An event titled, “Understanding Islamophobia in America,” took place this past Friday at the University of Wisconsin-Madison to raise awareness of the spread of intolerance against Muslims that is steadily on the rise. The Muslim Student Association, with co-sponsors the Muslim-Jewish Volunteer Initiative and the Lubar Institute for the Study of Abrahamic Religions, hosted the event, which brought in more than 250 attendees to take place in the discussion.
CAIR Chicago’s Executive Director, Ahmed Rehab provided insightful dialogue as keynote speaker to bring understanding to what Islamophobia is and how we can offset negative stereotypes that are feeding the rapid spread of the anti-Muslim movement.
Rehab highlights that there are many reasons for Islamophobia – the main one coming from a lack of association with the religion itself: “It’s been this series of conflicts that have been the exclusive introduction to a large group of people who don’t know anything about [Islam].” He noted that the best way to challenge Islamophobia is to spread knowledge of the true aspects of Islam and Muslims, which counter the negative portrayals of Islam and Muslims that are so often presented in the media.
Rehab further expresses the importance of religious tolerance, and how the lack of such can have harmful effects on society as a whole.
Asifa Quraishi-Landes, University of Wisconsin associate professor, expressed how Shariah Law, the moral code of Islam, is falsely perceived and shapes politicians’ and Americans’ skewed opinions of Muslims. Many believe that when Shariah law disagrees with U.S. law is where conflict begins, when actually Sharia law is being misinterpreted and taken out of context.
Negative events seen in the news contribute to the perceptions and generalization of all Muslims, but that is not the only reason leaving Americans misguided.
Daniel Tutt, outreach director at Unity Productions Foundation shared the experience he had interviewing Americans on Muslims practicing Islam in the United States. He found that many people have come to terms with Muslims being bad because that concept has now become the “norm,” which makes it easier to accept. Tutt states, “Islam is so ingrained as negative … there is a large percentage of those who accept that, [who] still believe Muslims are bad.”
Throughout the event, Madison students presented poetry readings, and two other speakers Associate Director of the Middle East Studies Program Jennifer Loewenstein, and UW alumnus Rashid Dar, shared insights on current events and personal experiences.
Islamophobia, defined by Ahmed Rehab as a “form of bigotry … an expression, a statement or act of bigotry [against Islam and or Muslims]” is an increasing problem in our communities. Events such as these not only create awareness about the issue of Islamophobia, but also encourage more nuanced and positive understandings of Islam and Muslims.