How Islam and Muslims are Viewed by the World

Muslims

As I was born and raised in the Middle East, my sincere interest in Islam was not an unexpected phenomenon. My life has been exposed to Islam naturally, not just as a concept of religion, but as part of an authentic culture and community that embraces Muslims.

My whole experience of observing the society and interacting with its people has spawned my perspective and definition of Islam as “the way Muslims live”; based on the philosophies of their beliefs, rather than a mere definition of a religion.

Muslims leaving Islam

By the time I decided to move back to the region to continue my studies in 2012, I realized that something dissonant has happened. I noticed the brutal sensation between Muslims and the rest of the world, which was full of extreme biases, rumors and boundaries against Islam.

The world has been gradually divided in two; those innocents who have been continuously struggling to defend themselves from bigots or hatred, and those who need to unreasonably keep proving that “Islam is evil”.

Islam was more secure and peaceful until the incident, which was carried out by Islamic extremists in 2001. Many of today’s attitudes toward Islam have changed unconsciously by the media. The media has always been looking for a big issue to stimulate and scare audiences, and Islam became their target.

The world has been gradually divided in two; those innocents who have been continuously struggling to defend themselves from bigots or hatred, and those who need to unreasonably keep proving that “Islam is evil”.

It is not surprising to see people blaming Islam when any terror attacks happen or when Muslims commit crimes. Yet, we rarely see any media mentioned or blamed when Christians, Buddhists, or Hindus carry out similar acts of violence.

What we see through media regarding Islam is often exaggerated. The negativity surrounding the religion is just an unfortunate piece of what we see, but it is definitely not what the truth is.

This firmly permeated perspective on Islam is not just an extreme case; it is not difficult to see discrimination, verbal attacks or harassment, and disrespectful treatment of minorities in the usual places where we live in today.

I personally have experienced embarrassing sarcasm by an officer at a U.S. airport, who noticed the list of stamps on my passport I received from the Middle East and North Africa.

What we see through media regarding Islam is often exaggerated. The negativity surrounding the religion is just an unfortunate piece of what we see, but it is definitely not what the truth is.

Unfortunately, I have also seen a kind Muslim friend of mine experience harsh discrimination while attending school in France.

Muslims in America

When mentioning any of the stereotypical words surrounding Islam, such as “Muslims,” “Arabs” or “Middle East,” the first concern I always heard from people was about my safety. The world assumes that Islam is dangerous, violent, and a symbol of terrorism.

I personally do not deny what has happened in this world for the past decade. I admit that these actions carried out in the name of Islam were wrong. At the same time, I acknowledge that these acts were committed by a misguided minority who do not even represent Islam.

Within any religion, extremists are the ones who tend to interpret the holy doctrines in an inappropriate, violent manner. In the case of Islam, their beliefs are generally based on Islamic fundamentalism.

Islamic fundamentalists are against secularism and only insist on their warped traditions and beliefs. They have formulated their own legalism in ignorance of Islam’s peaceful way of delivering its messages regarding tolerance, peace and love, which has been neglected by the rest of the world.

Our world has been focusing on how many lives have been slaughtered or beheaded by ISIL. However, the majority of Muslims around the world act upon their beliefs from the Qur’an and Sunnah, or whatever ethical values they believe in, to defy the misleading idea of Islam as a religion of terror.

Within any religion, extremists are the ones who tend to interpret the holy doctrines in an inappropriate, violent manner. In the case of Islam, their beliefs are generally based on Islamic fundamentalism.

After the terror attacks in Paris in 2015, Syrian refugees were not welcomed by many countries. I read a newspaper which stated that almost 200 refugees fleeing from the conflict in Syria had arrived in South Korea. The paper included a haunting picture of a Syrian woman with tears in her eyes, while she anxiously waited at the immigration office of the airport.

It is not just a fear of terror or war that innocent refugees have to experience, but a fear of being welcomed by the discrimination, prejudices and rumors which have been stacked against them.

Another misleading notion concerning Islam is that women are oppressed, which is why they are veiled. This should not be seen as the right interpretation of Islam. There is a verse in the Qur’an which states “it is better for daughters and women of the believers to cover themselves so as not to be recognized and annoyed.

At first, it may sound as if all women and daughters are forced to wear the hijab. Also, the media tends to focus on how Muslim women are treated aggressively by their families and husbands, which naturally makes non-Muslims believe that Islam is a violent religion that gives no rights to women.

We are visually brainwashed as the media also shows many Muslim women covering themselves completely with the niqab or burkas, which has become a typical negative stereotype of oppressed Muslims.

Muslims

As stated above, I have learned about Islam through its people and I perceive it as part of the way in which Muslims live by their own authentic cultures.

I would say most of the countries that Muslims live in today are rooted in and influenced by the initial concept of Islam, as well as the old traditions Muslims have been following for more than a thousand years.

We are visually brainwashed as the media also shows many Muslim women covering themselves completely with the niqab or burkas, which has become a typical negative stereotype of oppressed Muslims.

Most of my female Muslim friends are veiled. Out of curiosity, I asked them whether they have ever thought about taking off their headscarves and they responded by saying, “No, because I chose to wear it, this is the belief that I have in myself. That my body is precious and gifted by Allah and my parents. I want to be protected and more cautious.

The way many female Muslims believe in covering themselves is similar to what is written in the Qur’an, but perhaps slightly different according to their upbringing and interpretation of the world around them.

Usually, history has a strong correlation with culture. Even though the historical background of Islam originated in the Middle East, many Muslims have embraced other cultures outside of the Middle East and North Africa.

This is similar to how many modern cultures in East Asia were highly influenced by Confucianism. Simply because someone has a different notion of peacefully living their lives, and adapting to the changing community around them, does not mean they are wrong.

I would say most of the countries that Muslims live in today are rooted in and influenced by the initial concept of Islam, as well as the old traditions Muslims have been following for more than a thousand years.

One of the greatest things about living in Egypt and Jordan was that I met so many people who inspired me differently, simply by showing me their authentic lives as Arabs or Muslims. There are more things to learn beyond what we only see through media.

However, it is still very unfortunate to see how many biases we are living with in our world. It is because of these prejudices and biases that we should work together to make sure the rest of the world is aware that ISIL does not represent the majority of Islam.

We should create dialogues, with Muslims and non-Muslims, to spread peaceful messages of religious tolerance. Nobody in this world has the to be judged or treated differently, just because their religious beliefs are different.

Minyoung Chang

Minyoung is an alumna of the American University of Sharjah (AUS) based in the UAE, studied Business Marketing and Middle East and Arabic studies with her strong passion in the regional issues from refugees, human rights to Islamophobia. She is originally from South Korea but was born in Kuwait and has been raised in different countries all over the world. Now she lives in Dubai, works at Google.

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