Search “Muslims” on Google images, and the results reflect the growing anti-Muslim sentiments in the world.
The first 15 images include groups of Muslim men praying, a cluster of smiling girls wearing hijabs (head scarves worn by Muslim women), screaming men rioting in the streets, a rally of turban-wearing men carrying RPGs, and men carrying signs that read “Behead Those Who Insult Islam,” “BBC = British Blasphemic Crusaders” and “Massacre Those Who Insult Islam.”
What comes up when the term “Christians” is searched?
Praying hands, crosses, lit candles, a map of the Christian World and a stained-glass window of Jesus Christ.
This view of Muslims is creating an inhospitable environment for followers of Islam in America and abroad, and those at Country Day are no exception.
Raised in the faith of Islam, seniors Julia Owaidat and Serajh Esmail are familiar with the apprehension American Muslims face.
Although Owaidat was born in America, her parents are from Lebanon, which makes her knowledgeable about the conflicts in the Muslim world.
When Owaidat travelled to Lebanon in 2006 to visit her extended family, she was present when the 2006 Lebanon War began, which was fought between Muslim Hezbollah fighters and Jewish Israelis.
“Our house was less than an hour outside of the capital (of Lebanon), so we were okay,” she said.
“But we did have a bomb shelter just in case, and a couple bombs came really close to hitting our house.”
However, Owaidat said she doesn’t have to travel 7,000 miles to experience clashes over her religion.
While at the Galleria Mall in Roseville a year ago, Owaidat and a couple of her teenage friends who wear hijabs were accosted by a group of older boys.
“They kept asking us ‘Why do your people come here if you don’t like America?’ and ‘Why don’t you guys go back to where you came from?’” Owaidat said.
“We had no idea what to say, especially since we were all born in America.”
Serajh, on the other hand, has never been confronted for being Muslim because people mainly associate him with being African American, he said.
“When I was younger, I always shied away from telling people my religious affiliation with Islam,” he said. “I felt that my peers didn’t like Islam and that they had a fear of Muslims.
“I grew out of that, of course.”
Although many Muslims are faced with Islamophobic prejudice, Esmail’s father, Abdul Esmail, said that he wasn’t concerned about being targeted when he first moved to America from Kenya in 1986.
“Knowing that it is part of the Constitution that any person can enter into the country and is free to practice their own religion meant that I never had to worry if there would be Islamophobia,” he said.
However, since the Sept. 11 attacks, the average anti-Muslim hate crimes each year have risen from 20-30 before 2001 to more than 500, according to the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reports program. Today there are 100-150 reported cases each year in the United States.
“What happened after 9/11 was that media coverage started to portray all Muslims as terrorists,” Mr. Esmail said.
And these sentiments have obviously persisted.
Because of the media bias, American Muslims have had to deal with the hatred and fear of Islam.
For instance, a couple of Mr. Esmail’s Muslim friends and their children from the Dearborn, Michigan, area, were verbally accosted.
“(My friends) sport beards and certain attires that would make them easily identifiable in a crowd, like turbans,” Mr. Esmail said.
“Their children have been bullied at school, and they have been called names.”
In an Octagon poll distributed Dec. 15 to 124 students, 42 percent of high schoolers said that they have personally witnessed racism against Muslims in their communities.
However, followers of Islam are not the only religious group being targeted in America.
After Sept. 11, when a wave of anti-Islamic sentiment washed over the country, it led to some Americans confusing the long beards and turbans worn by many Sikh men as a representation of Islam.
Senior Jag Lally, who is Sikh and wears a turban, has experienced that confusion.
“I’ll be walking down the street, and someone will shout out their car window, ‘Go back to your country, Osama!’” Lally said.
Although turbans are normally associated with Muslim men, many American Muslims don’t wear turbans out of fear of being confronted or attacked, Lally said.
This is only one aspect of Islam that Americans don’t fully understand.
When it comes to “Islamic” extremist groups, such as ISIS and al-Qaeda, many Muslims don’t believe that the groups should be labeled as “Islamic.”
However, in the Dec. 15 poll, 65 percent of students said that terrorist groups, such as ISIS, are correctly labeled as “Islamic” extremists.
Many people say that the extremists are following the tenets of the Quran, which is the Islamic holy book, but the Quran doesn’t teach people to hate and kill people, Serajh said.
“It really teaches people to reach out and make connections with other groups of people, as well as about peace and lovingness,” he said.
His father agrees.
“Nowhere in the Quran does it say that you have the right to commit atrocities and heinous crimes by taking somebody else’s life in the name of your God,” he said.
“The God in Islam is perceived (by Americans who don’t understand Islam) as not having compassion, but he is the most beautiful thing and the most merciful. Therefore, it is totally un-Islamic when they use his name to attack people.”
Another aspect of Islam that is usually misunderstood is the concept of jihad.
People generally believe that jihad means a holy war against other groups because those groups don’t believe in Islam, Owaidat said.
But Serajh describes it as an inner struggle and a personal duty.
“I think of (jihad) as a personal struggle to make myself a better person for me and my community,” Serajh said.
An example of a jihad would be “if a person is overweight and they want to diet or shed their weight, their personal jihad would be to lose that weight,” Mr. Esmail said.
In order to counteract prejudice against Muslims, Serajh, Mr. Esmail and Owaidat said they believe that Americans should be educated about the values of Islam.
Serajh said that people who are open to learning about Islam should attend a service at a mosque.
“People have no idea what we talk about at the services,” he said.
“In all mosques, we will interpret the Quran and then connect that interpretation to the world and current events.
“We talk about how to do good with that information.”
In his sophomore World Cultures history class, Serajh remembers learning about the historical content of the Arab world, but not really about the Quran itself.
“By going to a service, people would understand more about what it means to be Muslim,” he said.
Mr. Esmail, a general contractor who designs and builds religious buildings such as churches and mosques, concurs.
The Salam Islamic Center, a mosque that he built, has “opened up its doors for people to go in and understand what Islam is,” he said.
“Part of the problem now is that people are afraid of the unknown.”