By: Mohamed Ghumrawi, Ph.D. student in International Relations
Islam is the fastest growing religion in the world. Yet here in the United States, it seems that Islam has become a topic filled with generalizations and misunderstandings. The events that took place on Sept. 11, 2001, not only changed the life of every American, they also dramatically changed the life of every Muslim American.
The days after 9/11 were the first times I ever experienced discrimination based on my religion. A classmate called me a “terrorist” once the names of the 19 hijackers were released. Since then, I have experienced the emergence of these so-called “Muslim” groups, such as Al-Qaeda and ISIS, claiming to be fighting in the name of Islam and Muslims everywhere.
I have pondered how the religion I was raised believing in as a child could possibly be the foundation for such horrendous acts. How can a religion with approximately 1.8 billion followers around the globe be considered violent?
The Islam I knew taught me to be peaceful, loving and open-minded; to respect my parents, respect my elders, and above all, to gain a knowledge and understanding of the world around me. Contrary to all of this, I saw the emergence and continued increase in anti-Muslim and anti-Islamic rhetoric in the United States.
As the years passed, I would eventually come to FIU as an undergraduate student. The mere fact that my name was Mohamed was enough to initiate a conversation. I suddenly found myself as a “defender” of Islam, battling stereotypes, generalizations and misinformation that became ubiquitous within Western media. I realized that Islam had been hijacked, and it was my obligation to set the record straight.
This year’s Geopolitical Summit — Contemporary Global Islam: Confronting Islamophobia in the U.S. and Abroad – is a perfect example of the kind of broad dialogue that is needed.
The media spreads a narrative which brings the most viewership, and politicians spread a narrative which brings them the most political gains. Consequently, these negative portrayals have led to an increase in Islamophobia within the United States and around the globe.
Presidential candidates openly state that a Muslim should never be president or that Muslims should be banned from entering the United States, all without any major consequences or without committing political suicide. Would the same be true if a different religious minority was targeted?
This is why it is so important for scholars, intellectuals and ordinary Muslims to push back against this rhetoric and initiate a discourse about Islam based on objective data and accurate facts.
Many Americans have never met a Muslim, let alone have a single Muslim friend. Starting the discussion about Islam and Islamophobia is a great way to promote greater understanding on a topic which is misunderstood not only in the United States, but in many parts of the world. It also exposes those who may otherwise never meet or speak with a Muslim to have an opportunity to do so.
It is time for Muslims to stand up and start combating the rise in Islamophobia based on false narratives, and it is time for those who may not be educated on Islam to start learning about it from an unbiased perspective.
Only through education, compassion and mutual understanding can our society begin building bridges between communities rather than reinforcing divisions.
FIU’s Sixth Geopolitical Summit, featuring religious scholar and former CNN commentator Reza Aslan, will be held Tuesday at 9:30 a.m. in the Graham Center Ballrooms. The event is sponsored by the Steven J. Green School of International and Public Affairs, the Muslim World Studies Program, Middle East Studies Program and Department of Religious Studies. To register, click here.