I was watching The Daily Show with Jon Stewart last week (if I could somehow manage to get him involved in this blog, my side life as a blogger would be complete) and there was a segment about the recent controversy surrounding a reality show on TLC called All American Muslim. The segment is really about how Lowe's pulled its ads during the show following the Florida Family Association's (FFA) call for a boycott of the show, but CLICK HERE to listen to the broadcast.
So why exactly was FFA calling for a boycott of the show? According to FFA executive director David Caton, there was an "absence of the radical side of...Sharia law [and an] absence of the application of Islamic code." Or as Stewart explains, FFA's issue lies with the absence of the portrayal of Islamic radicalism. But the quote from Caton that really upset me was his intimation that All American Muslim (which depicts average Muslims living in America going about their business like anyone else in this country) "creates an image that's harmful education-wise to the belief structure and memories of millions of Americans who will look at this and say 'Well, all Muslims are like that' when it's not accurate." Stewart's rebuttal pointed out that the point, perhaps even the definition of education, is to replace your "belief structure" with facts.
So I had to think, What ARE real Muslims in America like? I have avoided relying on print and media sources to learn about Muslims and the religion of Islam because everything is so skewed, there's no way of knowing how to get the true story. I have a friend on Facebook who is Muslim; she's also a teenage girl. I tapped her brain for some insight into the true circumstance of being Muslim in America.
I'm paraphrasing what she told me, but I asked her if people were generally accepting of her as a Muslim and what she wants people to know about her religion. She converted from Christianity to Islam 6 years ago. Her father converted to Islam when he was a teenager after seeing a young woman covered up in the traditional dress. He was so impressed with the woman's self respect that he eventually converted. When the girl I spoke with told her friends that she was converting, there really was no hostility, just a lot of confusion. They just couldn't understand why she would change her religion, let alone to that of Islam. She also made a very good point: there is a lot of misunderstanding surrounding Islam and Muslims. Today, people seem to have an issue with the religion of Islam, but the religion itself is not the problem. The problem lies with those few Muslims who practice extreme Islam and consequently give the entire belief a bad name.
I also asked if anyone had ever said anything derogatory to her or her family. She said there were little incidences where people would make a joke about her having a machine gun under her overgarment or they'd tell others, "you better leave her alone before she does something crazy!" At first, the jokes made her upset, but her friends would then hug her and it was all done jokingly. So there is a kind of sense of humor that goes along with being stereotyped, just nothing too serious. She says "the only thing I really wish people knew about the religion is to respect Muslims. Of course no one will forget 9/11, but to blame it on a certain type of Muslim, better yet take it out on all Muslims, is absurd."
The thing that came across most strongly in our discussion was that Islam is all about respect. Respect of yourself and of others. Respect of people who believe something different than you do. She had a plea for "people who make fun of Muslims, and say stupid things like, 'you're a terrorist'." It holds true for not only Muslims but for any other person or group who is subject to prejudices and negative stereotypes: "Remember, I have feelings too. You're human just as I am. Don't judge me, that isn't your job. It's Allah's, the Creator's, Jesus, whoever you worship. Be affectionate. Understand and love."
I'd like to send a special thanks to my friend for answering my questions, and I just hope that people take her words to heart.