Don’t Hide Your Islam Engage socially, civically, and politically in your local community.
By Quaid Saifee
The Institute for Social Policy and Understanding (ISPU) is a non-partisan think tank and research institute that focuses on the challenges and opportunities facing American Muslims. They recently issued a report titled: American Muslim Poll 2019: Predicting and Preventing Islamophobia
My goal is to briefly summarize their findings and recommendations that are relevant to the Muslim community.
Muslims love to talk about national and international politics and world affairs in general. You can be in a Muslim gathering and you will hear people talk about topics ranging from Trump, the Muslim ban, Imran Khan, etc.. Things we rarely discuss are our present and future here in the United States. We rarely talk about the effect of Islamophobia on our kids, many of whom suffer from mental health issues and are likely to be discriminated against because of their faith.
ISPU has been polling Americans of all faiths (including Muslims) for the last few years to figure out the status of Islamophobia. They statistically measure it and refer to it as the Islamophobia Index in which the higher the number, the stronger the Islamophobia. The Islamophobia Index inched up from 24 in 2018 to 28 in 2019.
The Islamophobia Index is based on a level of agreement regarding Muslims living in the USA, and that they:
Are more prone to violence than others
Discriminate against women
Are hostile to the United States
Are less civilized than other people
Are partially responsible for acts of violence carried out by other Muslims
ISPU’s study concludes that Jews and Hispanics have the most favorable view of Muslims and white Evangelicals have the least.
It also finds that lower Islamophobia is related to knowing a Muslim, knowledge about Islam, political inclination toward the Democratic party, and favorable views of minorities.
The most surprising findings for me are the neutral factors, which make no difference in predicting Islamophobia. They are:
Nativity: Being born outside or within the United States makes no difference on Islamophobia. Being an immigrant does not increase sympathy for American Muslims.
Sex and Age: All other factors being equal, being a woman or being younger in age makes no difference in how Islamophobic someone is. It is often assumed that women and the youth are more sympathetic to minority groups, but that is not the case here.
Education: Having a college education is not linked to a reduction in negative opinions about Muslims.
Religiosity: Spirituality or a frequency of attendance to a house of worship does not affect Islamophobia. Islamophobia is therefore clearly more political and ideological than theological for most Americans.
So, what do we do with all this information? Here are four recommendations from ISPU, along with my two cents:
Build Coalitions with Other Impacted Communities: Islamophobia is just one branch on a far more expansive and deeply rooted tree of bigotry. Muslims need to work with other like-minded people to address racism, sexism, anti-Semitism, and homophobia both within our community and outside of it. Standing up for justice for all is not only our civic duty, but our Islamic one.
Keep Demystifying Islam: Knowing something about Islam is an even stronger predictor of reduced Islamophobia, more so than knowing a Muslim personally. It is therefore not enough to humanize Muslims as people or to make Muslim friends. We should take every opportunity to educate the public on the Islamic faith.
Do More Than “Interfaith”: As Islamophobia is more politically driven in nature, it is important to reach out to diverse groups and communities. We must reach across racial, class, and cultural divides, to people of all faiths and no faith, rather than just those who are typically involved in interfaith engagement who tend to be white and middle class. Also, I have noticed that Muslims are rarely engaged in interfaith dialogue with black churches in and around our community.
Work for Greater Good: When Muslims work together with other communities for a good cause, we develop bonds of human brotherhood which lends itself to a reduction in the negative perception of our faith. Again, isn’t working for the greater good the main message of Islam?
In my own life, I decided to get involved with Michigan Roundtable for Diversity and Inclusion, an organization that empowers individuals and communities to advance equity and opportunity for all. Through this, I have learned so much about the struggle to make our society more equitable.
It is the responsibility of each of us to get involved in our local community, whether it be volunteering at the local library or participating in City Council meetings, joining the board of a local non-profit or volunteering for the campaign of someone who is committed to bringing about positive change.
We should not expect people to care about our struggles if we cannot find it within ourselves to genuinely care about theirs.