Friday, June 3, 2022

Prejudice towards Islam and Muslims in the West: They Fear What Is Different, but What Is Different May Be Quite Similar

By Talia Clarke, New Age Islam 3 June 2022 Prejudice Towards Islam And Muslims In The West Can Take Shape Through Social Exclusion, Whether Political Or Employment Based, Through Violence Such As Verbal Abuse, Online Hate Speech And Physical Assault, And Through Discriminatory Practices In Education, Health, Employment And Representation In The Media Main Points: 1. Islamophobia is not a concept that can be so simply defined. 2. Why exactly has Islamophobia become so normalised in the West? 3. Christian writings have continued to put emphasis on the differences between Islam and Christianity. 4. Official acknowledgement of the fact that Islamophobia exists and continues to devastate the lives of ordinary Muslims is required. ------ Picture this. You’re sitting on the train, reading a book. You’re waiting for the conductor to call your station out over the intercom. Suddenly, you’re attacked – verbally and physically assaulted. You look around the train wondering why everyone is staring at you – why no one is doing anything to help. This scenario is too often than not a reality for Muslims in the West. This is Islamophobia. What is Islamophobia? Islamophobia is not a concept that can be so simply defined. It reveals itself in countless forms and its origins are long debated – is it a manifestation of long-standing attitudes and beliefs or is it an entirely new concept? Though rich in delineations, one particular word may suffice; prejudice. Prejudice, unlike Islamophobia, can be defined as an unjustified and unreasonable opinion or feeling towards an individual based solely on that person’s membership of a particular group. Prejudice towards Islam and Muslims in the West can take shape through social exclusion, whether political or employment based, through violence such as verbal abuse, online hate speech and physical assault, and through discriminatory practices in education, health, employment and representation in the media. The 2019 Islamophobia report revealed a number of horrifying cases of prejudice against Muslims – the most notable being, the increase of harassment in guarded areas (30% to 60%) and police only attending half of the reported cases. These statistics unfortunately do not stop here with 29.6% of physical assaults being reported and bystanders not stopping to intervene in 75% of Islamophobic attacks despite the majority of the incidents occurring in a public setting– only solidifying the idea of prejudicial Islamophobia not only acted by everyday civilians, but by a systematic practice. So, why exactly has Islamophobia become so normalised in the West? The emergence of Islamophobia can be linked to a number of reasons. Firstly, there has been a significant spike in the number of Muslim immigrations to the West in recent years. Westerners are no longer able to draw a line between themselves and the ‘other’, as the ‘other’ has become a part of their society. The ‘other’ is more prevalent and visible than ever. Liken to a mother and her baby birds, Westerners may feel confronted or feel as though their home is under invasion – thus having no other choice to attack and continue to separate themselves from what they fear in the form of Islamophobia and prejudice (similarly seen in the history of Islamo-Christian civilisation). Secondly, the rise of Islamism in the West can also be seen as a reason for increasing Islamophobia. As Islam becomes more normalised in Western settings and Western converts become apparent, Westerners may again, see a threat and act unjustly in order to stop Islam from becoming the dominant narrative in their eyes. Lastly, Islamist terrorist attacks have plagued the Westerns views of Muslims as a whole – not being able to draw a distinction between the various Muslim identities and practices. The Western media is an active contributor to perpetuating the extremist narrative of Muslims and does not act to dismantle the stereotype. Christian writings have continued to put emphasis on the differences between Islam and Christianity, further creating the divide and fuelling anti-Islam ideologies. Instead, I want to focus on the common ground of Islamo-Christian civilisation and social cohesion – dismantling the notion of the ‘self’ and the ‘other’; and attempt to break down prejudicial views based on extremist Muslim identity stereotypes. Islamo-Christian Civilisation History, much like the media in the present day chooses to push the same dominant narrative of a raging war between Islam and Christianity. Christianity was viewed as the only ‘true’ religion, therefore making Islam a threat. The coinage of the ‘self’ and the ‘other’ emerged from these periods of religious conflict and have carried into present day Western civilisation (in the manifestation of Islamophobia). Yet, I can’t help but question whether this same notion of the ‘self’ and the ‘other’ would be so widely conceived if the incredible impact of Muslim civilisations and instances of peaceful relations during the Crusades and Al-Andalus were more extensively recognised? A very specific but incredibly important piece of history that is often left out of the Islamo-Christian narrative is Al-Andalus. This was a period of time in which Western countries (Sicily and Southern Italy) were under Muslim rule instead of Christian. Al-Andalus is recorded to have been a place of gradual cultural unity amongst Muslims and non-Muslims, where the Arabic language and the Arabo-Islamic culture were at the forefront. It was a significant civilisation in history – important in understanding the roots of cross-cultural fertilisation and idea transfer between Islam and Christianity. It is also exceptionally vital in negating the idea of the ‘self’ and the ‘other’ as it would more appropriately represent the ‘us’ in history. An additional factor in the dismantling of the ‘self’ and the ‘other’, is the historical ways in which Muslim rule in Spain transformed and shaped Western society, past and present. Transformations to; philosophy, theology, mathematics, chemistry, medicine, music, literature, manufacturing, and cuisine are only a portion of the known advancements to European life as a result of cross-culturalisation with Muslims in Spain. Without Muslim influence in the West, many of what Westerners enjoy and know today would not have come to term. Though much of the history between Islam and Christianity is buried in bloody wars and religious conflicts, not all of it is. The ‘self’ and the ‘other’ being one of the driving factors of Islamophobia in the West does not hold any weight when reviewing the following peaceful and fruitful cross-cultural civilisations, where in which the divide did not always exist. Vast Muslim Identities The Muslim identity is not one in the same for every Muslim in the West. Muslim identities are rich in diversity and can be categorised into typologies; legal traditionalists, political Islamists, secular Muslims, cultural nominalists, theological puritans, militant extremists, progressive Ijtihadis and, Sufis. However, the media and the Western society tends to portray and misidentify all Muslim’s as extremists due to growing Islamic terrorist attacks in the West – leading to the emergence of generalised Islamophobia. This, nonetheless, is factually incorrect. According to the Muslims in Australia survey only 3.3% of Muslims identified themselves as being militant (extremist), with a larger scale of 64.6% of liberal and 39.4% of progressive Muslims. These statistics are an incredibly vital aspect in dismantling the stereotype of all Muslims holding extremist views and classifying all Muslims into one category when that is quite literally impossible to justify. Westerners are categorising Muslims that have chosen to be progressive, creative, innovative, and open to Islam and the West with a small but loud group of puritanical Islamists. Imagine if someone you had no ties with was constantly doing the wrong thing, but you were facing the consequences for their actions – you were being harassed for the way you dress, you were being treated unfavourably by the law, when seeking employment, that you were afraid for yourself and your family simply because of your religion. Will History Ever Change? World, it’s time to wake up. In order for us to grow as a society, we have to address the issue. Official acknowledgement of the fact that Islamophobia exists and continues to devastate the lives of ordinary Muslims is required. I often hear the idea that history should stay in the past that we should learn from our wrong doings – and while this is the case for most of the violent history between Islam and Christianity, it is only half of the story. Instead, I too strongly urge us to remember our history. To acknowledge peaceful union between religions, cross-cultural pollination and to recognise that these histories can once again occur in modern day Western society. Different Muslim typologies and identities need to be taught and recognised. Generalising and punishing all Muslims for the actions of an extremely small group of extremist individuals does not create change – it only fuels the idea of the ‘self’ and the ‘other’. To reiterate, this history should be left in the past. We have the power to shape our lives. We have the power to shape the lives of those around us. We can do better. References Mourad, S. (2018). Understanding the Crusades from an Islamic perspective. The Conversation. Ozalp, M. (2017). Islamophobia is still raising its ugly head in Australia. The Conversation. Wahlquist, C. (2021). ‘Do I say anything or do I survive?’: Muslim Australians share experiences of Islamophobia. The Guardian. ----- Talia Clarke is an Education student at Griffith University aspiring to work in the High School English and History department. She is fervent about humanities as a subject and is interested in understanding how history continues to shape current day societies. URL: New Age Islam, Islam Online, Islamic Website, African Muslim News, Arab World News, South Asia News, Indian Muslim News, World Muslim News, Women in Islam, Islamic Feminism, Arab Women, Women In Arab, Islamophobia in America, Muslim Women in West, Islam Women and Feminism

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