Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Racism & Islamophobia - Double Trouble for African-American Muslims

'Islam-phobia' abounds in post 9/11 America
By: Charles Hallman
Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder
Originally posted 8/30/2006

For Black Muslims, religious persecution is compounded with racism. Nearly a third of Muslims in the United States are Black. However, Islam-phobia, negative images and buzz words that produce stereotyping, physical and verbal attacks, and racial profiling of Muslims of color, including Muslims of African descent has exploded in this country since the events of September 11, 2001. September 11 only heightened the misconceptions about Islam.

Council on American-Islamic Relations-Michigan Executive Director Dawud Walid pointed out. "Islam-phobia has risen in the post-September 11 era among certain populations in the United States." Walid and four other Black Muslims spoke to Black journalists on media perceptions and misperceptions on Islam during the National Association of Black Journalists annual convention in Indianapolis on August 17. Walid offered as an example a recent incident that occurred during a flight scare that CNN and others reported, which supposedly involved a Muslim woman. "The lady was not a Muslim but a 59-year-old Caucasian. [She] had no matches or Vaseline or letters written in Arabic," he said. "When you mention the word, terrorists, the first thing that comes to mind will be Muslim." The panelists were especially critical of the mainstream media. Walid points out that the "real face" of Islam is obscured by the hate speech used by the Bush administration and is used as a polarizing tool that plays itself in the media, he said, calling U.S. President George Bush "a divisive president."

University of California, Berkeley linguist Geoffrey Nunberg recently wrote in a Los Angeles Times commentary that the phrase "Islamo-fascism" has been around for more than 15 years, but after September 11 it is now used "to justify a broad-based military campaign against Islamic governments and groups hostile to the West." "A tool of war is words," claimed Imam Michael Saahir of Indianapolis Nur-Allah (Light of God) Islamic Center. Islam is a religion and a way of life, not a political ideology, the panelists asserted.

"Islam isn't about war, violence or invading countries but instead is a fair and balanced system of life," Brenda Shaheed, vice-president of enrollment management for Indianapolis-based Martin University, pointed out. "We often get a one-sided and distorted view of Islam. There has to be another side presented." However, the Black media shouldn't shoulder this responsibility alone, said Saahir, who also writes for the Indianapolis Recorder, the city's weekly Black newspaper.

Suhailah Siddeeq Brehane, a stay-at-home mother from Atlanta who has been a Muslim all her life, adds she is disturbed with the media's negative portrayal of her and her fellow Black Muslims. "It is hurting all of us," she said sadly. The role of women in Islam also is misrepresented, continued Shaheed, who has been married to a Muslim for 36 years. Muslim women can choose their husbands, earn a living, and are equal partners in marriages, she insisted. "I have been Muslim for 30 years. I'm American and dress modestly as an African American Muslim woman." There is no standard of dress: Islamic apparel varies from country to country, said Imam Faheem Shuaibe of Oakland, California's Masjid Waritheen, who moderated the panel. Furthermore, all Muslims, especially Blacks, don't look alike, maintained Shaheed. "We have been forced with this [image] all the time."

Walid also asked the media to expand its coverage beyond the stories on Ramadan written every year. "We can comment on more than just the war on terror or being harassed. The new center on the Detroit Pistons is a Muslim. Every single concern that concerns every other American, we have an opinion [as well]." Muslims must also speak up whenever negative images are presented by the media, Walid noted. His organization once met with Detroit newspapers to voice their concerns. "We want our needs to be addressed as any other group in a respectable way," he added. Since September 11, more people have sought to learn more about Islam, Walid noted, but overall Americans still have a negative perception of the religion. "A latest Gallop poll [said] that 41 percent of Americans have a negative view about Islam," he mentioned. According to Walid, "Islam still is the nation's fastest growing religion. Americans, including Caucasians and Latinos, are converting to Islam." Walid believes that a change in the White House might help to eliminate negative perceptions on Islam. "I think that if there was a different administration [with] a different language about the Muslim community and had a different foreign policy and a domestic agenda, and a different agenda on the so-called war on terror, I think Islam-phobia would decrease."

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