Understanding and Countering Islamophobia
by Shaikh Baqir Berry – Islamic Insights
Islamophobia is a term that describes the warped feelings some people have and their resulting behaviour toward Islam and Muslims.
It is well known that phobias are a group of psychological disorders that afflict a person with extreme and irrational fear from a particular thing or situation. These fears cannot be justified logically, thus making it all the more difficult to ease such fear by reason, logical arguments or proofs.
The critical question is: how do we counter this new form of racism that is gaining momentum day after day?
I think we as Muslim should study the situation we are going through carefully and benefit from the past experiences of other religious and ethnic minorities in the U.S. that have met similar challenges. They have largely succeeded in defeating prejudice and defamation campaigns in the media and have become fully integrated in society. We should develop our own agenda for action and take lessons from history to defend our rights.
Failure to take action and surrender to a perceived fate is not consistent with the characteristics of a vibrant Islamic community that takes guidance from Islamic teachings of wisdom, patience, and persistence.
Duties of Islamic Scholars and Institutions
At the most basic level, Islamic scholars and institutions should help guide our young people to get higher education that focus on needed specializations. They should help them critically examine their thinking and perceptions about what to study in a university. They should especially offer scholarships for those specializations that are critically needed in shaping public attitudes and defend the image of Islam and Muslims especially in the fields of mass communications, journalism, communication technologies, and the humanities.
A better approach might be the establishment of offices for special counseling and college admission assistance in areas that have high concentration of Islamic populations. These offices should help the students build realistic expectations about areas of study, employment opportunities, and the rewards and challenges of certain professions and specializations.
Many of our youth choose their studies with very little information and counseling and end up dissatisfied with their choice or college experience or become overwhelmed with the challenges of university and the demands of life. Worse yet, those who graduate from college sometimes might not even find employment.
Here are a few practical ideas that we could work on:
- Our institutions should support community-owned media businesses that offer journalistic, educational, and cultural products. They should also encourage all community members and Muslims to support such businesses morally and financially.
- Our scholars, educated members of the community, and our institutions should encourage community development efforts. A well-developed community is a successful one. A strong and prosperous community is the best protection against abuse and malice. It can fend off defamation and smear campaigns.
- It is necessary for our Islamic institutions to open up to American civil society groups and American cultural and religious institutions. Bridges and communication channels should be built to work with other faiths and groups in cooperation for the common good. Collaboration in charity work and other humanitarian relief efforts will help break the isolation of Islamic communities as well as generate goodwill. If we truly want other people to form a fair perception about our Islam and us and dispel the horrible stereotypes about us that the media is attempting to impose on the public opinion, then we should break out of our isolation. Isolation and non-participation cannot protect us. That is exactly what our enemies want for us; they want to isolate people from us and isolate us from people.
- Islamic scholars should contribute to the general debates about society problems and issues at large, such as education, health issues, abortions, and similar cultural matters. There is an Islamic perspective on all of these issues including social and legal issues. It is inevitable that Islamic rhetoric has to be modernized, and it is an imperative that our scholars everywhere step out of their historical, cultural, and ethnic enclaves and face modernity and its challenges.