“Flying while Muslim is nerve-racking in itself. Every time I prepare to fly, I have to make sure the anxiety I feel from all the stares I get from the moment I walk into the airport doesn’t show on my face. This is what every woman in a hijab or bearded Muslim man experiences….ISIS and Al Qaeda are my enemies, too. Most of the people killed by these groups have been Muslim.”

-Debbie Almontaser

Muslims are the second largest religious group in the world, with a population of approximately 1.8 billion people today. However, anti-muslim sentiment has become widespread, particularly in the western world. Such can be seen in survey results published by Pew Research Center in 2017, which asked Americans to rate their feelings of warmth on a scale from 0 to 100 towards nine religious groups. The mean results showed Jews ranked the highest at 67, Catholics ranked second highest at 66, and Muslims ranked the lowest out of nine religious groups (including atheists) at a mere 48. Pew Research Center also organized the results by age group and political party and found similar results. Republicans ranked muslims at 39 while Democrats ranked them at 56, and all age groups except for 18-29 ranked Muslims at the bottom of their list and Jews and Christians at the top. This statistic was rather startling, since the Islamic faith shares so many similar beliefs to Judaism and Christianity. Muslims believe these two faiths were sent down by Allah, the shared God of the Abrahamic faiths. The Holy Quran states,

“Indeed, the believers, Jews, Christians, and Sabians—whoever believes in Allah and the Last Day and does good will have their reward with their Lord. And there will be no fear for them, nor will they grieve.”

2:62

Since the Quran consistently preaches Christian and Jewish values to Muslims, the lack of warmth from Americans towards the Muslim community is rather surprising. A different survey released by Chapman University in 2016 found that only 51.2% of Americans surveyed would feel comfortable with a mosque being built in their neighborhood. 33.1% of Americans surveyed agreed or strongly agreed that the U.S. should cease all immigration from Muslim nations. 58.7% agreed that Muslims should receive extra screening at airports. 33.1% agreed that Muslims would be more likely to engage in terrorism. As these statistics may imply, terrorism may be associated with the Muslim community more than other religious groups, even though terrorism has been proven to disporportionately affect the Muslim community more than any other. In fact, a 2011 statistic revealed by the US government’s National Counter-Terrorism Center (NCTC) stated, “In cases where the religious affiliation of terrorism casualties could be determined, Muslims suffered between 82 and 97% of terrorism-related fatalities over the past five years.”

These statistics beg the question — how does the Islamic faith perceive terrorism and other forms of violence?

Firstly, the concept most argued by critics is the concept of Jihad in Islam. The word Jihad is often associated in Western media to Jihadists, Islamic extremists who are essentially terrorists. This wording wrongfully promotes Islamophobia in the West because it falsely links unlawful violence to an important religious ideal. Before delving into why this association is harmful, it is important to understand the concept of Jihad. In Islam, there are two forms of jihad: the Lesser Jihad and the Greater Jihad. The Lesser Jihad is defined by Islamic scholar A. Helwa as “the act of fighting in defense for the freedom of religion, homeland, and basic human rights, while the greater jihad is striving against one’s ego and lower desires.” In other words, the greater jihad can be any act that brings about greater spirituality within the individual. When someone’s heart is blinded by anger, envy, hate, or greed, they can no longer be trusted to help others. The greater jihad starts on a smaller scale, but is the most impactful, because the lesser jihad cannot be achieved without it. Unlawful violence is therefore not an Islamic form of jihad, because it is primarily motivated by hate, anger, or greed. Islamic terrorist groups who are called jihadists also have a tendency to harm the oppressed more than they harm the privileged. The concept of jihad is brought in Islam to essentially promote the ideal that the individual is a part of the collective, and the individual cannot be free of responsibility until the oppressed are liberated. The Holy Quran states,

“Why should you not fight in the cause of Allah and for those weak, ill-treated and oppressed

among men, women, and children, whose cry is: ‘Our Lord! Rescue us from this town, whose people are oppressors; and raise for us from You one who will protect; and raise for us from You one who will help!’”

4:75
However, it is important to note that the Holy Quran also states,

“Fight in God’s cause against those who fight you, but do not overstep the limits. God does not love those who overstep the limits.”

2:190

Refusing to advocate or fight for the oppressed goes against God’s word in Islam. Using jihad to justify violence also goes against core Islamic values as well. The concept of Jihad is a great one, as it encourages humanity to fight for each other in the face of hardship. It is not one the West should be afraid of and not one Muslims should be criticized for believing in. In fact, combative

laws in Islam are extremely strict. War and Peace in Islam: The Uses and Abuses of Jihad restates lessons from the Prophet Muhammad,

“The prophet instructed the warriors to avoid harming women and children, the aged, monks and priests, the blind and the insane, and refrain from acts of brutality and maiming. Destruction of livestock, trees and crops was also forbidden unless it was for the purpose of sustaining life.”

The Holy Quran also states,

“That is why We ordained for the Children of Israel that whoever takes a life—unless as a punishment for murder or mischief in the land—it will be as if they killed all of humanity; and whoever saves a life, it will be as if they saved all of humanity.”

5:32

Essentially, Islam is a faith that promotes liberation, peace, and freedom. It places responsibility upon its followers to fight for equality, justice, and all forms of human rights. However, it also places very clear limitations on acts of jihad, acts that strive for liberation internally and externally. The Quran is very clear regarding its limitations to prevent unjust violence. It is, therefore, important to stop associating the concept of jihad and the entirety of the Islamic faith as one that is inherently backwards and inferior to other religions. Violence that attempts to use religion as a justification should be called out for what it is — terrorism that hurts Muslims and non-Muslims alike. It is important to educate ourselves about faiths other than our own. For although Islamophobia is a fear, “this fear evaporates when we understand that our life stories and the history of the world were written by the same hand.”

-Paulo Coelho

https://quran.com/ https://blogs.chapman.edu/wilkinson/2016/10/11/fear-of-muslims-in-american-society-2/ https://www.pewforum.org/2017/02/15/americans-express-increasingly-warm-feelings-toward-re ligious-groups/
https://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-30411519
https://fas.org/irp/threat/nctc2011.pdf
Helwa, A. Secrets of Divine Love: a Spiritual Journey into the Heart of Islam. Naulit Publishing House, 2020.
Muḥammad Ibn Ṭalāl Ghāzī ibn, et al. War and Peace in Islam: the Uses and Abuses of Jihad. The Islamic Texts Society, 2013.
Coelho, Paulo. The Alchemist. HarperCollins.

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