Seven hundred twenty-one travelers from Iraq, Syria, Libya, Iran, Yemen, Somalia and Sudan did not enter into the United States after the first 72 hours of President Donald Trump’s executive order on immigration, reported the Department of Homeland Security.
While the nation is divided on Trump’s order, with many people voicing strong opinions, there are those who know little about the Muslim community in the United States. How much, then, do the American people know about Muslims?
In 2015 the Public Religion Research Institute conducted a study which revealed that, “despite the strong opinions many Americans express about Muslims and Islam, few report knowing a lot about the religion, and most Americans do not have regular contact with someone who is Muslim.”
The study demonstrated that only 16 percent of the American public had knowledge of the beliefs and practices of Islam, while the remaining 83 percent reported knowing little or nothing at all.
The majority of the population also lacks personal contact with the Muslim community. Eight percent of Americans report having daily interaction with a Muslim person. Twenty-nine percent report occasional interaction, while 26 and 36 percent say they seldom or never have conversations with people who practice the Muslim religion.
There were two hundred and fifty seven reported attacks that targeted Muslims in 2015. These attacks increased 67 percent compared to the ones reported in 2014, the highest increase reported since 9/11, according to an FBI report released on Nov. 14, 2016.
Rev. Mae Cannon, executive director for Churches for Middle East Peace, explained that, in light of the general misinformation, it is easy for American people to take sides when it comes to Muslims in America. The conflict in the Middle East between Israelites and Palestinians, Cannon explained, contributed to a polarized ‘Israel vs. Palestine’ mindset among Americans.
“What happens is that whenever we look at people who are different from us [referring to Muslims] we always categorize them with this lens of enemy,” Cannon said.
Trisha Posey, associate professor of history at JBU, said the increase in hate crimes against Muslims is an issue that cannot be ignored any longer. “I think we are called upon to engage in our society and to be aware of the issues and to be voices especially for people who are vulnerable and marginalized,” Posey said.
The year 2016 demonstrated that hate crimes are anything but gone. Right after the election of President Donald Trump,
several attacks against Muslim students in higher education institutions were reported by different news outlets across the nation. The reports came from universities in the states of California and Washington (where female students proved to be easy targets because of the traditional Hijab), and New York, where a Muslim prayer room was vandalized by a Trump supporter.
Alexandra Richter, senior intercultural studies major, said the incidents targeting Muslims in colleges are “terrible and incredibly sad.”
As easy as it can be to blame the spike of attacks against Muslims on Donald Trump’s inflammatory rhetoric, but anti-Muslim bias goes beyond the ideology of the new president of the United States.
“I wouldn’t say Donald Trump is causing anti-Muslim bias, but I would also say he is not helping the situation in any way,” Posey said.
When asked about lessons learned through conflict in history, Posey said that there is always going to be strife.
Posey explained that movements such as anti-slavery in the 19th century teach people how sacrifice is necessary to make a difference. She said she is convinced it requires humility to sacrifice one’s comfort, time and ideas about the way the world should work.
Cannon also made a historical reference explaining how in the 1950s and 1960s “a black man couldn’t tell his story without a white man standing next to him.” As Cannon explained, history repeats itself but this time with Muslims whose stories are viewed as illegitimate unless they are told next to the Jewish narrative. Many Christians believe, Cannon said, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is mostly religious when in reality it is about control of land and resources.
“We can come alongside of Jews and people who are very supportive of the State of Israel and they can affirm their narrative and their experience and their needs and their desires just as we can with the Palestinian people, too,” Cannon said referring to how it is possible to love and support both sides even in long-lasting conflicts.
Richter said that during politically tense times the Church “should encourage the body of Christ to step up even more and show what the true picture of a follower of Jesus is supposed to look like,” Richter said.
Cannon said the Church’s immediate response to situations such as anti-Muslim bias should be to repent and ask for forgiveness. She said that often times people avoid asking questions about social justice because when they find the answers they “have to change or give up power, and that’s never fun.”
Richter said the hesitations toward Muslims are mainly due to examples of terrorism people have seen in the past and that, even though some of the attacks are true, they represent the minority of Muslims.
“Our primary motive for we interact with people should not be constantly thinking whether or not we are safe,” Richter said. “Most Muslims are very hospitable and as believers I don’t think that we should constantly be living a life of fear,” she concluded.