Thanksgiving break, for me, means a lot of time spent in airports as I travel home. I decided to capitalize on my time spent waiting for a flight, and maximize my time with family and friends, so I started work on the massive workload of papers and exams I had the week after Thanksgiving. I began to write this piece but I suddenly stopped, fearful, that if someone spotted the words “Islam,” “Qur’an,” or “jihad” on my laptop, my Thanksgiving trip would be over before it began. As I shifted my focus to another paper, I realized this possible perception of me would be an easy fix. I am a white, Catholic, 20 year old male. However, there are many people who cannot easily dismiss those perceptions. Islam ranks among the most prevalent religions in the world, but the majority of Americans know little to nothing about Islam, or reference stereotypes of unjustified terror in the name of Islam. Lack of knowledge causes the endangerment of the good people who identify as Muslim, as well as the values that the United States stands for.
When we fear the things and people we do not understand, as we often resort to negative reactions. Horrific acts like 9/11 and the recent attacks in Paris, which were done in the name of Islam, often result in backlash. The general process needed for the public to comprehend the acts goes something like this; the police identify the attackers as Muslim, postings of Qur’anic text supporting violence pulled off a quick Google search appear to justify Islam as a violent and barbaric religion, and the world blames the entire religion of Islam and Muslim communities. These Qur’anic passages are as representative of Islam as a verse from 2 Timothy demonstrates a thorough understanding of Christianity.
For some reason though, self-proclaimed Muslim “scholars” claim to know the nature of Islam and intentions of Muslims without needing to ever open the Qur’an, solely basing their claims on stereotypes. The Qur’an does present controversial passages, but these passages only support the notion of a proper education of Islam. The Qur’an and other Islamic texts require deep analysis to truly understand the points presented. True understanding of Islam requires understanding of context and influence, and when the reader applies the proper analysis to the Qur’an or other Islamic text, the underlying values of compassion and selflessness replace the stereotypical message of hatred and violence, but it requires a trained eye to differentiate between the two.
To Understand the World Around Us
A day without a news story concerning ISIS, Syrian refugees, or a Presidential candidate’s remarks on Islam seems incomplete, as such stories are so prevalent in today’s media. We live in world immersed in Islam and Islamic influences, which is unsurprising, as more than 2.2 billion people practice it. Islam is more than just a religion, but a lifestyle.
In some aspects, Islam proves to be a culture unlike any other culture as the heavy religious influence makes it completely unique, and to understand a culture we must learn its identity at the core, which makes studying Islam that much more important. Even though the Middle East sits on the other side of the world from the United States, it impacts our daily lives monumentally. The United States has been heavily involved with the Middle East, a region dominated by Islam, for as long as I can remember . Being literate in the issues and conflicts in the Middle East helps us to make decisions here at home, such as determining the deployment of troops or the acceptance of refugees. Now that the world is so interconnected, we must adopt the identity of a global citizen, and to have such a worldview requires the understanding of other cultures.
To Uphold What We Stand For
The founding fathers may have found the United States on Protestant values, but they also called for the freedom of all religions. Some of the first settlers arrived in America to flee religious persecution and freely practice their beliefs. The desire for people to practice whatever religion they prefer manifests itself in the First Amendment, which prohibits laws against the establishments of religion and the restriction of any religion. When we allow extremists to intimidate us to the point where we ignore the Constitution, we have lost the fight against terrorism. When we lose our values, we succumb to their power. We must strive to protect the morals and values of the United States, because that is the ultimate form of patriotism. Patriotism is not the suppression of a religion to force certain values, but rather the embracing of cultural differences that define and make America one of the greatest countries in history. However, it takes an education of Islam to understand that Islam presents no threat to the United States, but rather understand that those who misuse Islam to gain political power. Media often portrays Muslims as criminals and the Western world as the victim, when in reality, only a select group of Muslims are responsible for extremism. Many other Muslims, particularly those in the Middle East, are the individuals who suffer from the violence.
It has becomes essential to distinguish those who use Islam to justify acts of violence from those who use Islam to justify acts of compassion. However, this task cannot be done without true understanding of the complexities of Islam. I am not arguing for the agreement of all Islamic values, but for a firm background and understanding of Islam, so we can understand the true intention of the religion and its true followers. There is a difference between those who misuse the peaceful religion and those who are true followers. The interpretation and understanding of the Qur’an is by no means an easy task, but attempting to comprehend this religion and its root values provides sufficient insight that will preserve the sanctity of the Islamic religion, its people and the sanctity of the United States.
*Top Image: Joey Pecoraro, a sophomore at Trinity University, listens intently during a lecture. Photo by Anh-Viet Dinh, courtesy of Trinity University.