By Chau Tang
Julia A. Shearson, executive director of Cleveland Chapter of Council on American Islamic Relations, came to campus to speak about what being a Muslim in America is like. Her lecture focused on how unkind comments or accusations can lead to major effects on Muslims and their communities.
Her lecture took place on Wednesday, Nov. 8 at Trinity Cathedral. Shearson broke up the lecture into two parts. The first part introduced Islam to the audience, explaining the religion to those who weren’t familiar with it. The second half discussed what was happening in the U.S. in regards to Islamophobia and political situations pertaining to the Muslim community.
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Shearson explained in her lecture how unkind comments could lead others to do hateful actions such as writing hateful comments in Muslims’ homes. She explained that media and members of society began to target Muslims as being extremists after 9/11, media and members of society began to target Muslims as being extremists. Since then, people have looked at Muslims in a different light.
In Shearson’s PowerPoint, there were images of private property being defaced with hateful comments, which are the product of Islamophobia. One of the pictures was in a Bosnian women’s home in Florida. In the pictures, the home was burnt and the walls were spraypainted red with the words, “Go to Hell.”
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Shearson explains that Islam means achieving peace with Allah, with oneself and peace with the creations of Allah – the Arabic word for God. Islam is not just a personal religion but it is a way of life.
Muslims believe in one god, which is believed to be the same god worshiped by Christians and Jewish community. They also believe in Messengers and Prophets, similar to the narratives of Jesus’s birth.
“We also believe in Prophet Muhammad, which makes our belief different from the Christians and Jewish community.” Shearson said.
Muslims believe in the miracles of the Qur’an, which is believed to be the ‘very word of God Almighty.’ They also believe in angels, the unseen world and the Day of Judgment.
The five pillars of Islam are the basis of Muslim life, which are The Testimony of Faith, Prayers, Fasting, Charity, and Pilgrimage.
However, instead of learning about the religion, people tend to rely on stereotypes according to Shearson.
“Something to understand is we are a very diverse community we come from all different backgrounds,” Shearson said.
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Shearson’s presentation established — with facts backed up by the Pew Research Center — that there are 1.6 billion Muslims worldwide.
“This is one fifth of the world’s population,” Shearson said. “And there are 20 percent of the Muslim community that come from the Arab-speaking world.”
There was a slide of a demographic breakdown of how many Muslims are in America. Of those Muslims in America, 33 percent are of ‘Indo-Pakistan’ or South Asian community, 30 percent are African American community and 25 percent are Arab American, with the remaining 12 percent being unknown.
“Islam is a fast-growing religion in the U.S. but it’s hard to have an exact number of how many Muslims there are in America because they do not ask what religion they are.” Shearson said.
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A common stereotype that is perpetuated by media and the internet is that Muslims are violent. This is not true for many Muslims and plays into Islamophobia.
Some components of Islamophobia include the belief that Muslims are not changing and are instead separate and that they are without common values. They are seen as wanting to overthrow the Constitution.
Because of this, there have been attempts to ban Muslim practices and start holidays such as National Burning Qur’an Day. The attempt to Ban Sharia law started in Oklahoma but was not passed because it violated the First Amendment.
“I reserve my worst criticisms for the political leaders who abuse Islam as a political tool to use it as a political advancement,” Shearson said.
One example of such a political leader would be Congressman Allen West.
“He had a thunderous applause for bashing the co-exist bumper sticker and saying those who have the bumper sticker are actually destroying American society because they are allowing this religion in, called Islam,” Shearson said, “Which according to him isn’t a religion. It is instead a totalitarian theocratic system that is infiltrating our colleges, schools and banking system.”
Another misconception is extremists are running 80 percent of Mosques. Some people may have never visited one before, but they believe this to be true. It’s a part of people’s mindset.
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Near the end of the lecture there was a Question and Answer session where one student asked what people could do in their day to day lives to combat Islamophobia.
“We (Muslims) are a tiny minority and we certainly cannot do it alone,” Shearson said, “There are classes in bystander training, [you can] hang around our community, educate yourself about the community, be a part of tea time for peace.”