Zoha Ziddiqui, Sidwell Friends '19 & Iman Hassen, Sidwell Friends '18

Islam is a religion based on the five principal pillars of Shahada, Salat, Zakat, Sawm, and Hajj. These pillars emphasize the importance of prayer, charity, religious devotion to Allah, and the holy pilgrimage of Hajj, which a Muslim is required to take once in his or her lifetime. One of the most prominent figures in Islam and in the Quran is the prophet Muhammad, a messenger sent down to Earth to guide the human race to the right path. The core teachings of Muhammad were that no one should harm themselves or anyone else, that actions should be judged by the intentions behind them, and that religious faith is only justified if it is used to spread love amongst all men and women. However, the name of Islam is currently being abused by terror-causing extremists, leading to a misinterpretation of the peaceful core values of Islam. Islamophobia, especially noticeable in the media, prevails today, and Muslim populations all over the world are being victimized as a result.

Each day, being a Muslim American becomes harder. The media is a source that is readily and universally accessible, so its content heavily shapes our perspectives of Islam. In the media, the violent nature of a small number of Muslim extremists are portrayed as representative of the entire Muslim community. Because of this, when I speak in class about a topic that relates to religion, I feel responsible not only for voicing my personal beliefs, but also for representing the entire Muslim community. I feel the same way in private discussions, and I am careful to talk about being Muslim in


a way that does not make it seem like I am “too” devoted to my religion for fear of being labeled as “extreme”. Although I am not afraid of pointing out people’s distorted views on Islam, I often feel as if my perspective is ignored and not valued. However, in order to create more awareness for the true meaning of Islam, I believe it is critical that we listen to those whose voices are the most knowledgeable and the most forgotten: Muslims.

With an increase in terrorist activity in which the name of Islam is misused, Islamophobia grows. As a Muslim in America, I constantly feel self-conscious of my actions even though I am not doing anything wrong. To reassure others of my innocence, I tell myself to act more “normal” and less “suspicious”. When I hear the words “terrorist” and “Muslim” used in the same headline, I know that the Islam portrayed in the media is completely different from the Islam that has taught me peace, justice, and compassion.

Islamophobia that has branched from misinterpretation is noticeable in the growing use of the word “Jihad” in violent contexts. The real meaning of Jihad is the religious duty of muslims to maintain their religion by educating the future generation about Islam and promoting its ideas. However, the term Jihad is being misused in the context of religious violence and war. When common misconceptions like this are promoted by the media and in everyday discussions, we must strive to listen to the voices of educated Muslims, as they are the only ones that are able to clarify false assumptions and provide alternate perspectives.

Islamophobia is also noticeable in stereotyping of Muslims. We are often stereotyped as dangerous, uneducated, and immoral. Furthermore, male Muslims with beards and female Muslims that wear hijabs are commonly stereotyped as “extreme”. As a result, many of my male Muslim friends and family members are afraid of growing beards because they do not want to be viewed as dangerous or as extremists. Personally, I don’t think there is any reason for anyone to be threatened by me. But, if I encounter someone who seems to be afraid of me, I just think they’re scared of my hijab and what it supposedly represents to them.

In order to create more awareness about what it truly means to be Muslim, we must be more willing to listen to Muslims and not automatically jump to the word “Islam” when talking about terrorists. Our religion is inevitably intertwined with our secular lives, but other people’s perspectives on our religion should not influence how we choose to dress, how long our men choose to grow their beards, or how often we choose to talk about our religion. We should be listened to rather than restricted. We should be appreciated for the uniqueness of our perspectives rather than disregarded. We are a united faith, but one that appreciates, respects, and welcomes people of all faiths. We believe in spreading peace, love, and compassion, and we hope that is what people think of when they hear “Islam.”