Wednesday, July 13, 2011

How has the politicization of Islam blemished its religious purpose?

Humans are quick to connote words to their most recent memory or experience, often resulting in stereotypes. Therefore, when faced with the words (or relating to) Islam- society's perception is based on recent events- such as the attacks on 9/11. Islam is quick to be deemed as a threat to the Western world, and one of the causes for this is due to past events involving the Muslim society being militant.

In the article, "Dominant Western Perceptions of Islam and the Muslims", Dr. Chandra Muzaffer states, "Today, the mainstream Western media portrays Islam or what it describes as 'militant Islam' or 'fundamentalist Islam' as a threat to the west". The article further presents the idea that Islam is "news of a particularly unpleasant sort". This is true, but not many people find it easy to present the idea why it is unpleasant news. It seems as if in today's society, media has continued to pinpoint the Islamic world as a representation of religious politics. One of the most infamous reasons is the attacks on September 11th. Airplane hijackings by Islamic terrorists led to crashing into the World Trade Center in New York City.

The definition of terrorism according to The American Heritage College Dictionary is: the unlawful use or threatened use of force or violence to intimidate or coerce societies or governments, often for political or ideological reasons. I find the term "militant" Islam or a Muslim terrorist, not only contradictory- but, in essence, unworthy to be said. How are we to trust someone who doesn't even know the correct pronunciation of the word "Muslim", to define "Islam" for us? This is one of the biggest problems we face with religion- authority. Now, being a Muslim American (there's a difference if I'm an American Muslim), I struggle to define my own religion. This problem exists due to the fact that the title I give myself contains so many controversial aspects, but it truly defines which definition/point of view reigns supreme. As a Muslim, who is faithful and defensive of his religion, I define Islam as what I believe it truly is- a monotheistic faith with the sole purpose of it's "Shahadah"- to serve Allah (God) by following the five pillars of faith and the three categories of Tawhid (doctrine of Oneness). However, as an American, Islam is simply a major religion that has been a part of a violent history. When combined together, I am a Muslim American, someone who knows both sides of the argument, but is a Muslim first- American second.

I never heard of the term terrorism until it was associated with my religion and the region my family is from- the Middle East. My experience in Pakistan reflects around one memory- when I went to the bazaar (market) with my family. Imagine walking amidst thousands of people in a market made of confusing roadways, almost seeming to lead you nowhere - in the country where well over 50% of the world's terrorists reside, and 97% of the population is Muslim. One could imagine the stereotypical, statistic-based fear I faced, especially after the attacks of 9/11. Walking among this crowd of people, I was carrying a glass bottle of Coke. The glass bottle slipped out of my hand, crashed on the bare pavement, and the shards of glass sliced my toes. I screamed. In the blink of an eye, a crowd of at least 30 to 40 people surrounded me. You would imagine they would react violently, especially after hearing a loud shriek. But no, instead, they asked me how I was and if I was okay. Some began to run to the local shop for first aid, others began to ask my Dad if they should call for medical help. Soon, one man came with bandages and fixed me all up. Shocked at the reactions of the people, I was unable to even say thank you. After these experiences, I am forced to believe that the people of Pakistan are just like anyone else- down-to-earth.

The experience of 9/11 that every American faced had an equal first impression on America as Pakistan had on me. Many Americans, including Muslims themselves, began to view Islam as a cruel religion, and all terrorists- as Muslims. With that in mind, I believe that first impressions lead people to connote specific words to their experiences. The attacks on 9/11 were devastating, and the U.S. government claimed to have proof that the attacks were taken by Islamic terrorists. This first impression influenced some people that Islam is a religion that promotes violence.

A stereotype is a common generalization of a person, thing, etc. In today's society, Muslims are the pinpoint of stereotypical beliefs- often resulting from misnomers. The misnomer of calling a Muslim a "Muhammadan", which is offensive to a Muslim; the misnomer of calling a Muslim an "Islamist", which is generally the shortened term for Muslim terrorist- all lead people to wrong perceptions of the religion. These perceptions are caused by Islam always being in association with terroristic acts like suicide bombing, etc.

Though many terms have been corrupted by connotations, there is one in particular that connotes to suicide bombers- and that word is Muslim. The meaning of Muslim is “one who submits to God”. In truth, that literally means a believer of Islam. However, when many are asked about the first thing that comes to their mind when they are given the word 'Muslim', they reply with answers such as 9/11, London bombings, Madrid train bombings, Al Qaeda, terrorism, suicide bombers, anti-tolerance, Sharia law, oppressed women- coincidentally most of the topics that the media covers about the religion of Islam. This is because the mainstream media only covers what makes news interesting, because it seems nobody wants to hear about the Muslim father who went to the mosque and prayed for his daughter who was told to remove her hijab (scarf) because of a "national security policy.” Nobody is interested in listening about this girl and her father who at the DMV were yelled at to “go back to Afghanistan”. This innocent 16-year-old driver, who was of Arab-American heritage, was so traumatized that she broke down in tears. 

When was the last time the news covered a story about a Muslim being hurt? The media makes it seem like these things don’t happen, but Muslims everyday are hurt because of the connotations that have left their religion in shame.

To eliminate stereotypical connotations, one must understand the denotation of the term Islam. Now, if ONE Muslim is a terrorist, this shouldn't imply that Islam is a violent religion. The fact that the media too frequently labels terrorists as Muslims is what caused a bad perception of the whole. It's like saying Microsoft is a bad company just because a couple computers that were sold turned out to be defective. There is no logical argument in that statement. According to the Qu'ran, Islam literally means submission, referring to submitting to Allah (God). Allah is the Arabic translation of God. Lack of promoting denotations of Arabic terms like Allah and Islam are the reason so many people create misnomers regarding the religion.

When limited to only certain amount of perceptions that the media portrays, one is quick to connote terms like Muslim and Jihad to recent events. Unfortunately, the media often forgets, or in conspiracy - intentionally leaves out the other side of the story, especially evident with the case of Islam. This leads to a blemished observation of what the religion really is, and what political movements have led it to become.

-That's the TFAT.


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