stereotyping

Should You Be Scared of Muslims?

Throughout history, there have been far too many groups of people who firmly believed that they should murder en masse because their god ordained it. I can hardly write that sentence without shuddering with utter bemusement, disbelief, disgust, horror, and anger. 

We are a young and dumb species. 

Our collective hubris only makes it more obvious. More of that later. First, let’s discuss stereotyping. 

The Problem With Stereotyping

Stereotyping is lazy. Allow me to elaborate with a fictional character named Karen.  

Karen is visiting the U.S. from Australia and is boarding a plane to Kansas City from Chicago. Unfortunately, that day she had a very bad migraine, had recently quit smoking, and genuinely disliked most people. She stole coloring books from a couple of deaf children, flipped off an elderly woman who was having trouble with her luggage, and told a flight attendant who had just finished a double shift that she looked bloated. 

Karen is a true bitch. 

She sat beside a middle-aged man named Bill and gave him such a stink-eye that he felt his face turning brown. Bill had never met anyone from Australia, but after being kicked in the shin for trying to talk to her he knew exactly what ALL Australian women were like. 

With that one anecdote, Bill would talk at length about how horrible Australian women are around the dinner table, despite the fact that his interaction with Australian women was nil. According to http://countrymeters.info/en/Australia, there are 12,209,117 women in Australia. Is Bill justified in making a blanket statement about 0.00000819060051599145% of women in Australia? 

No, of course not. If you think so, then you should quietly put away your electronic device and reach for a coloring book with very large shapes that are easy to color in. Please don’t steal the coloring books from deaf children, because that’s very wrong whether you're religious or not.

It's simply easier to say that an entire group of people is one way or another. I know I do it from time to time, especially when I write about how cool a particular culture is, like Thai culture. (Thai people are truly amazing, btw). 

But really I'm just being lazy when I make blanket statements like that. Based on anecdotal cumulative experience, those who have lived in Thailand have more authority to speak on such matters. Even then, there will be biases and modes of thought colored by personal experience. Anthropological arguments are hard to make using a priori statements. 

Throughout the years in our short human history, we have preferred black and white, binary, good or bad, us vs. them. 

Well guess what? Life is not always clearly "this" or "that." Are you fully good or fully bad? Is every Muslim a terrorist? Is every American bombastic like Trump? Is the nation of France filled with only stuck-up assholes? Are all Canadians super nice? 

It's hard enough to say that 20 people in a room are one certain thing, let alone millions, or in the case of Muslims, billions. It's this incredibly narrow “everything is black or white” way of thinking that provides a tributary to an ocean of insane rhetoric used by politicians and many others. Have you ever heard the expression "We should just nuke em”? Or, "Let's just drop a bomb on that whole country”? And recently, "Let's make it illegal for Muslims to enter the country”?

Let's make it illegal for those who are part of the second-largest religion in the world to enter the country? Let's just shut the door to 23% of the world? Good thing Muslims by and large are a peace loving people; otherwise, I'm pretty sure we'd be fucked. Maybe we are anyway considering our presidential candidates (written June 2016). 

I’ve done a lot of searching, and I just can’t find any conclusive evidence regarding what percentage of Muslims are deranged murderous lunatics, more commonly known as radicals or extremists. The question presented is always, “Well, what constitutes a radical? Can they merely condone terrorist attacks, or do they need to be actively attacking?” Good question. Quite honestly, depending on what shitty blog you end up on (including this one), you can get a range from 0.00006% to 99.9%. 

So what do we do with that? I don’t know, I’m still trying to understand all of this too.

Before we go further, what exactly is a Muslim? Great question!

*Disclaimer: I am not an expert on the religion of Islam. I will try my best to present an unbiased, factually based synopsis for you. 

Mus·lim

ˈməzləm,ˈmo͝ozləm/

noun

1. 1.
a follower of the religion of Islam.
 

adjective

1. 1.
of or relating to the Muslims or their religion.

OK, that doesn’t help very much. Let’s find out what the definition of Islam is. 

Is·lam

isˈläm,izˈläm/

noun

1. the religion of the Muslims, a monotheistic faith regarded as revealed through Muhammad as the Prophet of Allah.

    * the Muslim world.

- Merriam Webster Dictionary

OK, maybe we need some more help in figuring out what it means to be a Muslim. Here is my very condensed version of Islam, based on what I’ve read. I apologize for any errors or information left out (please let me know via email if there’s something extremely erroneous). 

Muhammad, born 570 CE, was orphaned at an early age, later became a merchant, and married an older widow when he was 25. He had no formal education. He was known to go into the mountains to meditate and pray, and when he was 40, things got real. According to followers of the religion, the archangel Gabriel appeared to Muhammad in a vision when he was 40, which turned out to be the first of many such visions over a period of many years. The content of the visions was put together to form the Qur’an. See History World for additional information.   

The Qur’an is considered to be the verbatim word of God by Muslims. It was compiled by Muhammad’s companions after his death in 632 CE. The version we see today, as I understand it, was put together by Uthman, the third caliph and friend of Muhammad’s.

In addition the Qur’an, Muslims are advised to read: the Torah (which are the first five books of the Old Testament), the Zabur (which are the Psalms of David), and the Injeel (the gospel of Christ). http://www.christiananswers.net/islam.html

OK, so we have Muhammad, and we have his revelations put together in a religious text. From around 600-something to now it has grown from 1 follower (his first wife Khadijah) to approximately 1.6 billion or so today. And you know what? It’s still growing. 

So how the hell did some Muslims start getting into terrorism? I’m afraid that question is a bit above my pay grade, but there is a pretty decent, heavily cited Wikipedia article that delves into the reasons, which you can peruse at your own leisure: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Islamic_terrorism. At a glance, it appears to be a mixture of revenge, deranged ideology, micro-societal pressure, and lost youth being plucked to join a community of like-minded people. 

It’s kind of like one big gang with confident idiots telling lost idiots what they should do and believe. One thing that I keep reading over and over again is that the terrorists themselves are often not really religious, or they’re at least illiterate when it comes to really understanding a sacred text like the Qur’an or the Bible. 

Additional relevant sites: 

  • http://mb-soft.com/public/terroris.html
  • https://www.quora.com/Which-passage-s-from-the-Quran-is-are-used-by-Islamic-terrorist-group-to-justify-their-acts

At this point it may be worth going over what Islam is actually about. The following was obtained from http://www.gotquestions.org/Islam.html

The Doctrine of Islam

Muslims summarize their doctrine in six articles of faith:

  1. Belief in one Allah: Muslims believe Allah is one, eternal, creator, and sovereign.
  2. Belief in the angels
  3. Belief in the prophets: The prophets include the biblical prophets but end with Muhammad as Allah’s final prophet.
  4. Belief in the revelations of Allah: Muslims accept certain portions of the Bible, such as the Torah and the Gospels. They believe the Qur'an is the preexistent, perfect word of Allah. 
  5. Belief in the last day of judgment and the hereafter: Everyone will be resurrected for judgment into either paradise or hell.
  6. Belief in predestination: Muslims believe Allah has decreed everything that will happen. Muslims testify to Allah’s sovereignty with their frequent phrase, inshallah, meaning, “if God wills.”

The Five Pillars of Islam

These five tenets compose the framework of obedience for Muslims:

  1. The testimony of faith (shahada): “la ilaha illa allah. Muhammad rasul Allah.” This means, “There is no deity but Allah. Muhammad is the messenger of Allah.” A person can convert to Islam by stating this creed. The shahada shows that a Muslim believes in Allah alone as a deity and believes that Muhammad reveals Allah.
  2. Prayer (salat): Five ritual prayers must be performed every day. 
  3. Giving (zakat): This almsgiving is a certain percentage given once a year.
  4. Fasting (sawm): Muslims fast during Ramadan in the ninth month of the Islamic calendar. They must not eat or drink from dawn until sunset.
  5. Pilgrimage (hajj): If physically and financially possible, a Muslim must make the pilgrimage to Mecca in Saudi Arabia at least once. The hajj is performed in the twelfth month of the Islamic calendar.

Killing in the name of….

You know, this killing in the name of stuff has been around for quite some time. People have been murdered in the name of many a religion or religious sect. How many people have been killed in the name of religion (check this out for some interesting answers: https://www.quora.com/Which-religion-is-responsible-for-the-greatest-number-of-deaths-of-infidels-over-its-entire-history)? Let’s go a step further and forget about religion. Just what kind of killing has gone on in human history? The simple answer is: a LOT.

Genghis Kahn. Tamerlane. Shaka Zulu. Lothar Von Trotha. Christopher Columbus. Julio Argentino Roca. Jean-Jacques Dessalines. Don Ignacio Zuniga. Ngāti Mutunga and Ngāti Tama. Rafael Trujillo. Adolf Hitler. Joseph Stalin. Mao Zedong. The list goes on and on. Countless massacres. Countless. Many if not most instances of genocide were started in the mind of one man. 

Let that sink in.

One person was somehow able to influence a vast number of people to commit unthinkable acts of violence. One person.

When are we going to learn that just because someone speaks with an air of authority it does not mean that any authority should be bestowed? When will we learn that despite the fact that someone appears to be working for us in perilous times, what they require of us is our dignity? Of course, it’s more complex than that, I know. However, we have played our part as sheep very well throughout history. Our longing to be part of the tribe often outweighs any true and original thought.

Ugh…I think that may have to be another article. 

You think your country is free from genocide? I doubt it. Check this out: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Genocides_in_history

Why am I putting all this information in here? Because this shit is not new. Based on the logic used to talk about ALL Muslims in certain parts of the U.S., no one should be allowed in the country. Maybe the Janists…they’re probably alright, but who the hell knows. 

Here are some interesting facts you may not have been aware of:

The majority of deaths from terrorism do not occur in the West. Excluding the September 11 attack, only 0.5 per cent of deaths from terrorism have occurred in the West since 2000. Including September 11, the percentage reaches 2.6. 
Lone wolf attackers are the main perpetrators of terrorist activity in the West. Seventy percent of all deaths from terrorism in the West since 2006 were by lone wolf terrorists with the rest being unknown or group attacks by more than three attackers. 
Islamic fundamentalism was not the main cause of terrorism in the West over the last nine years. Eighty per cent of deaths by lone wolf terrorists in the West were driven by right wing[sic] extremism, nationalism, anti-government sentiment and political extremism and other forms of supremacy. 

- Global Terrorism Index, 2015 

My Narrow Anecdotal Experience With Muslims

I was in Kota Kinabalu, Malaysia, which is located on the island Borneo. I decided to go for a run in the heat one day because I needed the clarity that Matthew Inman talked about in his post "The Terrible and Wonderful Reasons Why I Run Long Distances." 

Along the way I was stopped by a few girls who were all wearing Hijabs (you can use 22Words.com as a reference point to know which headscarf is which). I fumbled with my earbuds, trying to switch them off so I could tell what they were saying. The sweat was already beginning to drip heavily on the steaming cement, but no one seemed to care. They were wanting to know if I had time for an interview. "For a class?" I queried, to which they answered yes.

I always take the time to answer questions when I'm stopped by students, for a number of reasons. One reason is that I want to immediately shatter any derogatory paradigms they may have regarding all citizens of the U.S. Granted, there are a great number of narrow-minded assholes in the U.S., but there is also an abundance of extremely kind and cool people. I always hope to represent the more "let's all chill and hang out together" side. Yes, people from all over the world stereotype. It happens to be one of those universal things us humans do. 

The girls were Muslim, wearing the proper Muslim attire despite the heat. They asked me about 5 questions, but 3 stood out to me. One was, "Do you think it's inappropriate for us to wear headdresses when it's so hot outside? Another was, "Would you be okay with your mom becoming Muslim?" And finally, "Do you feel threatened when you see someone wearing a headdress?" 

In answer to the first question, I just stated that if it's a tenet of the religion, then it doesn't really matter whether it's appropriate or comfortable. This is aside from what I think of religion altogether, which is something I won't be discussing in this article.

For the second I said sure, I'd fully support my mother if she suddenly decided to follow Islam. I'd fully support and love my mother regardless of ANY religion she belonged to. Perhaps if I were a devout anything my views would be different. 

For the third, I replied honestly and said that I did not feel threatened. And I don't. This one made me think a bit, though. 

Prior to that conversation, I had already made some great Muslim friends, but it made me look back to when I first started interacting with those who followed Islam. 

I love talking with people, but I wondered how I should address the women in headdresses. It's pretty obvious, at least with the Muslim women I interacted with in Malaysia; treat them with dignity and respect, just like you would any other human. What I suppose I was really wondering about was whether it was even inappropriate to smile at a girl, or God forbid flirt a bit? 

When I stayed in the Kinabalu National Park at Mile 34 lodge, I was fortunate to be able to speak with a large group of Muslim men and women. It. was. amazing. They were just really cool and fun to hang out with. 

With the guys, it wasn't as apparent that they were Muslim. One I met in Kuala Lumpur was an inventor, incredibly intelligent and inquisitive. And I would've had no idea that he was Muslim if he hadn't told me that he needed to go pray after getting a smartphone reminder to do so. 

A guy in Kota Kinabalu from Pakistan talked both of my ears off after a run. I was in his store, standing there incredibly sweaty and somewhat smelly. The Nebraska in me wouldn't let me just say see ya sucka! He felt it was his duty to buy me a Snickers because we talked for so long. Others came and went while he and I discoursed. He spoke fervently, and I did too. He seemed to have this intense need to educate me on Islamic matters. 

He definitely had opinions regarding the American government, as most people in the world do. He wasn't always on point, and I always defend my country when someone says something out of ignorance about it. America is wayyyy too multifaceted to be crammed into a Trump box. 

A really interesting thing that I learned from him was that he found many of the American people to be genuine and caring. He was from Pakistan and said that the American people showed great support for the Pakistani people during the earthquake of 2005. The government was not to be trusted in the least, however. He didn't care for Obama at all. 

There was one conversation I had with a girl who told me that she believed Americans were loud, arrogant, and Trump-like (yes, stereotyping). I assured her this was not the case. I, for one, was not like that (if I ever become like that I give every person who reads this full permission to slap me as hard as you possibly can). This led to a discussion about America imposing itself all over the world, kind of like that drunk guy on the dance floor trying to get with every girl within reach. I had to agree that I had seen FAR too many KFC’s and 711’s on my journeys throughout SE Asia. I admit that I’m extremely ignorant when it comes to international trade and commerce, so if you know something that should be added here, please comment or send me an email. Or, I suppose you could just think, “This is shit, I’m going back to work,” and that’s fine too. 

Anyway. I want to change the paradigm that all Americans are overbearing bombastic assholes. How? How how how. Hollywood, you now have a new moral objective my friends. 

One paradigm at a time. First, time to change the way some Americans view 1/6 of the WHOLE WORLD.

You know what? Seriously, Muslims are just people going about their lives: they work, have shitty bosses like the rest of us, have sex, don't have sex, eat (except during the day during Ramadan), laugh, cry, and generally live like most people in the world. And what are most people in the world doing? They're trying to get by. They're trying to live their lives the best way they know how. 

For better or worse, America does exert 

The Muslims who I met have nothing to do with terrorist factions, and if I had to make an educated guess, I would say that the overwhelming majority of Muslims don't. When I say nothing, I mean nothing. So those of you who think all Muslims are terrorists, you are absolutely wrong.

I really hope that no one ever says what I’m about to say, but I have a feeling that there are a few people who do. It goes something like this: “We should just get rid of all the Muslims in the world.” If anyone thinks like that, then you are essentially saying a few things:

  • You think genocide is OK
  • You believe in mass murder and are just like the terrorists
  • You want to kill MY FRIENDS
  • You are a complete fucking idiot 

I asked a couple of my Muslim friends some questions. I’ve included the questions and paraphrased answers below.

1. What are some things that are most misunderstood by Westerners (or anyone not affiliated with the religion) about being a Muslim?

To be fair, not all things are misunderstood by Westerners, but the main things would be the terms of “jihad,” “hudud law” and “polygamy.” But most of the time, the perspective will change. For example, if we dig a bit more into polygamy, we can find that in the past it was a significant criterion for being a Muslim, but not for personal pleasure, of course.  

2. How do you think people who are not Muslim see you? Do you feel like you would be accepted everywhere? Please explain why you would or would not feel accepted in some places.

In Malaysia, we do just fine. But for an example, if we traveled to the United States, I think most people would actually feel a little uncomfortable, especially around the women because they tend to wear hijabs to cover their aurah. Before the 9-11 tragedy, I don’t think it was a problem. What do you think? 

3. What is the best way to make others more aware of what you represent as a Muslim? 

Respect towards every religion in the world. Because we have to actually believe that all religions teach peace and harmony. If we don’t know something, we should ask, and ask the right people rather than Googling and making assumptions. 

4. If you were speaking with someone who interpreted verses in the Qur’an as justification for murder, what would you tell them? 

I think the way we interpret verses can vary from person to person. Again, we need to refer to the experts. 

5. What do you think is the biggest issue with the way some Westerners view Islam? 

Terrorism. Here in Southeast Asia, we live peacefully.

So, should you be scared of Muslims? I guess if you’re scared of people who practice religion (the majority of the world), then sure. But I think that’s more your problem than anyone else’s. 

Additional recommended resources:

  • http://www.religioustolerance.org/islam.htm
  • http://listverse.com/2009/07/10/top-10-misconceptions-about-islam/