In December 2011, just before the airing of the Learning Channel’s new show, All-American Muslim, the Florida Family Association — the conservative group responsible for an aggressive campaign against the show — issued the following words: “The show profiles only Muslims that appear to be ordinary folks while excluding many Islamic believers whose agenda poses a clear and present danger to liberties and traditional values that the majority of Americans cherish.” Clearly, the FFA does not believe that these “ordinary folk” comprise the overwhelming majority of the Muslim population. As I read these and other hateful comments from the likes of Rush Limbaugh and Robert Spencer, I wonder if this is indeed the perception that a significant portion of the American population holds about Muslims.
The brutal killing of an Iraqi-American woman last week that is suspected to be a hate crime and the recent surfacing of details showing that the New York Police Department systematically spied on innocent Muslim students hint at an underbelly of distrust of Islam and those who practice it.
As a Muslim, the Quran teaches me that when faced with fear and hatred, perseverance and active involvement are the best paths. Indeed, the Quran states, “it is righteousness … to be firm and patient in pain and adversity and throughout all periods of panic” (2:177). How will I personally show perseverance and firmness and change the negative perceptions of my religion?
I believe the answer lies in education. It is human nature to fear that with which we are unfamiliar, and while many Americans are familiar with the violent actions of a few under the guise of Islam, they are largely unfamiliar with the religion itself.
Over the past decade, numerous American Muslims have broken stereotypes and attempted to show what it truly means to be a Muslim. Among these commendable individuals are Rep. Keith Ellison, who is the first Muslim elected to the United States Congress, and Elias Zerhouni, the former director of the National Institutes of Health, who was appointed a “Science Envoy” to Muslim-majority countries by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in 2009. Through their involvement in American social and political life, these citizens are slowly changing the way in which Muslims are regarded in America.
It is matter of personal pride for me to acknowledge that my fellow Muslim students in the Cornell community are also making significant changes in the perception of Muslims on Campus. The Muslim Educational and Cultural Association had been intricately involved in breaking stereotypes with such events as the Eid Banquet last Fall and Islam Awareness Week, which is taking place this week. Furthermore, the Islamic Alliance for Justice and the Committee for the Advancement of Muslim Culture have also contributed to this cause through their “All-Cornellian Muslims Banquet.” These events are critical components in the endeavor to show the diversity within the Muslim community.
Sana Siddiqui is a junior in the College of Arts and Sciences serves on the board of Cornell’s Muslim Educational and Cultural Association. She may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Guest Room appears periodically this semester.