Young Muslims like Humaira Akram are using social media to show the Islamic culture’s younger side.
“Gen Z Muslims have changed or progressed Muslim culture in today’s society by being more vocal, using their social media platforms to advocate for justice and being open-minded,” said Akram, a student at Brooklyn College in New York.
Akram and others say they think many non-Muslims see violence and sexism as stereotypes. But younger Muslims are eager to move beyond that, she said.
“They are eager to learn and succeed, while speaking up against misconceptions and raising awareness for future generations, speaking up against injustice, and using their voice to make a change,” Akram said.
The conservative religious regimes in Iran and Saudi Arabia compel women to wear head coverings and keep them subservient to men. In other Islamic countries such as Afghanistan, head covering is a cultural practice rather than mandated by law.
Other Muslim-majority countries such as Indonesia, Turkey and Syria, have made greater strides in women’s rights, with more women attending university and holding senior government positions. Afghanistan’s parliament, according to Human Rights Watch, “has a higher percentage of women than does the U.S. Congress.”
There is a commonly held but misleading perception in U.S. public discourse that the Trump administration’s policies have been largely favorable to faith communities. This is based on the administration’s narrow understanding of religion and public policy—one that privileges the concerns of a select group of conservative white Christians, mostly evangelical, who by no means represent all of America’s faithful. Rather, this subset has a narrow focus on policies that discriminate against LGBTQ people and stigmatize reproductive health services, including abortion, presenting a very skewed representation of religious Americans’ public policy concerns. While the Trump administration purports to help this narrow band of religious Americans, the reality is that many of its policies have harmed all religious communities—particularly religious minorities.
To understand the needs and concerns of all American faith communities, it is important to first understand the religious diversity of the nation. While 3 in 4 Americans identify with a religious tradition, only 15 percent identify as white evangelicals, according to the 2019 American Values Atlas Survey.1 Yet this small proportion of the population tends to garner a disproportionate share of attention concerning religion in the public discourse on national politics. Their concerns certainly dominate how the Trump administration’s impact on faith communities is perceived at large.
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Public opinion polling reveals that even the so-called benefits of the Trump administration to those select faith groups crusading against reproductive and LGBTQ rights are rejected by majorities within faith communities other than white evangelicals. According to the Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI), majorities of white mainline Protestants and Black Protestants say abortion should be legal in most or all cases, as well as a plurality of Catholics.2 The vast majority of U.S. women of faith have used or currently use birth control.3 The PRRI also found that majorities of all major religious groups in the United States support government-backed health insurance programs covering contraceptives and supporting nondiscrimination protections for the LGBTQ community.4
Muslims and atheists in the United States are more likely than those of Christian faiths to experience religious discrimination, according to new research led by the University of Washington.
In the study, which focused on public schools because they are government-run, community-facing institutions, the researchers tested responses to an individual’s expression of religious belief. In addition to finding greater bias against religious minorities, the researchers also saw that ardent expressions of faith, regardless of religious tradition, were more prone to discrimination.
“The U.S. is becoming a much more culturally diverse society than in the past, and the rate of change is happening very swiftly. So we wanted to ask: How are our public institutions keeping up? Can they provide equal accommodations and protection under the law?” said Steve Pfaff, a University of Washington professor of sociology and lead author of the study, which published Aug. 30 in Public Administration Review.
Religious bias may be a very serious problem, but it has been studied less than other types of discrimination, such as race- or gender-based discrimination, Pfaff added.
“Schools bear this enormous responsibility and perform this important service, and one thing that’s changing quickly, among the population, is religion. So how are schools handling all that change?” he said.
The September 11 terrorist attacks in 2001 propelled them to this unenviable position. More recently, Islamic State has reinforced Western fears of and antipathy towards Islam and Muslims.
Our new study finds non-Muslim Australians living in areas with high numbers of Muslims are less Islamophobic than the general populations of Sydney and Melbourne. This suggests living side-by-side could be an antidote to Islamophobia.
What is Islamophobia?
Islamophobia refers to indiscriminate negative attitudes or emotions directed at Islam or Muslims.
Australians typically know very little about Muslims and their faith. As a result, they tend to lump together this vastly diverse group as backward, gender-oppressive and violent.
The “religious visibility” of some Muslims exacerbates this issue. We see Muslim women wearing hijabs or face veils, and quickly – as well as wrongly – conclude all Muslims are traditional and far too serious about their religion for our modern and secular standards.
Just like any other large population group, Muslims come from a variety of ethno-cultural and socio-economic backgrounds. As sociologist Riaz Hassan noted in 2018, 37% of Australian Muslims are born here, and the rest come from 183 different countries.
Polarity is palpable at the present time. Whatever the causes, large swaths of American society are deeply alienated from one another. The issue does not matter: pandemic, racial equity, education or the upcoming presidential election. Whatever the result of that election, we are at risk of facing an even deeper divide in our society. It is likely that people will die as tensions and violence escalate. The reality is, they already have.
There is no shortage of problems we face. Each prioritizes them in an individual way, but I place our inability to conduct civil discourse high on the list. How can we talk to one another — without fear of irreparably alienating the other or even provoking violence? Is it possible that we together can gather evidence, interrogate it, identify critical issues, envision possibilities and their consequences, and reach solutions?
If anything, sheer necessity leads me to hope we can. If not, our future as a functional democracy is shrouded in darkness.
While contemplating this darkness, I recently had a remarkable encounter with empathy. I stumbled upon it in a new book on Middle Eastern politics: “Shia Islam and Politics: Iran, Iraq, and Lebanon,” by Jon Armajani, professor in the Peace Studies Department at the College of St. Benedict and St. John’s University in Minnesota.
The book documents the relationship between religion and politics across Middle Eastern history, with particular attention to the Islamic sect of Shi’ism.
Shia Islam is practiced by most people in Iran and Iraq and by many in Lebanon. It is the religion of the Islamic Revolution in Iran, of Hezbollah in Lebanon. Also central to the investigation is the United States’ relationship to these nations.
Russell Moore, the president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, is trying to educate Christians about the cultural and demographic genocide that China is perpetrating against its Muslim population.
Why it matters: “If no one in the world is going to notice that someone is gone, then the CCP can do whatever it wants,” says Moore.
What’s happening: In addition to a webinar with Uighur activists he held last week on the issue, Moore has written about repression of the Uighurs for the Wall Street Journal, has tweeted frequently about it and is working with U.S. officials on the issue.
His immediate goal is simply to spread awareness among Christians, Moore told Axios in an interview.
“Churches have been very receptive and alarmed that they did not know sooner that this was happening. That’s what I hear most often, is people asking why they didn’t know that this was taking place,” said Moore, adding that Uighurs have seemed “invisible” to many Americans.
“And I think their invisibility is what empowers the CCP to continue their actions. If no one in the world is going to notice that someone is gone, then the CCP can do whatever it wants.”
Background: Southern Baptists are the largest evangelical Christian group in the U.S., a group that has overwhelmingly supported President Trump despite the president’s history of statements and policies targeting Muslims.
In the past few months, the Trump administration has levied sanctions on numerous CCP officials over human rights violations against Muslims. The sanctions have brought praise from human rights activists but also accusations of hypocrisy due to the Trump administration’s discriminatory policies targeting Muslims
As it happened, I was already home, curled up on the sofa and scrolling through notifications on my mobile phone. Earlier that day, I tweeted a snapshot of a handwritten index card someone handed me at a lecture I gave in upstate New York in 2016, asking me what advice I would give to young Muslim Americans who did not feel safe in their communities after that year’s election. I wasn’t sure I had much advice for how to handle that feeling, because at times I struggled with it myself. Perhaps, I thought, others on social media might have something useful to contribute. Instead, a stranger gave that short, blunt reply: “Go where you feel safe. Go back home!”
The sentiment wasn’t new to me. I’d heard it before, and not just from online trolls who believed they had the supreme right to decide who belongs in the United States. Last year, I recoiled in alarm when I watched footage of a protester in the crowd outside a Border Patrol facility in Clint, Texas, yelling at Representative Rashida Tlaib of Michigan to go back to her country. Tlaib was part of a congressional delegation visiting the detention facility to learn more about the treatment of migrants and asylum seekers under the Trump administration’s family-separation policy. When the representative came out to speak with reporters, someone shouted at her, “We don’t want Muslims here!” That same xenophobic impulse finds its voice each time the president fires another salvo in his ongoing conflict with Representative Ilhan Omar of Minnesota. In the last few months, he has called her “a horrible woman who hates our country” and a “hate-filled, America-bashing socialist.”
Moments like these serve as a reminder to Muslims that our belonging in the United States is not secure but conditional: At the slightest sign of political disagreement, some Americans are eager to deny or revoke our citizenship. Whether we are immigrants, refugees or natural-born citizens, ordinary constituents or members of Congress, we continue to be seen as unwanted latecomers in a “Judeo-Christian nation.”
The notion of the Arab and Muslim world as a cauldron of perpetual religious strife – and thus a place to avoid – has been a difficult rap to beat. Yet many countries keep defying the myth. The latest may be Sudan. On Sept. 3, its prime minister, Abdalla Hamdok, signed an agreement to enshrine the principle of “separation of religion and state” in the constitution. In addition, political parties would not be established on a religious basis.
Sudan joins Tunisia, Iraq, Lebanon, and a few other Muslim-majority countries that are trying to curb their sectarian divisions or the strict imposition of sharia, or Islamic law, on civic and private life. Notions of political equality are rising up, led mostly by youthful protesters who rely on the Arabic term for citizens: muwatinun.
Sudan’s move toward secular governance comes out of pro-democracy protests that felled a dictator, Omar al-Bashir, in April 2019. His three-decade legacy of Islam as the de facto state religion is slowly being overturned in favor of a unifying “civilian state.” An interim constitution makes no mention of sharia. The transitional government has abolished the apostasy laws as well as corporal punishment or flogging of non-Muslims. It allows non-Muslims to drink alcohol. It has banned female genital mutilation, a practice tied to certain religious views of women.
Iran’s 1979 Islamic revolution was a defining event that changed how we think about the relationship between religion and modernity. Ayatollah Khomeini’s mass mobilisation of Islam showed that modernisation by no means implies a linear process of religious decline.
Reliable large-scale data on Iranians’ post-revolutionary religious beliefs, however, has always been lacking. Over the years, research and waves of protests and crackdowns indicated massive disappointment among Iranians with their political system. This steadily turned into a deeply felt disillusionment with institutional religion.
In June 2020, our research institute, the Group for Analyzing and Measuring Attitudes in IRAN (GAMAAN), conducted an online survey with the collaboration of Ladan Boroumand, co-founder of the Abdorrahman Boroumand Center for Human Rights in Iran.
Iranians live with an ever-present fear of retribution for speaking against the state. In Iran, one cannot simply call people or knock on doors seeking answers to politically sensitive questions. That’s why the anonymity of digital surveys offers an opportunity to capture what Iranians really think about religion.
Since the revolution, literacy rates have risen sharply and the urban population has grown substantially. Levels of internet penetration in Iran are comparable to those in Italy, with around 60 million users and the number grows relentlessly: 70% of adults are members of at least one social media platform.
For our survey on religious belief in Iran, we targeted diverse digital channels after analysing which groups showed lower participation rates in our previous large-scale surveys. The link to the survey was shared by Kurdish, Arab, Sufi and other networks. And our research assistant successfully convinced Shia pro-regime channels to spread it among their followers, too. We reached mass audiences by sharing the survey on Instagram pages and Telegram channels, some of which had a few million followers.
After cleaning our data, we were left with a sample of almost 40,000 Iranians living in Iran. The sample was weighted and balanced to the target population of literate Iranians aged above 19, using five demographic variables and voting behaviour in the 2017 presidential elections.
Before Jacob Blake’s father spoke to media last month about how police gunned down his son in Kenosha, Wis., he took a moment to say a Muslim prayer.
“Our family is very diverse and we don’t represent just one thing, so if you all could give me one second please, this is for my son—Jacob Blake,” Jacob Blake Sr. said shortly before reciting a verse from the beginning of the Qur’an and proceeding to talk about how police shot his son “seven times, seven times, like he didn’t even matter.”
Blake Sr.’s recitation of the prayer moved Iesa Lewis, a Black Muslim graduate student at the University of Chicago and part-time community organizer, evoking for him “just how deeply embedded Islam is within the Black community.” But the moment also encapsulated the complicated relationship that the Black Muslim community has with non-Black Muslims. Lewis says that while many non-Black Muslims would likely embrace Blake Sr.’s decision to recite the Qur’an, many would also continue to perpetuate anti-Blackness in their own lives and communities—everything from non-Black Muslims not returning greetings, to assuming ignorance about Islam, to not considering Black Muslims worthy of marrying their non-Black children.
The Black Lives Matter Movement is forcing the Muslim community to reckon with its own anti-Blackness and scrutinize its already tense relationship with law enforcement. The police shooting of Blake, as well as the murder of George Floyd—whom Minneapolis police killed after staff at a non-Black Muslim owned store called 911 over a suspected counterfeit $20 bill—has sparked introspection within the non-Black Muslim community about how they may contribute to overpolicing despite also being profiled by law enforcement.