The image of Islam
Students speak out against stereotypes and advocate for acceptance
December 13, 2017
Religion is a major component of many students’ lives. It inspires them to attend church, to fast and to serve their communities. But around the country, religion has recently been used as a reason to incite violence.
On Feb. 23, two Indian engineers who were assumed to be Muslims were shot in a bar in Overland Park, Kan. is was not an isolated incident. According to the FBI’s 2016 hate crime statistics released in mid-November, hate crimes against Muslims – which increased by 19 percent from the previous year – experienced the greatest increase out of all national hate crimes for the second year in a row. Despite these national attacks on religious freedom, junior Ruman Ahmed says that students at Winnetonka embrace each other’s religious differences.
Ahmed practices Islam and is an active member of the school’s Muslim Student Association (MSA). She encourages non-Muslim students to join MSA so that awareness about Islam and its values may spread, which she believes will help to deter discrimination against people practicing Islam.
“I don’t understand why religion has to be discriminated against,” Ahmed said. “Can I just practice my religion and move on? I don’t understand why my religion has become a political situation. We’re [MSA] just trying to help spread awareness of our religion and the di erent cultures Muslim people are.”
Senior Rana Ekilah, who is also Muslim, was raised in an Islamic household and celebrates traditional Islamic holidays. However, Ekilah doesn’t look like a stereotypical Muslim. She has blue eyes and long, red hair that is not hidden underneath a hijab headscarf. Because of this, people around her often do not realize that she practices Islam, and she sometimes hears negative comments about Muslims.
“I hear people say things all the time that aren’t true and are very biased,” Ekilah said. “They’re very hurtful.”
Ekilah has also witnessed religious discrimination against her family in the past.
“As a kid, I used to travel a lot and one trip my family went to Egypt,” Ekilah said. “I remember in the airport as we were getting ready to board, my mom – who was wearing a headscarf – got pulled out randomly from a crowd of two hundred people for a security check. Once she stopped wearing a headscarf, for social reasons, all of that negativity went away.”
Sophomore Nesrudin Redi, who also practices Islam, first experienced religious discrimination in the sixth grade.
“This girl, she asked me my religion. I said I’m Muslim, and she said, ‘Are you going to kill me?’,” Redi said. “It makes me really mad that people associate Muslims with terrorism. Every religion has its problems, like the KKK in Christianity. People perceive Islam as terrorism, and they [MSA] are just trying to get that out of their heads.”
Students of different religions have also seen religious discrimination against Muslims. Junior Piath Mourwal is a practicing Christian, but she supports those practicing Islam and says that she understands the struggles her Muslim friends face.
“I think it [Islamophobia] is dumb. It’s just a religion. Why are you scared of a whole religion?” Mourwal said. “People were really shocked after 9/11, but they blamed the religion instead of the group, and that’s not okay.”
With the recent world-wide attacks by the terror group ISIS, and the increase in U.S. terrorism over the last decade, the image of Islam has been transformed into one of violence to many Americans. But according to senior Dillon Osborne, extremist attacks should not influence student perception of non-extremist groups.
“There’s going to be extremists no matter where you are, whether it’s Christianity, Muslim or any religion really,” Osborne said. “For extremists, it’s almost like one bad apple ruins the bunch in a way. Don’t let that one, small percentage represent the entirety of it, no matter what religion.”
Osborne instead suggests that students inform themselves about all religions in order to understand its followers point-of-view.
“Educate yourself about the di erent religions. Make sure you understand where they are coming from because some people are saying Islam, but everyone thinks terrorists, whenever in reality, it’s [Islam] actually peaceful,” Osborne said. “That’s ignorance because for me, just being an atheist, I just believe that everyone should be treated the same no matter who you are.”
Despite the discrimination she has experienced, Ahmed believes that Winnetonka has an accepting religious environment.
“I don’t get pressure from people with di erent views, since I feel Winnetonka is such a positive environment,” Ahmed said. “Nobody goes out of their way to say disrespectful stuff.”
Although Ahmed believes that students and sta do a good job of celebrating religious diversity, Ekilah hopes that that same understanding will move from the school into the rest of the world.
“I’m as different to anybody else as they are to me,” Ekilah said. “I just wish more people would realize that.”