Saturday, December 18, 2010

Islam in a Post-9/11 Society: Moving From Fear and Intolerance to Respect and Friendship (pt.3)

A massive six-year study on the views of contemporary Muslims that was conducted by the Gallup Organization after 9/11 revealed some important facts about Islam around the world today. I have found this data useful in my personal bridge-building efforts between Christians and Muslims. The information was summarized in an important book by John L. Esposito, called Who Speaks For Islam. Some of the more interesting findings included the following: first, Muslims are just as likely as Americans to morally condemn attacks on civilians. Second, Muslims who support acts of terrorism are a small minority. Third, both Americans and Muslims give the same answer to the question of what they least admire about the West: the erosion of traditional moral values. Fourth, most Muslims say that they desire a future with better jobs and security, not conflict and violent jihad, as many Americans continue to believe about Muslims. Fifth, the majority of Muslims around the world do not desire the law of the land to be exclusively directed according to Sharia law. Sixth, most Muslim women desire both equal rights and religious freedom in their societies. Finally, Muslims generally admire many of the political freedoms of Westerners, including freedom of speech.

This frequently surprising study, accounting for 90% of the global Muslim population, reveals that there is clearly a silenced majority of moderate Muslims around the world who do not fit the stereotypes of many Americans and Europeans. It is a tragedy that the voices of the moderate Muslim majority are rarely given sufficient airtime in the media to make themselves more widely known. Instead, the most popular media outlets continue to reinforce stereotypes of Muslims by showing their most terrifying side (no doubt, often with the selfish motive of driving up their ratings). Despite the fact that within hours of the attacks on 9/11, around a dozen national Muslim organizations unanimously condemned the terrorists, too many Americans continue to ask why moderate Muslims do not speak up. As Muscati argues, this is in large part because “the Muslim community is still a fairly new and comparatively small and weak voice in the American mainstream.” As such, they are frequently unable to counter the unjustified accusations made against them, which usually paints Islam with a very broad brush.

In an effort to counter the popular claims that moderate Muslims have been silent in response to 9/11 (implying their quiet support of the attacks), a Muslim website at Muhajabah.com has assembled an impressive and growing database of condemnations of the 9/11 terrorist attacks from Muslim groups, scholars, leaders, and ordinary persons of faith. These kinds of efforts are extremely important for at least two reasons. First, as already mentioned, because the media outlets rarely give airtime to moderate Muslim voices. Second, because whenever moderate Muslims are given a public voice, people tend to dismiss them as exceptions to the rule. The strongly held stereotype of Muslims as evil frequently “withstands all evidence to the contrary, including the simple truth that the vast majority of Muslims living in societies of their accusers are decent, law-abiding citizens.”

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