By Asad Khan
Recently, there has been a wide array of differing views on the nature of Islam. With President Donald J. Trump’s recently revised executive order that bans the issuance of travel visas to citizens of six predominantly Muslim nations, as well as the constant dispute over whether or not the United States has a responsibility to accept Syrian refugees, it is evident that Islam is a religion under significant scrutiny and is a topic of major concern for many Americans.
However, this notion is almost entirely baseless, as Islam is a religion that promotes peace, humility and compassion. There is an essential distinction between the radicals who claim to undertake certain despicable actions in the name of Islam and what Islam itself promotes as a faith.
When this distinction is not recognized and the identity of a group is stained by the inhumane actions of a small percentage, that group is improperly stereotyped and marginalized. This is a phenomenon that has occurred far too many times throughout history, and it is one that definitely should not be repeated. The negative connotation surrounding Islam has affected many Muslim Americans (including myself) on a personal level, but now that notions of Islamophobia have creeped into the political sphere, it is more important than ever to end this cycle of stereotyping.
The fact that Islamophobia is actually an ideology is frightening in itself. The disgusting nature of “phobia” ideologies that believe that it is acceptable to withhold the “unalienable rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” that are promised by the Declaration of Independence on the basis of religion, gender identity, sexual orientation or some other identifiable attribute seems like a highly un-American concept to me. Does it not seem ironic that there are some who condemn Islam for being an intolerant religion—which it is not—simply because they cannot tolerate it as a result of unsubstantiated fears?
Now, it is essential to address the myth that Islam is an oppressive and intolerable faith that provokes the insensitive actions of extremists.
It is not. The major argument made in the case of oppression is often proven by the case of Muslim women having to wear hijabs or other forms of covering. However, this piece of evidence is invalid because whether or not a woman wears a hijab is a matter of choice.
I will not deny that there are certain countries where regimes have adopted an extremist approach by making this choice mandated by law. In such cases, I will agree that this may be a form of oppression, but this is political oppression—not religious oppression. In regards to Islam’s tolerance of other faiths and people of differing identities, there are definitely interpretations that can be formulated to convey controversial meanings, as can be constructed from Biblical verses, but as the Quran states, “There is no compulsion where the religion is concerned.” In other words, the followers of Islam are obliged not to impose their own faith upon others of different faiths or beliefs.
Muslims are also permitted to marry people of other faiths without the stipulation of conversion, and there is a constant sentiment of love for humankind—not just Muslims—that is conveyed throughout the Quran. How can a religion that constantly reiterates a strive for humanitarianism and goodness that extends beyond borders be condemned as negative, simply because certain radicals exploit and exaggerate religious beliefs for their own means?
I am a proud Muslim and I am a proud American. These two attributes are extremely strong characteristics of my identity—as well as the identities of over 3.3 million other Muslim Americans that currently make up the U.S. population. Growing up in New York City, first in the aftermath of the 9/11 catastrophe and now in a political climate that resonates with the ideologies of Islamophobia, it is not difficult to comprehend the resultant confusion that I, along with the multitude of other Muslim Americans, faced.
On the one hand, we are aware of the compassionate teachings of the Islamic faith, but on the other hand, we are also constantly hurt by negative generalizations of Islam incited by the leaders of a nation that we have always revered and loved.
However, it is important for every Muslim to remember that the extremists who commit heinous acts in the name of Islam are not an accurate representation of what it means to be a Muslim and, in the same sense, it is important for every American to remember that leaders who marginalize a group of people on the basis of a small percentage are not an accurate representation of what it means to be American. We can change these representations, and it is vital that we do so. Only through an understanding of what diversifies us will we learn to tolerate and accept one another to build a more peaceful and harmonious society. We must strive to better America and change the perception of Islam because the principle of humanity, which is the foundation of every religion and nation, transcends above all other ideologies. As a nation that was founded by immigrants fleeing religious persecution, let us follow the mandate found in almost every religious scripture—be it the Bible, Torah or the Quran—and “do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”
Asad Khan, FCRH ’18, is a biological sciences major from New York, New York.