January 24, 2017

LEE | Islam from a Non-Muslim Perspective

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It has been many months since the end of Ramadan, the holy month of Islam. Here in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, expats who compose almost 90 percent of the population are left in despair as they face 120 degrees Fahrenheit heat, restaurants closed until 7 p.m. and roads filled with hasty drivers. During this month in which Muslims fast from sunrise to sunset in accordance with one of the five pillars of Islam, misunderstandings between Muslims and non-Muslims widen. Some Muslims get annoyed at some non-Muslims who disrespect their fasting by eating in front of them. Other non-Muslims are displeased by the fact that they are not to eat in public during Ramadan. However, rarely do these two groups communicate in terms of their respective perceptions on Islam and its practices. My concern is that when such misunderstandings even persist in an Islamic country, how many more misconceptions will there be in the United States where many only hear about Islam through news about ISIS or injustice for women in Saudi Arabia? That is why we most certainly need to have more open talks about Islam, as well as any other cultures that are considered foreign.

When I moved to the UAE three years ago, almost all of my friends told me to “be careful” simply because of the fact that I was a girl heading off to a Middle Eastern, Arab, Islamic country. Even to this day when I tell my friends that I have never felt so safe before in any other country, they give looks of doubt or simply say that it’s probably because I’m living in the multicultural hub of Dubai. That’s partially true. I have come to realize that because people from more than a hundred different countries make Dubai the place of wonder that it is, it can’t help but be accepting of several cultures and backgrounds. But I have also realized that Dubai wouldn’t have been able to become the place that it is if the Islam that dominates the country was intolerant as many wrongfully assume it to be.

As ISIS makes headlines almost everyday with its terrorist attacks supposedly held in the name of Allah (God), Islamophobia has escalated in many parts of the Western world, if not the rest of the world. However, one must realize that although news about ISIS dominates the media, it most definitely does not dominate Islam. The other one and a half billion Muslims do not believe in such terrorist attacks. Time and time again Arab countries have deplored ISIS for wrongfully portraying Islam and have held airstrikes against IS militants.

What’s more, the hijab, a veil used by some Muslim women to cover their hair, has become a symbol of female oppression. To be clear, forcing the hijab is condemnable in all forms and is most certainly a way of limiting women from seeking basic freedom. However, forcing women to abandon the hijab is also almost as inconsiderate. Many Muslim women prefer to wear the hijab because it is their belief that showing their hair to strangers is inappropriate. Those who choose to wear the hijab should have just as much freedom to do so as those who prefer not to, because it is a matter of personal choice: a basic right.

Moreover, the people who choose to preserve their faith in Islam deserve to be respected for their views, just like any other belief. Too often do Muslims get shunned for their apparently unconventional views. What would become of this world if we were all to preach the exact same values and beliefs?

In case you were wondering, I am not Muslim. Nor do I support ISIS or gender inequality in extremist sections of Islam. Nor do I oppose Christianity. I simply hope that before one goes against any culture or religion with preconceived notions, even if not in full agreement with all of its beliefs, one will try to look at it from different angles before being too quick to judge. I hope that my non-Muslim perspective on Islam, although not entirely comprehensive, will help you realize that issues on the religion need to be seen from a new light.

DongYeon (Margaret) Lee is a freshman in the College of Industrial and Labor Relations. She can be reached at margaretlee@cornellsun.com. Here, There and Everywhere appears alternate Tuesdays this semester.