Religious Intolerance - Stanford University by a26m1Qs


									4756607                                                                         Joyce H. Sohn

          The events of September 11th 2001 created dramatic changes in the lives of

peoples all across the globe. The devastating aftermath of the attacks of that day is never

ending in the lives of most people – especially those who were personally affected by the

horrific acts of terrorism. Muslims, in particular, have had to experience the backlashes

of the September 11th events. An already misunderstood and misrepresented group of

people have, in addition, had to deal with incredible biases, bigotry, misdirected hate, and

religious intolerance. Many Americans who, unjustly, attack the religion of Islam and its

faithful followers are, in reality, very ignorant on the subject of Islam and the beliefs of

the religion. Their ignorance, fear, and need to find blame after such a traumatic event

blind them from their own false stereotypes and generalizations, and they justify their

own prejudice. This paper will first describe misconceptions of Islam that existed prior

to the September 11th attacks and will then go on to describe how those negative

stereotypes, along with the need to find blame, have caused many Muslims-Americans to

experience incredible bias and discrimination, solely based on their religious beliefs.

          Americans, for many years, have misunderstood the nature and beliefs of Islam

and the practices of its followers. The democratic values and ideals that are held sacred

in the United States often skew the American peoples’ perceptions of foreign cultures and

customs. In trying to understand the practices of Islam, Americans are often times unable

to view Islamic traditions without being influenced by their own Western biases.

Preconceived notions and stereotypes are continually reinforced by the media.             An

example of this are movies in which terrorists are portrayed as dark and belligerent

Middle Eastern men.

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4756607                                                                         Joyce H. Sohn

          There is also a great deal of conflict found in Americans’ misunderstanding and

ignorance of issues regarding women’s rights and gender equality within the religion and

practices of Islam. In the context of American society, the traditional wear of Muslim

women is often misinterpreted and misunderstood. The hijab, which is used to veil the

heads of Muslim women, rarely goes unnoticed in the eyes of most Americans. Non-

Muslims frequently associate this piece of traditional Islamic attire with ideas of

subordination and oppression, while disregarding the religious, cultural, and personal

motivations that influence a woman’s decision to wear such an article of clothing. While

many American women might view Islamic dress code as being confining and restrictive,

many Muslim women feel that their clothing actually frees them from the negative

attention that can stem from one’s physical attire and appearance.           Wearing hijab

liberates women from “the constricting mores governing appearance such as fashion

trends and the societal expectations of how a woman should look.”1             The modest

covering of the hair and body allows a woman to walk freely in public without being

subjected to the suggestive glances and flirtations of men.

          There are also cultural practices that are sometimes falsely identified as being a

part of Islam. These customs are seen as products of the religion, as opposed to being the

products of the cultural and social dynamics of a particular community. Female excision

is one of the ancient customs falsely associated with the Islamic tradition. The procedure

is one in which a young female is circumcised without the use of anesthetics. The

medical consequences of such a practice are, more often than not, horrific and life

threatening.        Although there are laws prohibiting these types of procedures, female

genital mutilations are practiced in more than twenty countries, including in the United

              Asma Gull Hasan, “American Muslims: The New Generation,” 38.

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States, where immigrants who come from other countries secretly continue this practice.2

Many people, including some individuals in the Muslim world, regard female genital

mutilation as an Islamic practice, when it is not. The Qur’an does not touch upon this

issue, and it finds no basis in either the Qur’an or the Sunnah. The Rector of the Muslim

Institute at the Mosque in Paris, Sheikh Abbas, affirms this view by stating, “There is no

existing religious Islamic text of value to be considered in favor of female excision.”3

          Another example of American’s misrepresentation of Muslims is how the media

in this country portrays Muslims. Muslim women are, often times, portrayed as victims

of oppression. And while there are many Muslim women who are oppressed within

communities in all parts of the world, there are also women of all different backgrounds,

religions, and cultures who are subjected to gender inequalities, as well. Contrary to

many Americans’ understandings and knowledge of Islam, many Muslim women firmly

believe that Islam can ensure their rights; some also find that Muslim women have more

rights than women from countries such as Canada or the United States.4 In an interview

conducted by Shahnaz Khan, a Muslim women who emigrated to Canada felt that

“Muslim women have more rights than…Canadian [women],” and she referred to the fact

that Muslim women from her native country have the right to carry their own name after

marriage, they were able to vote prior to suffrage in Canada and the United States, and

they have the right to their own property.

          Most examples of Americans’ cultural misunderstandings and misconceptions,

like the ones mentioned above, are negative and do not accurately represent the Islamic

religion. The attacks of September 11th only strengthened, what were already, negative

              Haifaa A. Jawad, “The Rights of Women in Islam,” 58.
              Haifaa A. Jawad, “The Rights of Women in Islam,” 58.

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4756607                                                                                       Joyce H. Sohn

attitudes towards and perceptions of Muslims.                       In addition to reinforcing false

stereotypes and inaccurate generalizations, the events of September 11th and the attacks

made by a select group of Islamic Fundamentalists catalyzed a hateful reaction towards

Muslims throughout the world.

          Immediately after the attacks, Americans all across the country voiced their

distrust of Muslims – people who might be their neighbors, co-workers, peers, or

complete strangers.           Reverend Jerry Vines, a former Southern Baptist Convention

President and pastor of the First Baptist Church of Jacksonville, Florida, voiced words

full of hate and bigotry to vehemently attack Muslims at a pastors conference in June of

2002.5 Reverend Vines told the participants of the convention that the problems of the

United States can be blamed on religious pluralism.                      He as quoted to have said,

“Pluralists would have us believe that Islam is just as good as Christianity, but I’m here

to tell you, ladies and gentlemen, that Islam is not just as good as Christianity.”6 Vines

went on to say, “Islam was founded by Muhammad, a demon-possessed pedophile who

had twelve wives – and his last one was a nine year old girl. And I will tell you Allah is

not Jehovah either. Jehovah’s not going to turn you into a terrorist that’ll try to bomb

people and take the lives of thousands and thousands of people.”7 Reverend Vines said

these words while giving a speech in front of several thousand delegates gathering for the

convention in St. Louis.

          This type of reaction to the attacks of September 11th is not uncommon or

exceptional. According to the results of a poll released by a national Islamic civil rights

              Shahnaz Khan, “Muslim Women: Crafting a North American Identity,” 108.
    , “Southern Baptist Leadership Chose to Spew
    , “Southern Baptist Leadership.”

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4756607                                                                                Joyce H. Sohn

and advocacy group in August of 2002 (nearly a year after the 9/11 attacks), fifty-seven

percept of American Muslims said they had experienced bias or discrimination since the

9/11 terrorist attacks. Eighty-seven percent of all respondents said they knew of a fellow

Muslim who had experienced discrimination.                This was a poll conducted by the

Washington-based Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), and it included the

responses of 945 Muslim individuals. In addition to these statistics, forty-eight percent of

respondents said their lives changed for the worse in the year following the attacks, the

most frequent forms of bias came in the form of verbal abuse, religious or ethnic

profiling, and workplace discrimination, and sixty-seven percent of respondents felt the

media had grown more biased against Islam and Muslims (Fox News being the media

outlet that they felt most exhibited biased coverage).8

          Although many Americans blame the attacks of September 11th on the Islamic

religion and the customs and practices of Muslims, many American Muslims leaders

have been very outspoken about their condemnation of terrorism. An article released by

the U.S. Department of State several days after September 11th 2001 noted that American

Muslim leaders, who represented a diverse spectrum of Muslim organizations in the

United States, said at a September 18th press conference that they “would like to make it

absolutely clear that [Muslims] join all other Americans in our unequivocal

condemnation of the attacks as un-Islamic, barbaric, and inhumane.”9 Shaker Elsayed,

the Secretary General of the Muslim Society, spoke at the Nation Press Club and said that

the Muslim-American community was also mourning the lives lost in the World Trade

, “Southern Baptist Leadership.”
“Poll: Majority of U.S. Muslims Suffered Post-9/11 Bias.”

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Center attacks.      Terrorists, he said, “cannot be condone or justified under any


          In addition to these words that condemn terrorism, many Muslim leaders also

spoke out in support of the Bush administration’s Anti-Terrorism Campaign. In an

October press release, the American Muslim Council (AMC) stated its support for the

United States’ government’s action against world terrorism and the council reaffirmed its

condemnation of the September 11th attacks, as well.11 The Council on American-Islamic

Relations (CAIR) also submitted a statement which read that the organization supports

“the president’s strategic campaign to combat terrorism and to protect American citizens

from attack. This support will remain firm whether or not we agree with particular tactics

used to carry out that campaign. American Muslims have stated clearly that the horrific

attacks of September 11th warrant an appropriate response aimed at the perpetrators.”12

Those Americans who place the blame of the September 11th attacks on Muslim-

Americans should be mindful of the fact that many of the American Muslims’ stance on

the attacks are comparable to those of Non-Muslim-Americans, as well.

          Americans who are not knowledgeable on the practices and beliefs of Islam

should educate themselves on the religion and use the events of September 11th as an

opportunity of learning and of greater understanding. Although many Muslims have

experienced religious bias and discrimination after, and due to, the September 11th

attacks, there has also been a show of support for the Muslim community as well, which

, “American Muslim Leaders Condemn
Terrorism, Defend Muslims’ Civil Rights.”
 ,” American Muslim Leaders Condemn
Terrorism, Defend Muslims’ Civil Rights.”
 , “Muslim Americans Support Anti-
Terrorism Campaign.”

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4756607                                                                                    Joyce H. Sohn

cannot be ignored. Muslims currently attending universities, in particular, have found

support from their respective campuses. In another release from the U.S. Department of

State, a Saudi graduate student at George Mason University said, “I found every form of

support from the university, from the professors, from the instructors, and from my

colleagues, the students themselves.”13 This particular student described how the dean of

his school addressed the international students and encouraged them to remain and

continue their studies at the university, despite the negative reactions of many Americans

toward the Middle Eastern community. Though he feared reprisal attacks on Muslims

after September 11th, the student stayed at the university, continued his studies, and owed

this to the university’s support of the Muslim community. The effects of September 11th

are ongoing and will remain in the hearts of most Americans, but the fear caused by such

an event should not be used to fuel hatred towards a group of people who equally deserve

to be called Americans. If this country is to truly recover from such a devastating attack,

we must, first and foremost, united and not allow the events of September 11 th to spread

hate among the citizens of this country.

 ,” Muslim Americans Support Anti-
Terrorism Campaign.”
 , “Muslim Students Find Support on U.S.
Campuses after 9/11.”

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4756607                                                                      Joyce H. Sohn


1. Hasan, Asma Gull; American Muslims: The New Generation; Continuum, New York:
2. Khan, Shahnaz; Muslim Women: Crafting a North American Identity; University
    Press of Florida, Gainesville: 2000.
3. Jawad, Haifaa A.; The Rights of Women in Islam; St. Martin’s Press, Inc., New York:
4. Nyang, Sulayman S.; Islam in the United States of America; KAZI Publications, Inc.,
5. Laura Brown, “Muslim Students Find Support on U.S. Campuses after 9/11,”, March 5, 2002.
6. “Southern Baptist Leadership Chose to Spew Hate,”, June 24, 2002.
7. Vicki Silverman, “Muslim Americans Support Anti-Terrorism Campaign,”, October 8, 2001.
8. Susan Domowitz, “American Muslim Leaders Condemn Terrorism, Defend Muslims’
    Civil Rights,”, September 18,
9. “Poll: Majority of U.S. Muslims Suffered Post-9/11 Bias,”
    ss.pdf, August 21, 2002.
10. “CAIR Report: American Muslims One Year after 9/11,”, September 2, 2002.

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