Religion has been in the headlines lately, but for Islam none of the press seems to be good. Between travel bans to Muslim majority countries to “radical Islamic terrorists” becoming a prominent term, a lot of lines have been blurred between what Islam actually is and what it is not.
The Muslim Student Association (MSA) noticed some of these misconceptions starting to appear, and decided to use their place on campus to tear as many of them down as possible. The MSA had one speaker talk about what the word “jihad” actually means and another that started a discussion on feminism in Islam.
On Mar. 9 at 3 p.m. in CC 232, the MSA is having a meeting that centers around a discussion about the misconceptions of Islam. The MSA encourages all the students who want to learn more about Islam and Muslims to attend.
Non-Muslims tend to believe that the hijab, niqab or burqa are signs that Muslim women are oppressed in some way. They see the veils as being forced onto the women to lower their status below a man’s. In a survey conducted among 124 of the students at the college, 39 percent of students said they believe that Muslim women are inherently oppressed. 45 percent of students said that they think Muslim women are forced to cover themselves by using a hijab or something similar.
Student Ana Smith said she believes that some Muslim women must cover up based on people she knows.
“I’ve known some Muslim students and I’ve heard different stories where they’re kind of still pressured by the society,” Smith said. “Just hearing about it from students here and just knowing what’s going [on] around the world… it depends on the family. I know there’s a lot of family pressure [to wear the hijab].”
For the women in the MSA and other Muslim women, the misconceptions of being oppressed or forced to wear a hijab aren’t based in truth. Wearing a hijab is a proud symbol for women in Islam, it can show their devotion and love they hold for their religion. Student Wafaa Younes said that wearing the hijab was a choice that was given to her, not one that was forced onto her.
“I am an American Muslim who wears the Hijab,” Younes said. “I was never forced. I choose to wear it as part of my obedient to God and Islam.”
MSA president Abrish Afaq Malik said that when she lived in Pakistan she, nor any of the other women who lived there, wore a hijab. When she moved to America, she decided to wear the hijab because that’s what she thought American Muslim women did. Now, Afaq Malik couldn’t imagine not having it on.
Afaq Malik talked about how in America, the women who wear the hijab don’t have a governmental law that forces them to put it on. All of the women that she knows do it out of love and respect for their religion, not because they have to.
Afaq Malik thinks the weirdest part of wearing a hijab is the questions that people ask. She says she has been asked whether she sleeps and showers with her hijab on, to which Afaq Malik can’t help but laugh. She finds it ridiculous that people want to shame her for her decision to wear the hijab, since it’s completely her choice.
“If people have a right to be on a beach wearing absolutely nothing, you should have a right to wear what you want to wear and decide how much you want to cover your body,” Afaq Malik said.
Another big issue that Muslims tend to face is the idea that they are the enemies of the Western world. The idea that Islam is a religion that promotes violence or that being Muslim means you are a terrorist is a misconception.
When asked, some students said they believed that Muslims have a harder time being able to live in a Western country and practice their religions. Some students said that this was because of growing tensions, their religion isn’t respected in other cultures or even that they just don’t fit into the type of lifestyle the Western countries tend to promote.
“I believe Muslims will continue to have difficulty living in this country, especially in the light of the new presidency,” student Isabel Engelbert said. “The US has created the stereotype of ‘Muslim Terrorist’ as a common enemy and scapegoat for the culture- even though the US created the conditions for the first radical terrorism coming out of those countries.”
The hardest part for some Muslim students is trying to relay to others that the religion they practice is not the one that terrorists groups spread. They want to tear down the idea of what a good and bad Muslim looks like, because to them, terrorists aren’t honoring the teachings and principles of Islam.
“Some people don’t share what they believe,” Afaq Malik said. “They’re going to be nice to you, super sweet, but they’ll still think that ‘oh you’re the nice Muslims, and then there’s the bad Muslims.’ And it’s like, if they’re ‘bad’ then they’re not Muslims. Terrorists aren’t Muslim… but I think that’s what the media tells people to believe.”
The important thing Muslim students want to express to the others is that it’s okay to have different religions, and it’s okay to search for answers to the ‘stupid questions.’ The first step to ending misconceptions is to understand the other side.
“I want people to come up to me and not be scared and just say, ‘hey I want to ask you something and it might hurt your feelings or be a bit controversial, but can you answer it?’” Afaq Malik said. “Just ask whatever you want to ask instead of just trusting the media or listening to your friends and believing stuff. I love to answer people and I love it when they actually ask to understand me and not judge me off of things that aren’t right.”