Advice on How Not to Sound Like a Religious Bigot, from a Muslim Who Isn’t a Terrorist

This should be obvious: Don’t hold an entire religion responsible for the actions of a few radicals.

Lately, religious slander has been following us Muslims everywhere; and most of us are sick of being subjected to degrading remarks and false statements about the nature of our religion. Acts of terrorism (especially those committed by supposedly Muslim terrorists) have wreaked havoc on many nations and communities, tearing apart families and killing innocent people, including Muslims, which is paradoxical considering ISIS claims to represent Islam. The so-called “Islamic” State portrays Muslims in the worst way possible. And major news channels are no help, either.

Sure, there are some aspects of Islam that have to be adapted to the 21st century if we are to exist in the modern world, but the same can be said about Christian and Jewish scripture.

I came up with a few tips, based on my personal experience, to help people sound less offensive and more informed when talking about Islam (or any religion really).

I’m not about to lay out my arguments as well as Plato or in any way try to provide a normative moral theory. This is simply advice from a non-terrorist Muslim to you. Here it goes:

1. Don’t try to discuss a religion with someone unless you’re sure what you’re talking about.

Think: did I just make this information up in this brilliant brain of mine, or do I have evidence to support this claim I’m making? Lots of people like to say Islam is a religion that promotes violence or that Muslims seek to impose their beliefs on or convert everyone. People say these things because they’re not only ignorant, but because these ideas are broadcast so often on social media and news that they’re drilled into our heads. When you hear something time and time again – in this case, that “Islam is violent”– you begin to believe it’s true. So to stop ignorance from spreading like wildfire, don’t slander any religion, or even your annoying coworker for that matter; your claims must be backed by facts.

2. Be somewhat educated about the religious topics you talk about.

This is similar to the first one, if not the same thing... Oh well. If you don’t understand something about a religion or are unclear about Sharia Law, research it. Ask someone who does know. Living in an age dominated by technology and immediacy has made us lazy, but Googling a term only takes seconds. It’s even acceptable to use Wikipedia; because chances are, if some guy is talking about how Islam promotes violence and he sounds convincing enough, people will agree with him, no matter how uninformed he may be. That’s unfortunately how things usually work.

3. Don’t hold an entire religion or group responsible for the actions of a handful of radicals.

There are radical Christians, Jews, exponents, and Justin Bieber fans, so why wouldn’t there be radical Muslims? Like the radicals in any other community, radical Islamists distort the image of Islam, projecting a warped image of what the religion truly is. It’s just as ridiculous to say that “radical Islamists” represent the intentions of all Muslims as it is to say that Caucasian males who orchestrate mass shootings represent all whites. These white shooters are excused for being “mentally ill” or “disturbed,” yet when a radical Muslim commits an act of violence, all Muslims are deemed violent. It’s a double standard and it’s nonsense.

4. Getting your information from right-wing, mainstream news probably isn’t the best idea.

We’re always told not to rely on Wikipedia because people tamper with and publicly edit it, yet we watch news channels which are Wikipedia on steroids. When news reporters make hyperbolic statements like, “Islam promotes violence/terrorism” (hey Fox!), they’re likely being spoon-fed what to say by the people who run those channels. The people who are only trying to advance their own bigot agendas. So get your news from a reputable source, not your racist uncle who likes to incite riots at Thanksgiving dinner.

5. Try to be more open to different religious traditions and groups.

Even if you don’t agree with a certain aspect of a religion, be more open to learning about that religion. There are questionable and controversial claims made in the scripture of all monotheistic religions, not just Islam. Yet for some reason, mention of violence in a holy book is only a deal breaker when it comes to Islam. If you’re religious, try to find similarities between your religion and others instead of narrowing in on the discrepancies. The three Abrahamic religions are more similar than different.

If you have a friend who practices a religion that you‘d like to know more about, she would probably be happy to answer your questions. Just don’t ask your Muslim friend if she’ll eat pork roll with you – she probably won’t be too happy about it.

Sara Barry lives in NYC and likes to call herself a writer. Her writing has appeared on MediumPEN America, and The Lineup, and she is the editor and creator of the publication The Reflector. When she’s not writing, she enjoys collecting old books, exploring new parts of familiar cities, and trying to (unsuccessfully) put her dog on a diet.