Leading PostsSeptember October 2007

Stereotyping Of Muslims Demeans Our Democracy

Benjamin J. Hubbard

Stereotyping is a deceptive and malicious way of asserting the superiority of one ethnic, national or religious group over another.  Its fruits are bigotry, violence and war. It thrives on half-truths, generalizations and fear.

A recent example is an email floating like space garbage through the Internet that I have received from five different sources within the past year. It makes several assertions about Islam and Muslims that are either false or simplistic.  The email begins with the question, “Can a Muslim become a good American citizen?” The anonymous email then provides a series of negative responses or stereotypes from “a friend who worked in Saudi Arabia for 20 years.”  Here are five of the most misleading of the stereotypes followed by clarifications.

Stereotype1. Theologically, no “because his allegiance is to Allah, the moon god of Arabia.”

Clarification 1. “Allah is simply the Arabic word for God or the God (compare Hebrew El) with no connection to moon worship.  Perhaps this canard stems from the Islamic symbol of the crescent moon and star which symbolize the beginning of Ramadan, the Muslim month of fasting, determined by the sighting of the crescent.

Stereotype 2.  A Muslim cannot be politically loyal to America, “because he must submit to the mullahs (spiritual leaders) who teach annihilation of Israel and destruction of America, the Great Satan.”

Clarification 2. There may be a tiny handful of radical Muslim clerics in America who would like to see our nation and Israel destroyed.  However, they are vastly outnumbered by the moderate Muslim leadership that may oppose certain policies of the US or Israeli government but are seeking what they consider redress of grievances not annihilation.  Any Muslim seeking our nation’s destruction—like any Jew, Christian, Hindu, Sikh or Buddhist—should be arrested and tried for treason.  

Stereotype 3.  A Muslim cannot be a good American domestically, “because he is instructed to marry four women and scourge his wife when she disobeys him (Qur’an 4:34).”

Clarification 3.  A Muslim is not “instructed” to marry more than one wife, but may only do so if his first wife consents and he is able to treat each wife equally, with due regard for her emotional, sexual and financial needs—a high bar for most men.  The practice is the exception rather than the rule.  The term “scourge” is misleading, as the Arabic word is closer to “beat them lightly.” This practice is only permitted after the husband has spoken to his wife about a matter involving “disloyalty and ill conduct.”  Moreover, many Muslim commentators consider any sort of physical punishment inadvisable and cite a saying from Prophet Muhammad himself in the Hadith literature that husbands cannot beat their wives, because “they are your partners in life.” And the following verse in the Qur’an (4:35) mandates family arbitration of marital disputes involving a representative of both the husband’s and wife’s family.

Stereotype 4. A Muslim cannot be a good American, “because Islam, the Qur’an, and Muhammad do not allow freedom of religion…Democracy and Islam cannot co-exist. Every Muslim government is either dictatorial or autocratic.”

Clarification 4.  The Qur’an says there should be “no compulsion in religion (Surah 2:256), thereby mandating religious freedom. Islam has historically permitted Jews and Christians in Muslim lands to practice their faith, albeit with restrictions.  Today, not all Muslim countries, particularly Saudi Arabia, permit freedom of religion—a fact decried by many US Muslims. Though many Muslim nations, unfortunately, are ruled by dictators, there are important exceptions—Turkey and Indonesia among them.

Stereotype 5.  A Muslim cannot be a good American spiritually, because “the Christian God is loving and kind while Allah is never referred to as heavenly father and is never called ‘love’ in the Qur’an’s  99 excellent names.”

Clarification 5. God is not referred to as “heavenly father” in Islam because of the Muslim theological belief that God (Allah) has no divine son.  He is often, though, called “Lord/creator of the heavens.” “Love” may not be mentioned among the 99 names, but Allah is frequently described as loving those who do good (Surah 2:195, 3:146 and 5:42, for example).

It is understandable that non-Muslims would have theological differences with the followers of Islam. But to use stereotypes and misconceptions to disenfranchise the millions of US Muslims who love their country, live exemplary lives and contribute in numerous ways to the well being of our democracy is the worst kind of fear mongering. 

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