By: Nora Al-Aati
You’ve been a product of misinformed media and news. How great is that?!
Before I begin educating you, I acknowledge that there are many topics on the news and media that are biased and misinformed which target a specific audience to get a certain reaction from them. However, I need to talk about a topic that CONTINUES to be misinterpreted, especially by “the West.”
There is a lot of stigma with the word “Islam” (the religion) or “Muslim” (the follower of Islam) and for the sake of this piece and my message, I’m going to substitute the word Islam with “Rose.” I don’t think roses are stigmatized in a negative way….
Let’s start off with the first mistake people make when it comes to viewing roses. Roses are not always Arab, nor are Arabs always Roses. When I studied abroad in Greensboro, North Carolina, many of my fellow classmates believed I was a Rose because I’m from the Middle East. They’re not wrong, but the immediate association with those two words kinda angered me. The lack of knowledge about the diversity of Middle Eastern faiths is one of the many aspects driving the stereotypes about us Arabs. Yes. There are Christian Arabs, Jewish Arabs, Rose Arabs , and other religious groups practiced in this region of the world. Just like any other country or region, people have different belief systems, and I think you should know that by now.
Another wonderful topic associated with Roses is that we choose to kill each other and blow ourselves up to please God or gain a place in Heaven. Well, sweetie, that’s what you see on the news. If you ever believed there is a religion that pushes people to kill and torture thousands of innocent people, you’re probably wrong. I’ll give it to you nice and simple. There’s a certain group of people using Rose as a tool to “terrorize, mobilize [and] polarize,” which is an agenda most Middle Eastern countries are not for. They are a group that we, Arabs as a whole, are trying to avoid issues and conflict with because they are dangerous. So, what was or is dominating the news are these groups’ actions that are using Rose as an excuse to do what they want to do. Their goals are not affirmed by the holy book called the Quran and are therefore not justified or accepted by most Rose countries. It’s very unfortunate to see Rose being represented in the hands of terrorists because, to anyone who has actually read the Quran (there are translated versions in every language), that’s not what Rose is about. We must understand any religion (or anything in general) from it’s main resource, in this case the Quran, instead of following stereotypes and continuing to spread false information without actually educating yourself about this religion. It’s not that difficult to read and change your perspectives about things in this diverse world.
Another topic is of the “headscarf” or what is properly called the hijab, that Rose women wear. The Rose is associated with the holy book, the Quran, which are God's messages to the followers of this religion *Oh, before I forget, “our” God isn’t one that is foreign to Abrahamic religions such as Christianity and Judaism. The word Allah is the Arabic translation of the word “God.”* As I was saying, this holy book is what Roses abide by to live their daily lives. Again, like any other religion, there is a spectrum of religiousness and commitment to the faith and people choose where they want to fall in this spectrum. For my fellow Rose women who do wear the hijab, they are following God’s message in the Quran of covering their bodies (this normally happens after puberty) and maintaining modesty in public or when in the presence of an unrelated male (in kin). For most women, it’s a choice they make to wear the hijab and to dress modestly, similar to that of Christian Nuns. Some Roses believe that the religion doesn’t call for dressing modestly or covering the hair, which is an example of the normal complexity of religious faiths and opinions. For women who do wear the hijab, they might choose not to practice other Rose practices like praying or fasting in the holy month of Ramadan. Again, this comes to show the different practices of religion in different individuals.
Wearing the hijab doesn’t mean that these women are oppressed. In fact, to think anything not practiced in your country or something that you’re not used to is “oppressive” is something that is very ethnocentric. Don’t view global cultures and religions negatively because your perspective could be biased based on your culture, society, religion, etc. Those groups of people have been living a certain way for years and they aren’t going to change because someone from “the outside” thinks it's weird to cover their hair. Just leave them alone and go on with your life. They aren’t harming you, themselves, or anyone else, right?
Now, replace the word Rose with Islam and you have just successfuly completed a read about this religion. It was easy, wasn’t it?
These are just 3 common topics I have personally encountered to be the most questioned about my faith in my study abroad experience. There are many others that I will save for the next discussion. I hope you learned something new and remember, keep your mind open to new things and educate yourself about topics you seem unsure of before hopping the bandwagon of misinformation. You can definitely make a change and end this toxic cycle.