whenever there is an incident where a Muslim person is a perpetrator, the incident is labelled a terrorist attack and the perpetrator as a terrorist. Meanwhile, if the perpetrator is caucasian, they are often considered “mentally ill” and claims are made that someone should have intervened prior to the incident. While Hicks has not been labelled mentally ill, he also hasn’t been labelled a terrorist against Muslim people.
I feel that the media focusses so much on the stain that it misses the entire clean sheet around it. Those who follow Islam are unjustly labelled terror threats far too often. It is unfair to stereotype an entire religion due to the actions of a few radical extremists. More often than not, Islamic communities worldwide speak up and condemn those who use Islam as an excuse to attack. In response to the attacks in Ottawa and Quebec last fall, Idris Elbakri—president of the Manitoba Islamic Association—told CBC, “What’s happening in terms of violence in the name of our religion doesn’t represent our faith, doesn’t represent what we stand for.”
Islamic communities from all over the world have repeatedly spoken up against the actions of al-Qaida, ISIS, Boko Haram, and other terrorist groups, and have condemned those involved in terrorist acts, such as the 9/11 attacks, the 2005 London underground bombings, the 2008 Mumbai attacks, and the recent Charlie Hebdo attacks in January. All of these communities explain that the actions of a few do not represent Islam or its values.
What are the true values of Islam? It may be surprising to many that Islam shares many beliefs with other religions of the world, such as believing only in one Allah (God), angels, and prophets (like Jesus and Muhammad). There are some fascinating devotional practices that are performed as part of Islam. Muslims are expected to formally pray up to five times a day, help those in need (called “zakah”), and donate 10 per cent of their wealth to poor. Every year, Muslims partake in “Ramadan” when they fast during the daylight hours in order to practice self-control, focus on spirituality, and relate with those who are impoverished and have little to eat. Muslims are also encouraged to visit Mecca in Saudi Arabia at least once during their lifetime. Prophet Muhammad teaches that one should be mindful, love all of those around them, not harm anyone, and have good intentions for their actions.
While many perceive Islam as an oppressive religion to women, an Oxford study explains that it is not the religion that is oppressive of women, but rather follows patriarchal cultural norms. In a majority of the Muslim world, women wear a headscarf (or “hijab”) out of choice. The hijab can represent many things, such as modesty, purity, and respect. Some women have many reasons to justify why they wear a hijab. One reason is that they wish to be proudly and openly identified as a Muslim. Another reason being that they believe it is more important for someone to focus on her mind and speech rather than her beauty.
There have been several examples of people who have done terrible things in the name of Islam—yet many forget the good things that are done in the same name. Malala Yousafzai—who won the 2014 Nobel Peace prize at the age of 17—has spent much of her young life fighting for gender equality in education, while being openly Muslim. She has spoken up to the radical Taliban about the right to education for women and children, despite nearly being murdered by them in 2012. During an interview with Jon Stewart on The Daily Show, Yousafzai was asked what she would do if the Taliban were to come after her again. “If you hit a Talib with your shoe,” replied Yousafzai, “then there will be no difference between you and the Talib. You must not treat others … with cruelty … you must fight others but through peace, through dialogue and through education …”
While there are a small number of people who identify as Muslim and commit horrific acts, it is critical that society stop labelling all Muslims in that manner. Muslim lives are as valuable as the lives of anyone else, and the tragedy on Chapel Hill has shown that. Muslim people can innovate and inspire, just as Yousafzai has shown. Muslim people are as worthy of respect and of peace as non-Muslims are.