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On September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks forever changed the relationship between Muslim Americans and the general American public. The event not only impacted the lives and families of those killed, but it also affected the perception of all Muslim Americans. On that fateful day, four airliners were hijacked by the terrorist group Al-Qaeda, with the goal of causing terror in the United States. One of the four planes hit the Pentagon, another crashed in a field in Pennsylvania, and the remaining two planes destroyed the World Trade Center Twin Towers in New York City, killing more than 3,000 people. Nineteen years later, the effects of oral tradition and the dominant narrative has to lead to the perpetuation of stereotypes and prejudices against Muslim Americans and the Middle East as a whole. Islamophobia, irrational fear of or discrimination against Islam, became more prominent as Americans worried that they too would become the victims of another devastating attack.
The fear created after the 9/11 terrorist attacks caused Americans to act in a defensive and margining manner. Due to the lack of knowledge pertaining to the Islamic religion, some Americans experienced Xenophobia. Rather than recognizing that the 9/11 attacks were caused by Muslim Extremists, some Americans attributed the attacks to religion and Muslims as a whole. To cope with the fear of the unknown as a defense mechanism, Americans generalized all Muslims to be attackers and enemies of the United States and by doing so created stereotypes to better argue for their safety. In figure 1, a man is holding up a poster that says, “all I need to know about Islam, I learned on 9/11.” More specifically, this man is professing the dominant narrative that Islam preaches or practices terroristic ideologies. As a way of showing his support and appreciation of the United States, most likely out of fear and misunderstanding, he is simply perpetuating the stereotype of violence on an actually peaceful religion. His holding of this poster does not appear to be an unintentional perpetuation of the narrative, he most likely believes the stereotype is an accurate depiction, especially if his only potential interactions with a Muslim were on the news during and in the aftermath of 9/11.
The changes in the American perspective towards Muslims following 9/11 have had a detrimental effect on the culture of Muslim Americans and their life experiences regardless of their religion preaching peaceful actions. Many Muslims after 9/11 found it easier to relinquish their heredities in order to better assimilate. For fear of being associated with terrorism, Muslims often changed their names to avoid harassment. The new name that some Muslims assumed gave them an opportunity to live like any other American citizen. Many Americans suspect that a Muslim’s religion, Islam, preaches terroristic ideals, based on the actions of a few, however, the Qur’an, Islam’s religious text, contains passages that expressly condemn terrorism and advocate for peace. In a translated passage the Qur’an explains “Whosoever kills an innocent human being, it shall be as if he has killed all mankind.” This quote embodies one of many peaceful teachings found in the Qur’an and strays away from the dominant narrative that all Muslims are terrorists.
The oral stories told about Muslim Americans following the 9/11 terrorist attacks created fear towards Muslims, marginalizing them in society and referring to them as terrorists and jihadists, however, Islam is quite peaceful. Americans are often engulfed by their own ideals and unrecognized stereotypes towards Muslim Americans and are often captured by the dangers of a minority of individuals performing attacks in the name of a religion that disagrees with the ideology of the extremists. Muslims learn that they must camouflage their true identity and leave behind their former cultures in order to feel connected to society and forego judgment from the American people. By seeing all Muslims through a single lens-being terrorists- many Americans continue to carry on this endless cycle of stereotypes being forced upon Muslims and Muslim Americans and neglect to see the full picture and people found within these stereotypes.
To combat the generalization that all Muslims are terrorists, Rais Bhuiyan, a Muslim American, uses his own experiences with stereotypes to fight hate around the world. Rais Bhuiyan, founder and president of “A World Without Hate,” first created his organization as a victim of the aftermath of the 9/11 terrorist attacks on Muslim Americans. After being shot in the head by a white nationalist, Bhuiyan used his upbringing and the Qur’an teachings to create an organization to educate Americans and people around the world about true Islam ideologies and encourage peace globally. Bhuiyan is one of many examples of Muslim Americans that speak against the dominant narrative that all Muslims are terrorists. Rather than internalizing his frustration and accepting the erroneous stereotype, Bhuiyan was able to use his story and peaceful teachings to create an entire organization to battle the false images drawn by the single story, an attempt to educate and change the dominant narrative. A World Without Hate is an organization that encourages respectful dialogue and storytelling as a way to truly get to know one another’s background. Along with that, A World Without Hate aims the create ambassadors to help fight the cycle of Islamophobia and hate toward other marginalized groups within America.
The Hajj pilgrimage, a religious duty that must be done within the lifetime of all practicing Muslims, emphasizes the concept of equality of mankind. The pilgrimage alone combats the dominant narrative that all Muslims are terrorists by showing the unknown and peaceful side of Islam. During the Hajj, Muslims are expected to dress the same way and honor the same rituals which remove inequality based on race, gender, or social status and promote modesty and loyalty. Furthermore, during the Hajj pilgrimage, the Muslim participants are forbidden to argue, fight, or lose their tempers. In “World’s Largest Pilgrimage – Hajj Documentary,” the producers take the audience into the depths of the Hajj to show fearful Americans what the Islamic religion really represents. By showing actual footage of what it is like to be a Muslim completing the Hajj, the documentary presents the raw background and importance of Islam and what it stands for, peace. In one testimony, Amir Abudauh, a Muslim American, professes his reasoning for completing the Hajj by saying, “my religion is misconstrued in the eyes of my fellow Americans, here I pray for unity and peace.” Here, Amir elucidates that there are two sides to every story. By telling the audience that his religion is misunderstood, he hints on the fact that Americans think of Islam as a terrorist religion when really, it represents peace and equality for all mankind. The Hajj documentary challenges the dominant narrative created by Americans in the United States and works to reveal a deeper and more accurate depiction of Muslims.
The notation created by Americans that Islam is a dangerous and terrorist religion is one of many fallacies, however, in a post-9/11 world, we continue to see rampant Islamophobia only showing one side to a complicated story (Kishi). In 2017, President Trump ordered a travel ban of citizens from five predominantly Muslim countries, among others. This action represents a continuing of Muslim discriminatory legislation as well as perpetuating the dangers of a single story. By looking into texts from the Qur’an, an organization brought about by a Muslim American, and the Hajj pilgrimage, we find a more complicated narrative towards Muslim Americans than previously observed and look to stray away from the dangers and prejudices that follow a single story.
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