Nusrat Qadir Islamophobia

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What is the first word that comes to mind when you hear the word Islam?

In a recent British study, the overwhelming answer to this question was terrorism. While some positive terms were cited, such as prayer, Allah, and Muhammad, the association of the term “terrorism” with Islam proves to be a disturbing trend requiring a much needed intervention to cure society from the prevalence of Islamophobia.

Language and terminology have always been powerful in the effect they are able to generate. Lumping Islam and terrorism together is morally and intellectually wrong, since it incites hate and fear. Recently, the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community advised that the term Islamic extremism should not be conjoined, since this associates Islam with extremism and other nefarious activities. Pundits and politicians have regrettably been the primary sensation seekers to hype Islamophobia. Rather than quote peaceful messages from genuine Muslim leadership, such as those consistently given by the worldwide spiritual leader of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, the Khalifa of Islam, His Holiness Mirza Masroor Ahmad, the emphasis remains on the negative.

The true teachings of Islam and the millions of peaceful Muslims are replaced with a magnified focus on the radicals who distort Islam for their own political gains. The constant bombardment of negative propaganda has hardened attitudes, despite the fact that in the last five years, only 2% of the terrorists attacks in Europe were religiously motivated. The demonizing language used by politicians and sensation seekers permeates society and influences the masses towards Islamophobia. The unfavorable rhetoric is met with applause, rather than penalty, further inciting prejudices and hate.The sensation seekers’ focus is on generating fear by highlighting perceived threats and suggesting that Islam is irreconcilable with a pluralistic society. Instead of creating a society of unity, these so-called leaders guide society away from a cohesive diverse community, painting Islam and its Muslim followers as incompatible with the Western world. Sadly, sensation seekers foster a belief that Islam will be a constant threat allowing for open discrimination towards its followers. This discrimination thereby limits the possibility of a truly pluralistic democracy and instead incubates a divisive mentality of “us versus them”.

The effects of an Islamophobic culture disables society’s role in developing a sense of belonging for its citizens. Not only are the adverse terms detrimental for the non-Muslims who hear them, but also for the Muslims they are directed towards, with the primary concern being the youth. Muslim youth, as a result of such public reinforcement of negative stereotypes, are prone to lack of self esteem and an inability to feel a sense of belonging. The pejorative labels limit the ability to fully develop a positive sense of self identity and confidence. While family and Muslim youth organizations intervene to steer youth in the right direction, Muslim youth exposed to constant detrimental jargon could become susceptible to the unsavory elements of society, as a means to obtain some level of justice and personal connection. Derogatory terms also affect non Muslim children as well, since they are exposed to overt prejudices during their upbringing, which tend to remain with them as adults. The constant wheel of fear spins endlessly, leaving us with a culture that devalues the beauty of a diverse society.

Islamophobia is a threat to social cohesion since it generates fear, ignorance, and non acceptance for diversity. Proper understanding of the peaceful teachings of Islam is lacking in mainstream public opinion. Intercultural education in the school systems need to be implemented to help build tolerance. Successful campaigns to unite communities, such as the Meet A Muslim Family campaign, should also be encouraged. Highlighting the positive contributions Islam has made in European civilization, along with promoting an objective history, could reverse the negativity Islamophobia terminology has created.

By implementing strategies that increase understanding and respect for religious diversity, we can hope to raise a generation of children that embrace and respect their difference versus creating a society filled with suspicion, prejudices, and intolerance. Hopefully, the next survey taken on what words are associated with Islam will lead to terms that unite our world rather than tear us apart.

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