Carthage College students learn about Muslim representations

On January 12, students from Carthage College in Wisconsin paid a visit to CAIR-Chicago. Taking a course on the role of women in the literature and arts of the contemporary Middle East, the students wanted to learn more about Muslims and media. Communications coordinators Aymen Abdel Halim and Leena Saleh featured presentations on historical contexts of Muslim representation, Muslim women in the media, and portrayals of Muslim women in popular culture.

Starting with a simple Google search of the words “Muslim” and “Muslim women” students smirked, and shook their heads at images of beard-clad men shouting with raised fists, images of abused Muslim women, and Barack Obama.

After discussing these images and asking about what images they weren’t seeing, the students realized the lack of accurate representations of everyday Muslims.

Students learned the socio-political contexts of Muslims in relation to the U.S. – which stem from decades-long U.S. domestic and foreign policy targeted against Arab and Muslim communities and countries around the world. Segueing into present day representations, Abdel Halim highlighted the current wave of Islamophobia – from the Ground Zero Mosque controversy, the King hearings, to a video entitled “Hate Comes to Orange County” which exposes bigoted anti-Muslim protesters in Southern California.

Abdel Halim also pointed out root causes of this misrepresentation and bias in the media, attributing much of it to Orientalist views of the Arab and Muslim world.

Saleh discussed how these views came in to play when observing portrayals of Muslim women in the media. From news and film to literature, students witnessed the trend of stereotypical archetypes of Muslim women including: “submissive,” “oppressed,” “exotic,” and “dangerous.”

Taking these images and juxtaposing them to real examples of prominent and revolutionary Muslim women, students claimed that they learned about the breadth of diversity and roles Muslim women play. From current prime ministers and presidents, to historical queens and Islamic scholars Saleh painted a very different picture of the Muslim woman.

“Our students learned a great deal from you about Muslims in the U.S., portrayals in the media, and most importantly, about the work that you all do at CAIR,” said Margie Carrig, professor of English.

Students left with a greater knowledge of Muslims and Muslim representation in U.S. media, as well as resources for furthering their education on contemporary Muslim issues.

“You provided models for them of social awareness and activism, that we hope will inspire many of them as they choose their own careers. We all plan to start on the reading lists you provided,” said Carrig.

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