By Victor Xu
After freshman Samreen Uzzama began wearing her hijab in seventh grade to further her Islamic faith, she said discrimination toward her suddenly intensified. “Terrorist,” students called. “Do you have a bomb?” others asked. Even outside school she said she was the subject of harsh language from older people.
In late seventh grade, Uzzama reached her breaking point. During passing period a boy sneaked up from behind and seized her hijab, a traditional garb of Muslim women. Unable to cope with her frustration any longer, Uzzama elbowed the boy in the stomach before he could yank, an action she now regrets. She later told a teacher. “I was angry and kind of sad that someone could treat another person like that,” Uzzama, now a freshman, said.
The situation Uzzama faced is not an isolated one, and research shows that it may even be an escalating one. A survey, taken between Oct. 31 and Nov. 13 by Gallup Daily News, reveals that 63 percent of Americans have either “very little knowledge” of the Islamic faith or “none at all.” Additionally, 53 percent of those surveyed say their opinion of Islam is either “not too favorable” or “not favorable at all.”
A 2007 poll by the Pew Research Center, a nonpartisan organization that collects information on current issues, showed that 25 percent of American Muslims were victims of discrimination. Another poll taken this past September showed that now almost 60 percent of Americans say that Muslims are subject to a lot of discrimination. Nearly a decade after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, Muslims are the second most discriminated social group, just 6 percent behind homosexuals.
“Before 9/11 most people didn’t know about Islam,” Arishaa Khan,a youth representative at the Islamic Society for Greater Indianapolis, said. “When 9/11 occurred the side they got to know by the media was the ‘bad side.’ The public made judgments based on those views and thought all Muslims are extremists,”
According to the survey distributed by the Pew Research Center in 2007, 53 percent of American Muslims also said life was more difficult after 9/11.
“When I go to the airport, I know I need to go an hour before any white person because I know they’ll check me thoroughly and take me to a separate line,” Lyla Nassimi, follower of the Islamic faith and junior, said. “I don’t know if I would call that discrimination, though, as it’s more of a safety precaution, which I think is a good idea. It can get annoying when you are in the position, though.”
With more and more Muslim-piloted attacks on the Western world like the Nov. 7 Fort Hood shootings, Khan said she thinks intolerance against Muslims is becoming more difficult to handle.
“Every incident like Fort Hood increases discrimination for Muslims across the country and world. In the Fort Hood incident, there is an argument that he didn’t want to go to the war, and the fact that he was psychologically disturbed caused those actions, (not his Islamic faith). Every time Islam comes closer to a respectable image, incidents like Fort Hood make us start over,” Khan said. “Ever since 9/11, Muslims have been striving to show to the U.S. and world that Islam is a religion of peace.”
Khan said the mainstream Islamic faith promoted peace and other moral values just as Christianity and Judaism do.
“Aside from the five pillars of Islam, being close to God and family is very important,” Khan said. “We have the same God (as Christians and Jews), same prophets, and the values taught in (the) religions are similar. Modesty, being truthful, family, helping your neighbors, feeding the hungry (and) helping the homeless and orphans are promoted.”
Uzzama shares Khan’s views. She said mainstream Islam’s supporters and core values vastly differ from those of the radical Islam the public has come to know through the media. In fact, a 2007 survey from the Pew Research Center showed that only 5 percent of Muslim Americans support al-Qaeda in any way, and only 8 percent might condone suicide bombing.
“I hear a lot that the Muslim community is all terrorists and that we’re all violent. That’s a common (misconception),” Uzzama said. “For example, in the Crusades you had the Christians fighting in Jerusalem, but you can’t say all Christians are bad. You can’t say one side is bad; only certain people in the community are bad.”
Uzzama said while Muslims in the general public face increasing intolerance, she faces less and less of it at this school as opposed to her middle school.
“In the beginning discrimination was a lot worse, but in high school there’s so many other people that wear scarves and the punishment for prejudice is a lot more harsh than in middle school,” Uzzama said. “From (after the boy tried to pull off my hijab) on, I just learned to ignore it, since that’s how people feel and I can’t change how people feel.”
Nassimi shares Uzzama’s views. She said she initially felt hurt and out of place after facing discrimination but learned not to let it bother her.
“There will always be people who will have something against me, and I mean they were hurt by some of the attacks led by Muslims. It’s understandable, and I would be hurt too. I just hope they realize that just because a few corrupt people did something wrong and put the Islamic banner on it doesn’t mean that all Muslims are bad.”
Khan emphasized that while people have taken strides to lessen discrimination, more efforts need to be taken.
“Have interfaith discussions. Get to know a Muslim as a person and not by the image that’s portrayed by the media,” Khan said. “It is hard to fight the media that is around you but everyone should take a step to move in a forward direction. There have been many advances to decrease the discrimination, but we still have a long way to go.”
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