Monday, 25 April 2011

Illinois Muslims Dispel Stereotypes


illinoisFeeling the pinch of growing hostility in American society, Muslim students at Illinois State University are trying to reach out to their colleagues and the local community to clear misconceptions. “When you interact with someone, it’s hard to stereotype them,” Sarmad Gilani, 2010 graduate of Illinois State University, told The Pantagraph website on Saturday, April 23. Growing up in Bloomington, Gilani did not experience any problems growing up as a Muslim in the Twin Cities.
Instead of living in a closed community, he chose to interact with the wider community to give a clear message about Islam and dispel stereotypes.

Preaching the same message, the Muslim Student Association at Illinois State University (ISU) held a panel to discuss the issue.

Held under the title “You Have Questions, We Have Answers!”, the panel, organized in ISU’s Old Main Room, is part of a two-day event organized by Muslim students.

The event also included a free showing of the movie “Abraham’s Children.”

Since 9/11, US Muslims, estimated between six to seven million, have become sensitized to an erosion of their civil rights, with a prevailing belief that America was stigmatizing their faith.

Anti-Muslim frenzy has grown sharply in the US in recent months over plans to build a mosque near the site of the 9/11 attacks in New York, resulting in attacks on Muslims and their property.

In Hollywood, the world's cinema industry hub, Muslims and Arabs usually play the stereotypical blood-thirst terrorists or the uncivilized and greedy.

The head of the Union for Reform Judaism (URJ), America's largest Jewish movement, has accused US media of demonizing Islam and portraying Muslims as "satanic figures."

A 2007 survey by Pew Research Center and the Pew Forum found that the majority of Americans know very little about the practices of Islam.

It indicated that attitudes toward Muslims and Islam have grown more negative in recent years.

Misconceptions

The Muslim students’ panel aims at dispelling stereotypes that usually revolve around Islam, mainly terrorism and women’s rights.

Donning hijab, Anam Kazim is often asked about the outfit since she moved to the US from Pakistan in 2006.

“I wear it because of my religion, but I wear it because I want to,” said Kazim, a panel member and current vice president of the Muslim Student Association.

Kazim defended her right to wear hjiab as a personal choice.

“No one, not even when I was in Pakistan, made me wear it,” she said.

Gilani confirmed that Islam has long championed women’s rights.

“When it comes to the truth of Islam, women can own property, they can marry whomever they want and they do have the right to divorce,” added Gilani.

He added that politicians have resorted to attacking Islam to gain votes in elections.

Such a change was posing a new challenge for Muslims to prove themselves in their local societies.

“People with political agendas can use fear to advance themselves,” he said.

“With that, Muslims seem to have to prove themselves.”

US Muslims have been sensing a growing hostility following a hearing presented by representative Peter King on what he described as “radicalization” of US Muslims.

Lawmakers in at least 13 states have introduced proposals forbidding local judges from considering Shari`ah when rendering verdicts on issues of divorces and marital disputes.

Recently, a Republican Missouri lawmaker described Islam as a disease like polio while another Alaska Rep. branded Muslims as ‘occupiers’ of American neighborhoods.

Condemning repeated attacks, the grassroots Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) called last March on the Republicans to end fear mongering campaigns targeting Islam, urging all moderate lawmakers to stand up to the US anti-discrimination principles.

Attending the event, Richard G. Watts, who described himself as a “retired Christian minister”, said he hopes to overcome Muslims’ stereotyping in America.

He said he hoped it was “only a matter of time” until Muslim stereotypes cease and hopes more people would get involved in the dialogue.

“I would like to see a day where a program like this is announced and the room is full,” said Watts.

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