Serial Podcast

How Syed and the Serial Podcast Exposed Religious Bias

Serial Podcast

The Serial podcast by Sarah Koenig explains how the case of Adnan Syed has exposed religious prejudice against Muslims in the American justice system.

There have been many different accusations of bias in the justice system in recent years, but one of the areas that are gaining a significant amount of recognition is prejudice against Muslims. The case of Adnan Syed, featured in the popular Serial podcast, exemplifies what many see as a case of flagrant bias and misunderstanding of the religion as a whole. In the eyes of many, especially supporters of Syed, his faith was used against him to ensure that he would spend the rest of his life in prison.

The Case Against Adnan Syed

As explained in the podcast series Serial, in 1999, Syed was convicted of murdering his ex-girlfriend, Hae Min Lee. As a result, he was sentenced to life in prison and has very little hope of getting his case heard again. However, it was not necessarily the facts of the case that have so many people crying foul about the treatment of this individual. The prosecution showed an incredible level of prejudice in the case by dragging the fact that Syed was a Muslim into the debate. Many feel, after listening to the Serial podcast, that the prosecution’s case relied more on Syed’s religious beliefs than on whether or not he committed murder.

Religion As Evidence

Serial exposes the main problem that the prosecution had with Syed being a Muslim which was that he did not fit the outward appearance of a true follower. Being that he indulged in recreational drugs and had premarital sex, the prosecutors argued that he could not be considered an observant Muslim. They used this portrait of him as a Muslim that had strayed from the tenets of his religion in order to increase the pressure to prosecute him as someone that was willing to stray from their religious beliefs, making the stretch between a lying teen and a murderer seem less apparent. While this is troubling in the case of Adnan Syed, it is important to remember that this case took place in a pre-9/11 world, one where the Muslim religion had not yet been tainted in the public view by the actions of a few.

Serial Reveals Religious Prejudice

An episode of the Serial podcast asked what the case would look like today. While it was easy to portray Syed as a fallen member of the Muslim community, in today’s world the view would be the same, but for vastly different reasons. According to the Religion News Service, there has been a paradigm shift in the way that people view Muslims, with some calling for stripping them of their citizenship and others arguing for even worse outcomes, with attitudes hauntingly reminiscent of the United States’ feelings toward the Japanese in the 1940s. Even worse, guidelines established by law enforcement agencies classify Muslim behavior that was considered devout in the time of the Syed case as being potential signs of a terrorist mindset.

Serial reveals a troubling fact about American society, that the prejudice that is set up against Muslims in the present day puts them in a place where they cannot be viewed fairly. Either they conform to the tenets of their religion and are targeted by police and society in general, or they take a lax approach to their religion and face trouble from within their religious community. The Syed case, as portrayed in Serial, helps to highlight these problems and insist that Americans do more to be open-minded.


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