We all share the feeling of dread and anxiousness just thinking about the security checkpoints at airports. Lugging a suitcase, keeping track of an ID card, a passport, removing all shoes, belts, and large electronic devices, the process proves to be extensive. If anything triggers the scanners or TSA agents, you will be subject to even more searches – can you make it to your flight at this point? Through experience, I have realized my appearance does not seem threatening to many, so my interactions with TSA have mostly been brief. I would go even further to admit that it has been a privilege that I have never been stopped at the airport during TSA checks. My friend, who has darker skin and wears a head veil, however, has a greater chance of getting stopped by the TSA. “A random baggage check,” they would say, but do we fall for it? Airport security is the first thing that comes to mind when I think of Islamophobia. However, through research and listening to the experiences of Muslim Americans, I found that Islamophobia is rooted in the everyday struggles of Muslim Americans. Not only is Islamophobia racist, but it also targets and discriminates people based on their religion. As Americans, what freedom do we boast if our fellow citizens struggle to practice these same freedoms? In a deeper dive into the understanding of how Islamophobia came to be, the hope is to dismantle the misconceptions of Muslims in the US and advocate for religious and social freedom for all.
The Root of Islamophobia
Contrary to the main assumptions, Islam is not a new religion in America coming with the immigrants but dates back to the history of American founders. For more than two centuries, Muslim Americans and Islam have existed and intertwined with American history (Williams Par 2). However, the population of Muslims in the US has been small, making its history remain unknown. It is a surprise to most Americans who will hear that the Muslims are as would as American emancipation and slavery, which this section demonstrates.
Perhaps the best way to defend Islam in America is through the description of its role in the development of the Constitution. The inclusion of the freedom of religion in the Constitution was an intentional move by the American fathers to accommodate Islam (Williams Par 2). There was a vision that Islam would experience such discrimination and would need to liberate itself by advocating for freedom of religion. Among such founders was James H. Hustons, who supported for Islam by campaigning to have the Constitution recognize religious rights. Many of the current issues developing in the 116th Congress that there cannot be a Muslim president in America are the same issues that the founding fathers foresaw when ratifying Article VI of the US Constitution (Williams Par 3). Provision Article VI of the US constitution that a president can be from any religion shows that Islam is as old as American history.
Most of the Muslim foundations in America were slaves, as opposed to citizens. Muslim slaves had more education knowledge and were Arabic literate (Williams Par 4). As a result, they served as leaders of other slaves in the southern states’ plantations. Even during slavery, they struggled to maintain their diet, rituals, laws, dressing code, and names signifying powerful Islam among the slaves (Prime 1). Such practices created a distinction between African slaves, African Muslims, and white Americans. There was much determination from the Muslims to maintain their traditions once they moved in America as slaves. However, some converted to the dominant Christian religion to survive in the community. The use of Muslims as the leaders of other slaves, therefore, provides a historical background to disapprove of the idea that they are immigrants in recent days.
Although Muslims were almost coming to an end, the abolishment of slavery saw the proper establishment of the religion. Towards the end of slavery, most Muslims had converted to Christians to fit in the community (Prime 1). However, other Muslims came as immigrants in the late 20th century. Most of the immigrants during the time came from countries with Muslims as the majority, including Eastern Europe, and the Middle East. Their migration empowered the few slave Muslims who remained after the rest had converted to Christians. In 1893, the first mosque came into existence in Chicago. Another mosque was built in Michigan in 1921 some decades after the first one (Williams Par 2). The presence of the two mosques even today is a confirmation that Muslims are an old religion in the US sometimes before there were complex structures in the respective towns. Despite the growth of Muslims after slavery, the time is still historic when America was trying to establish various legal structures as evident in the inclusion of freedom of religion in the Constitution.
The 1900s, on the other hand, reveal the existence of Muslims in American history by providing the existence of several developments within the religion in the country (Williams Par 2). Several communities of Islam developed during the early 20th century in America as local organizations. During the time, African Muslims who were initially slaves started to rise, claiming that Muslim was a black African heritage lost during slavery. The term Black Americans came into existence during the time to show that such Muslims were among the American founders. Later, the immigrant and Previous slave Muslims became more active in politics. African American Muslims helped to deliver the idea of discrimination after all races and religions had ganged to fight against American enemies during World War II. Development of the concept of Black Americans/Africans in America and the support in civil rights, as a result, signifies the deep history of the Islam religion as opposed to the circulated idea of recent immigration.
The 9/11 attack is among the events which accelerated the spread of Islamophobia. Post 9/11 saw American citizens and security officials develop suspicion on all Muslims and Arabs who were citizens as well as foreigners. The Muslims experienced threats, murder, arson, and vandalism after the attack due to the belief that Al-Qaeda, which attacked the buildings, is part of the Muslims (Bakali Par 3 a). Any activity from the Muslims receives more attention than before, no matter its low sensitivity. The skin color and clothing of the Arabs serve as the defining features of those people to handle with caution (Bakali Par 3 a). The US troops have, on the other hand, invaded Muslims who are believed to support the Al-Qaeda group, for example, Saddam Hussein, the Iraq president (Green par 5). There have also been significant deportations of people, especially Muslims whom the US suspects to be a threat to its security.
The US has also not taken chances in the airports but heightened its security measures, including screening. It started with removing around six Muslims who were working in one of the airlines in the US after revealing suspicious behaviors and playing (Green par 5). Today, people with Muslim features attract more in-depth searches and screening in airports, practices, which show fear towards religion. Airlines subjects passengers to whole-body scan and thorough search compared to the previous period before the 9/11 attacks.
Despite the various changes and fear towards Muslims, there is no connection between Al-Qaeda and Muslim but just a heresy. On the one hand, there is a group of Muslims who came out after 9/11 to condemn the attack. The website https://www.lansingislam.com/muslims-condemn-terrorist-attacks.html provides several of the messages and reports from Muslims condemning the 9/11 attack and distancing themselves from the Al-Qaeda. The fact that such attacks and their association with Muslims were rare before shows that Al-Qaeda is an emerging group that focuses on using Islam religion to propagate hate and aggression. The Muslims in America even went ahead to develop platforms where they could provide information about their non-relationship with the terrorist group (Green par 5). There were so many Muslims employed in the airlines, and such strict screening did not exist, meaning that Muslims could not have been responsible for the attack. Islam is, therefore, not part of the Al-Qaeda, and the relationship develops as a result of the 9/11 attack committed by a terrorist group falsifies claims to be an Islamic affiliate.
Violence, terrorism, and Islam
Discussions among the Americans claiming the existence of good and bad Muslims is an indication of how the public perceives Islam as a violent and inferior religion. Multiple people have claimed that while some Muslims are violent, non-civilized, some show some sense of humanity with nonviolent behaviors (Soubani Par. 1). However, such distinction only shows negative labelling and association of Muslims with terrorism and violence. Religion does not have two sides of characters and instead operates on define principles that every member should follow. The existence of such a division line of good and bad, therefore, reveals a group of people who attempts to associate themselves with Muslims.
Labelling of Muslims as immoral and violent people who kill others does not have evidence from the public and in their culture. There exist a small number of Islam followers who fail to follow the religion of peace, leading to the misconception of a lousy branch of Muslims (Soubani Par. 1). In every culture, there are those people who go against the prescribed practices, and Muslims are not an exception. The few people do not lead to the labelling of one culture as bad. Most association of Muslims with violence results from the few who capitalize on killings and other forms of terrorism. The fact that even Muslims are fighting the evil characters within themselves who engage in terrorism shows that that Muslim is a peaceful religion (Soubani Par. 1). Some Muslims, for example, Khizr Khan, have come out openly to distance themselves from the behaviors of their relatives in violence and terrorism (Soubani Par. 5). It is the same case that occulted after the 9/11 attack where Muslims claimed that the attacks could have been made by Muslims who did not represent ideologies of Islam as a religion.
The rivalry between Muslims and Christianity is one of the reasons for labelling Islam as a violent religion. There exists an opposition between religions as they struggle to attract more followers (Soubani Par. 7). Muslims have caught themselves in the fight with Christians as the two religions battle for space, followers, and leadership of different religions. For example, in 2016, a person who claimed to hate Muslims shot and killed an Imam a follower in New York (Khan Par. 3). The murder provides an insight that non-Muslims label Muslims as violet because they hate them as opposed to real behavior and Islam culture. Non-Muslims succeed in spreading the propaganda that Islam is a violent religion because they are more in number in the US and across the world.
There is hard evidence supporting Muslims as a peaceful religion and the foundation of misconceptions about violence. Muslims believe that God is the only responsible judge for human actions, and human beings are not inclined to hating each other (Ponder Par. 12). George W. Bush, a former US president, is on record claiming that Islam is a peaceful religion (Soubani Par. 1). Most critiques of the faith and those who associate it with violence refer more than 100 Quran verses, which inform Muslims to kill those who are blasphemy (Independent Par. 3). However, they fail to put the Quran into its context and read in full. Quran 3:8 states that “We believe in it, the whole is from our Lord.” However, most non-Muslims tend to consider the verse and go direct to the section which talks about violence. However, Quran advocates for violence in self-defence but not disrupt peace. Quran 2:193-194, for example, states that “There is to be no aggression except against the oppressors.” However, critiques take the first part, starting that “Fight them until there is no [more] fitnah and [until] worship is [acknowledged to be] for Allah” (Quran 2:193-194). Such half readings mislead and portray Islam as a violent religion.
The Average Muslim American
Getting the number of Muslims in the US is a challenge because American practices do not allow such questions about religion during the census. However, the Pew Research Center estimated that Muslims were 3.45 million in 2017, representing 1.1% of the whole American population (Mohamed Par. 1). The number shows an upward trend despite the prejudice on religion. There are projections that the number will increase to occupy 2.2% of the whole US population (Mohamed Par 5). The number of those people who leave Islam for other faiths is almost equal to Americans joining, which leads to an insignificant impact on the population. It means that most of the Muslims are immigrants. The fact that the US continues to accept Muslims is an indication of a peaceful Islam religion except a few who go against the culture.
The rate of Islamophobia is higher in the Muslim population in America. Gallup reports that around 48% of the American Muslims in the US reported having experienced hatred and discrimination, which are makes of Islamophobia (Par. 15). The percentage is similar to that of African Americans but smaller than that of Arab Americans, 52% who reported Islamophobia (Gallup par. 15). The number of Americans with knowledge about Muslims and claim prejudice against Islam is lower than those who claim discrimination without information (Gallup par. 15). Such statistics reveal that Islamophobia is real in America and based on feelings as opposed to knowledge about religious behavior in violence.
The daily practices of Muslims focus on activities that are a show of worship to make Allah happy. They practice good deeds every day, regardless of their magnitude, to attract blessings (Mufti Par. 2). In the morning, Muslims thanks to Allah, followed by cleaning themselves, including their teeth and the body. They believe that Allah likes cleanness, and it makes him happy. However, they make particular players and read the Quran in the morning before they go to work or other activities. Another essential practice is to have time with children, both the father and the mother (Mufti Par. 2). Taking care of the children, Muslims believe it attracts rewards from Allah. However, in almost all of their activities, they start with some specific players with particular words.
Although discrimination against religion is illegal in the US, students who practice Islam experience harassment from their counterparts in other faiths. Much of the harassment came after the 9/11 attack, which is a further indication of the association of Muslims with violence without any good evidence (Suleiman Par. 17). Such harassment of students from their colleagues indicates the wrong perception about Muslims since the children do not have facts but get rumors and teachings from their parents. Muslim children claim that non-Muslims harass them using physical and verbal means, leading to thoughts of converting to other religions (Suleiman Par. 17). Most of them are forced to adopt two characters, one of Muslim at home and the other one of a Christian while in school. Change in religious culture is a strategy to avoid harassment when in school. Life makes them experience stress due to the feeling of betrayal in their Islam culture. Harassment in schools for Muslim students despite religious freedom, as a result, reveals American reluctance in providing freedom for Muslims.
Apart from utterances, suspicion, and harassment, the law also propagates Islamophobia when it fails to respect Muslim rights and freedoms. States are also responsible for creating fear among Muslims by making policies that appear to authorize discrimination and hate towards Islam (Bakali Par. 1 b). Islamophobia, through the law, utilizes the public by giving workers in institutions, either public or private, the power to oppress Muslims. Some of the European countries, for example, Belgium, have developed policies that prohibit the covering of faces in public places (Bakali Par. 3 b). The laws target women Muslims who use head veils and instils fear that whoever practices such a culture will face the law. In an appeal to the European Court of Human Rights, Muslims lost the case with the judgment that it was not a violation of their freedoms and rights. Islamophobia, which the law propagates, is more robust because it creates internal and natural fear, especially among young Muslims.
The solution of Freedom of Muslim Religion
Religion is one of the freedom and right to human beings that do not require a law to provide, although some countries restrict different faiths. However, Islamophobia is limiting the freedom of Islam religion in the US, creating the need for a solution. The best approach to advocate for religious equality and, therefore, stop Islamophobia is through training about what it is and holding campaigns to demonstrate against the practice. Structural and nonstructural Islamophobia results from fear of violence and terrorism alongside the need to dominate and kick Muslims out of particular regions (American Friends Service Committee [AFSC] Par. 1). As a result, there is a lack of knowledge and ignorance at the same time, calling for education and pressure at the same time. However, such approaches require good organizations that can lobby against governments and the public, which firmly believe in the existence of violence among Muslims.
One such organization that fights Islamophobia is the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC). AFSC offers education to people who believe in violence against Muslims to break the culture (AFSC Par. 2). The organization educates about the origin of Islamophobia and hence helps to create the notion that Muslims are not terrorists. Another way through which the organization combats Islamophobia is by advocacy for neutral policies that do not propagate fear among Muslims. AFSC organizes and holds demonstrations to condemn violence against Muslims and their negative profiling.
This analysis shows that Islamophobia is a construct out of fear of violence and terrorism as opposed to reality about Muslims. Islamophobia is a recent construct and which lacks evidence associating Muslims with terrorism. The claim that terrorism is as old as the recent immigration of Muslims in America does not hold since this analysis shows that Islam is as old as the foundation of America. If Muslims were terrorists, there could have been more terrorism owing to Islam’s long history in America. Furthermore, Muslims have proved to be peaceful people who admire civil rights. There took part in fighting for American Americans’ civil liberties and also came out to condemn the 9/11 attacks. Association of Muslims with terrorism results from the declaration of the Al-Qaeda terrorist group as part of Islam, which is not valid. The 9/11 heightened Islamophobia due to the misinformation that Muslims were responsible for the attack. Muslims distance themselves from Al-Qaeda and claim that the group does not propagate Islam ideologies. The study, as a result, reveals that Islamophobia is a wrong conception that has no evidence.
American Friends Service Committee (AFSC). “Communities Against Islamophobia.” Afsc.org. n.d. https://www.afsc.org/key-issues/issue/communities-against-islamophobia Accessed 18 May 2020.
Bakali, Naved. “Islamophobia and the Law: Unpacking Structural Islamophobia.” Yaqeeninstitute.org. 2019 b. https://yaqeeninstitute.org/navedbakali/islamophobia-and-the-law-unpacking-structural-islamophobia/ Accessed 18 May 2020.
Bakali, Naved. “Islamophobia in American Society, Culture, & Politics.” Yaqeeninstitute.org 2019 a. https://yaqeeninstitute.org/navedbakali/islamophobia-in-american-society-culture-politics/ Accessed 18 May 2020.
Gallup. “Islamophobia: Understanding Anti-Muslim Sentiment in the West.” Gallup.com. n.d. https://news.gallup.com/poll/157082/islamophobia-understanding-anti-muslim-sentiment-west.aspx Accessed 18 May 2020.
Green, Matthew. “How 9/11 Changed America: Four Major Lasting Impacts (with Lesson Plan).” Kqed.org. 2017. https://www.kqed.org/lowdown/14066/13-years-later-four-major-lasting-impacts-of-911 Accessed 18 May 2020.
Independent. “Anyone who says the Quran advocates terrorism obviously hasn’t read its lessons on violence.” Independent.co.uk. 2017. https://www.independent.co.uk/voices/islam-muslim-terrorism-islamist-extremism-quran-teaching-violence-meaning-prophet-muhammed-a7676246.html Accessed 18 May 2020.
Khan, Nazir. “Forever on trial—Islam and the charge of violence.” Yaqeeninstitute.org. 2016. https://yaqeeninstitute.org/nazir-khan/forever-on-trial-islam-and-the-charge-of-violence/ Accessed 18 May 2020.
Mohamed, Besheer. “New estimates show U.S. Muslim population continues to grow.” Pewresearch.org. 2018. https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2018/01/03/new-estimates-show-u-s-muslim-population-continues-to-grow/ Accessed 18 May 2020.
Mufti, Imam. “A Day in the life of a Muslim (part 1 of 2): From Waking up till late Morning.” Newmuslims.com. 2019. https://www.newmuslims.com/lessons/73 Accessed 18 May 2020.
Ponder, Doug. “Is Islam “A Religion of Peace” or Does it Promote Violence?” Christianity.com. n.d. https://www.christianity.com/theology/other-religions-beliefs/does-islam-promote-violence-or-is-it-a-religion-of-peace.html Accessed 18 May 2020
Prime, Iesha “African Muslims in America Before Columbus.” Online Video clip. Yaqeeninstitute.org. 2019. https://yaqeeninstitute.org/ieasha-prime/african-muslims-in-america-before-columbus-islam-and-the-black-american/ Accessed 18 May 2020.
Soubani, Nour. “What is Islamophobia? The Politics of Anti-Muslim Racism.” Yaqeeninstitute.org. 2019 https://yaqeeninstitute.org/nour-soubani/what-is-islamophobia-the-politics-of-anti-muslim-racism/ Accessed 18 May 2020.
Suleiman, Omar. “Internalized Islamophobia: Exploring the Faith and Identity Crisis of American Muslim youth.” Islamophobia Studies Journal 4.1 (2017): 1-12.
Williams, Jennifer. “A brief history of Islam in America.” Vox.com. 2017. https://www.vox.com/2015/12/22/10645956/islam-in-america Accessed 18 May 2020.
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