Stereotypes of Muslims
Years and months have passed since the United States of America’s attack on 11th September 2001. However, since this attack the Muslims have been permanent fixtures for the media in Western countries and America. In these countries, Muslims are seen with suspicion with negative and stereotypic phrases being used when referring to them including considering all Muslims as supporters of terrorism or as terrorists. Fear and misunderstanding of Islam sparked these stereotypes. Up to now, the western media give inaccurate Muslims’ portrayals.
Over the past years, nations in the Middle East and North Africa are considered as the turmoil’s hotspots as seen from the recent Arabic revolution which led to the toppling of leaders who have served for a long time. Due to the increasing Westerners’ interest in this area, a lot of attention is sparked by news from these places. For this reason, most people now think that Arab Muslims who are violent represent every Muslim. These are some of the elements which when combined give a negative portrayal of Muslims.
Muslims’ stereotyping is a phenomenon that has been spread largely. It is rifer in the U.S. This country has for the last decade played a major role in the fight against terrorism both externally and internally. Although it is true that most Muslims abhor all types of violence, this issue ought to be studied because it affects about 6 million Muslims who live in America. I opted to study it because most of these Muslims are accused of practicing a religion that clearly supports innocent persons’ killing. Because of lack of comprehension of Islam, most ignorant individuals consider Muslims as worshippers of Allah, which they think is an idol. They do not understand that Allah in Arabic simply means God (Ore, 2013). For social integration to be promoted, Islam and Muslims should be respected and understood. The aim of this paper is to answer certain questions: What common Muslims’ stereotypes are in the U.S? Exploring the stereotypes as well as debunking the myths is vital in this country because it will ensure that Muslims are embraced by the society in America.
Literature Review: Common stereotypes of Muslims
There have been several terrorist attacks over the last decade as well as suicide bombings by the radical Islamists. Esposito &Mogahed (2007) observe that the perception of all Muslims as terrorists is the most common form of stereotype. During the last ten years, there have been terrorist attacks that swept all Arab countries, Southeast Asia, North Africa, and some areas in the U.S and Europe. People viewed Osama bin Laden as the main architect of these acts. During these attacks, almost every suicide bomber pledged his/her allegiance to bin Laden.
Although bin Laden’s killing occurred several years back, he left a legacy among the radical Islamists. From 2001, several cases of kidnapping, suicide bombings and other violent acts have been conducted by Al Qaeda as well as the affiliate groups. To justify these actions, the Islamists invoke the word Jihad. Because jihad is believed by all people who practice Islam, all Muslims have been stereotyped as terrorists or supporters of terrorism. Nevertheless, this is untrue.
Esposito and Mogahed give an explanation for the word jihad as meaning “to struggle”. It is an ideology whose basis is the command of the Quran that encourages Muslims to remain or exert themselves within Allah’s path. Essentially, jihad is a description of Muslims’ duties as persons or a society’s part to do the will of God. This involves fighting the devil and living virtuously as well as trying to engage in good deeds and reforming the society. On the basis of a person’s circumstances, jihad may imply fighting injustices and oppression in order to establish a society that is just. The teachings of Islam encourage people to do this by preaching and teaching. They should opt for armed struggle as the last option. Jihad is a word with broad implication and most Muslims know that it has concepts that are more of a nuance than sensationalist beliefs of the Americans. Due to such flawed beliefs, Muslims have continuously been stereotyped as terrorists.
Muslims have over the past years used Jihad in fighting for just causes. An example is the invoking of jihad by Afghans while repelling the occupation by the Soviet. From that time, jihad has been employed in virtually all Muslim struggles. Nevertheless, the real meaning of jihad has been hijacked by terrorists in justifying their violent acts. For instance, terrorists like bin Laden, Ayman al-Zawahiri and Musab al-Zarqawi have made jihad equal to a holy war. This way, these have lured young Muslims to join terrorism. Esposito and Mogahed (2007) note that jihad is not related to holy war. According to them, holy war as a term is not Islamic because its origin is Christianity.
An independent research by Keeling and Hughes (2001) was aimed at investigating the perceptions and knowledge of Muslims and Islam among the police officers in the U.S. These researchers focused on four main areas: the overall comprehension of Islam’s fundamental tenets, the attitudes of the officers towards Muslims and Islam, how they perceive the way the media treat Muslims as well as how willing they are to freely interact with the Muslims. A survey was used to collect data and it involved 79 middle-level managers of the police force who at that time were under residential training in the Midwestern University. Law enforcers ought to know social matters. The expectation of the researchers was that the attitudes of the respondents would be favorable towards Muslims. Their expectation was that for instance, they would differentiate facts from myths. Nevertheless, the reality was different.
The findings of this study reveal that majority of these officers (approximately 61%) did not know the teachings of Islam. Consequently, the perceptions that most of them had about Muslims were inaccurate because the media was their main source of information about Muslims and Islam. Additionally, most of these officers believe Muslims’ portrayals of the media. According to the results of this study, 56.4 percent of the police officers believe that there is no bias in the media Muslims’ portrayal. As such, they are in agreement with the portrayal of the media that Islam has terrorism as its characteristic.
The other findings indicated that Muslims are commonly associated with other stereotypes. For instance, over 52 percent of the respondents were uncertain or agreed that other religions are not tolerated by Muslims. It is for this reason that over 54 percent of the respondents think that most Muslims do not integrate with the broader American society. Additionally, over 72 percent of the respondents were unsure or think that Islam allows for women’s mistreatment. The implication of this is that Muslims generally oppress women.
As an indication that Muslims have a long way to go in shaking off the tag of terrorism, over 49 percent of the respondents view Muslims as fanatics of terrorists and 30 percent view Muslims as terrorists. The belief of about 54 percent of them is that in spreading their religion, Muslims use a sword. As an indication that the United States is yet to accept Muslims fully, only 44.3 percent of responds considered integrating Muslims in the society in America. Another sensationalism mark is the belief of about 40 percent that Muslims who were born in America ought not to be seen as U.S citizens. Only 43 out of 79 respondents were ready to have a Muslim as a friend.
There is so much negative attention that Islam religion has attracted over the years. Perhaps, this is an explanation why Islam as a religion was considered progressive by 50 percent of respondents only with 50 percent considering it as a backward religion. There was also a split of the subjects (at 40 percent each) in terms of if the society is threatened by the presence of Muslims. The other 20 percent were uncertain. Consequently, only 36 percent had interest in comprehending Islam as a religion.
According to the findings of the study by Keeling and Hughes (2001), there are vital stereotypes which hinder Muslims’ acceptance in the United States as well as the larger Western community. The finding that was most unfortunate is that people consider Muslims as backward people (due to the Islam religion). Consequently, Muslims oppress women. Additionally, they are seen as a society’s threat and therefore avoiding friendship with them is better. If the police officers who are knowledgeable can have such deep yet untrue perceptions towards Islam and Muslims, it is therefore possible that the uninformed public has highly sensationalist stereotypes. Nevertheless, the media is to blame for all this. Just as demonstrated by the respondents, the media being a strong tool spread religious and cultural myths. It therefore continues to portray Muslims as gender insensitive, violent, fanatic and uneducated and this is what most people believe. These illustrations can widen the existing divide between other people and Muslims.
Most non-Muslims are uncertain if they can fulfill the demands of Islam as a religion. For example, Islam requires adherents to hold prayer sessions at least 5 times per day. This task is not manageable to most people. In addition, most people are uncertain about how or what their behavior would be is for a moment they were Muslims. For example, they wonder whether they would become violent or even how they would handle other people. Consequently, stereotyping has made many people think that they would be insensitive in case they became Muslims only once. Mange et al. (2012) did an investigation of this issue further. The investigation was aimed at determining whether an individual is seen as being dangerous when there is an induction of the perceiver to think of Arabic tenets and Muslims. Essentially, the researchers explore the speed of non-Muslims in shooting the target upon an induction to think of certain Arabic or Muslim features.
59 undergraduates from the University of Maryland were investigated during this study. All respondents were whites and non-Muslim Americans. First, they were primed into Arab, neutral and Muslim categories. The first aspect of this study made the respondents to believe that there were questions that they had to complete that would determine their English skills. Nevertheless, the test acted as their priming experience. The test required the participants to work on sixteen word sets that were issued randomly.
There were Muslims associated words in 8 sets for the Arab and Muslim priming conditions (Mecca, veil, Koran, Iran, Turban, Allah, Muhammad and prayer). The Arab categories’ words included (belly dancing, calligraphy, sun, Egypt, camel, Scheherazade, Aladdin and couscous). The other part took participants through a game of shooting. Shoulder and head shots were the targets. There was a hand that was holding a black or silver gun for every photo. They were to shoot a target or choose when to shoot the target (on the basis of if the target was armed) when it appeared. The response times of the participants were recorded (Mange et al. 2013).
The findings of Mange et al. (2013) indicated that the participants’ priming to think of social categories in relation to Arabs and Muslims resulted in faster shooting although the ethnicity and religion of the targets were ambiguous. The implication of this is that by the social categories that threaten the participants being merely accessible, aggressive responses were facilitated regardless of where the targets belonged to. The suggestion is that most non-Muslim Americans are likely to turn violent in case there is an induction that makes them think of Muslim beliefs. Essentially, the implication is that the belief of most Americans is that every Muslim is violent. Thus, they threaten the society because they can ‘shoot’ an individual who is not a member of their religion. Such stereotypes indicate mistrust of most Americans towards Muslims or individuals who have no tolerance for Islam.
The perception of Muslims as a threat that the American society is facing was exemplified further in 2001. An agent working with the secret service, Mr. Walid Shatter was on Christmas day removed from the American Flight that he had boarded on the realization that his seat had a Middle East book. Although Mr. Shatter was set to join the security detail of President Bush, the officials of the airline could not believe the credentials that he presented. The implication of this standoff was that he was to be left behind by the flight. This incident would have been different if Mr. Shatter was found reading a different book by the attendant such an American history book. Although the episode occurred several years back, Menge et al findings show that there is suspicion of Muslims that exists up to now.
Three articles have been discussed by this work and they have showed that Muslims stereotypes that are common among non-Muslims are that they are gender sensitive and backward, always violent and that they threaten the society. The belief that Muslims either support terrorism or are terrorists is the worst misconception. Due to these beliefs, Islam-phobia has spread widely. The terrorist attacks and violence images in Palestine, Pakistan, Afghanistan and Iraq have exacerbated these feelings. This stereotyping and deep fear has implied that it is possible to profile a terrorist. Typically, a terrorist is mostly in early twenties with a background of a small town as well as a lower to middle social class. A terrorist is also very mobile with high motivation for achievement, science or engineering education and a cohesive family. These descriptions ‘ensure’ that terrorists can be ‘identified’ by non-Muslims in their midst.
There is a flawed stereotype that every Muslim is violent, support terrorism or is a terrorist. Although jihad is believed by all Muslims, it is not equated to a holy war because Islam as a religion is peaceful. Thinking that Muslims perpetrate every violent act and conflict that relates to religion is also inaccurate. Violent conflicts have been witnessed before among the Sikhs and Hindus within India as well as Serbian Orthodoxies and Catholics in Yugoslavia. Similar violent conflicts have also occurred between Protestants and Catholics within Northern Island as well as Muslims and Christians in Nigeria. This shows that any religion’s adherents can perpetrate violent acts. It is important to educate the public that the basis of these stereotypes is lies. Additionally, positive Muslims and Islam’s portrayal should be encouraged by the media.
Esposito, J. L., & Mogahed, D. (2007). Battle for Muslims’ hearts and minds: The Road Not (Yet) taken. Middle East Policy, 14(1), 27-41.
Keeling, D. G., & Hughes, T. T. (2011). Police officer attitudes toward Muslims and Islam: “worlds apart”? American Journal of Criminal Justice, 36(4), 307-318.
Mange, J., Chun, W., Sharvit, K., & Belanger, J. J. (2012). Thinking about Arabs and Muslims makes Americans shoot faster: Effects of category accessibility on aggressive responses in a shooter paradigm. European Journal Of Social Psychology, 42(5), 552-556.
Ore, T. (2013). The social construction of Difference and Inequality- Race, Class, Gender and Sexuality. New York: McGraw Hill Publishers.