Living in North America as a Muslim isn't fun and games right now. In both the U.S. and Canada, Muslims face real scrutiny, fanned by politicians out to earn xenophobic votes and media folk out to sell copies. And that doesn't even speak to the well-financed hate groups whose livelihoods depend on maligning Muslims and their faith. Muslims today must face the sort of onslaught that hasn't been directed against a religious minority in North America for decades. And that's something that should worry us all.
At the heart of the religious discrimination against Muslims lies a lack of basic education on not only Muslims and Islam, but also on history, society and politics more generally. Yes, there's work to be done within the Muslim communities of both the U.S. and Canada, specifically in encouraging their greater participation in civil society and in community outreach. That will help. But broader North American society, on both sides of the border, needs to get to grips with five key misconceptions if it wants to contribute to a clean, prejudice-free society which we want our kids to grow up in:
1. Those Muslims, they are something outside of us, they're not part of us.
Muslims have lived in the U.S.and Canada since before either country achieved national independence. The first Muslim presence in what is now the U.S. dates to 1528, and in what is now Canada, in 1854. Muslims are not only the third largest religious community in the U.S. and the second largest in Canada, but their contribution to their respective countries has been integral to the development of the national consciousness through the likes of Muhammad Ali and Malcolm X. Millions of America's and Canada's Muslims don't see home in Asia or Africa but in the streets of New York, Toronto and small towns across North America.
2. Muslims are more violent than are other communities.
Listing the world's countries by homicides per capita, you'd find no Muslim country in the top 20. The highest ranked Muslim country is Nigeria, ranked 25th at 20 per 100,000. The world's most populous Muslim country, Indonesia, has a homicide per capita rate of 0.6 per 100,000 which compares to 4.7 in the U.S. and 1.6 in Canada. And in any case, some 40 per cent of all violent crimes in the U.S. are alcohol-related. For those who don't know, very, very few Muslims drink alcohol since the faith prohibits it.
3. OK, but most Muslims are terrorists, right?
In North American society, media and politics, a "terrorist" is defined as somebody who commits a violent crime, which is politically or ideologically motivated and who professes a Muslim self-identity. The de facto use of "terrorist" in North America is for Muslims alone. Tim McVeigh wasn't labeled a terrorist. Nor was Anders Breivik. And hey, Dylann Roof who massacred nine church-goers in Charleston as part of a broader effort to decimate a race was wasn't labeled a terrorist either. The only time North American politicians and media folk use the word "terrorist" is for a Muslim.
4. OK, but Islam is associated with violence and terror, right?
Besides the fact that the Qur'an repeatedly stresses that the only legitimate use of violence is for self-defence, and that Mohammed only ever fought his three battles in self-defence, Islam is not associated with any of the most barbaric atrocities in human history. In fact, some of the worst atrocities in human history have been done in Christianity's name. The genocide of Native Americans saw some 50 million deaths, while Hitler's Nazi Germany may have killed up to 20 million. Both invoked Christianity ... yes they did, both fought in the name of Christianity! If Muslims don't see Christianity through the lens of atrocities committed in Christianity's name, why should anyone see Islam or Muslims through the polemics of the tiny minority in Islam's lunatic fringe?
5. How about Jihad? How about Holy War? What about that then?
Jihad as in the Qur'an refers to "sustained effort," more broadly to do good and prevent evil. It has absolutely no association with violence. It is merely the act of trying to do the right thing, unlike how the Western media have used it. And Islam has no concept of Holy War. In fact, no war is holy in Islam, though the only wars that are sanctioned are those for self-defence and only until the aggressor party has stopped its aggression, at which point war becomes illegal. The very first Holy Wars were undertaken by Christianity, and became famous with the Catholic Church's attacks on the multi-ethnic and multi-religious community of Jerusalem -- the Crusades which began in 1095 and ended in 1291.
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