Tucsonan Hashem Khazdooz is Muslim. He does not have a beard and he is not a terrorist.
“A terrorist is anyone who kills innocent people regardless of their religion, race, gender or beliefs,” said Khazdooz. “Those terrorists are not humans, they are animals.”
A great majority of Muslims in most countries say that suicide bombing and other acts of violence that target civilians can never be justified in the name of Islam, according to PEW Research Center.
More than one billion people worldwide are Muslim, making it the second largest faith after Christianity. In fact, research shows that the U.S. identified less than 140 Muslim-American terrorist suspects and perpetrators in the decade since 9/11, just a percentage of the thousands of acts of violence that occur in the United States each year, according to a study titled study titled, “Anti-Terror Lessons of Muslim-Americans,” by Duke University and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
Check out twitter, turn on the TV, log into Facebook and you will most likely be bombarded with Islamophobia, said Maha Nassar, assistant professor in the School of Middle Eastern & North African Studies at the University of Arizona.
Around the nation, some Muslims of all ages and gender are finding themselves topics of suspicion because of how they look and how they pray. Many people say its caused by people blindly following stereotypes.
Research shows that people can learn stereotypes at any age and are influenced by parents, teachers and especially the media, said Dr. Jeff Stone, associate professor of social psychology at The University of Arizona. People learn stereotypes through a balance of parent’s teachings and the media, said Stone. The media reinforces the stereotypes parents are teaching which influences children’s perceptions, said Stone.
A Muslim kosher supermarket employee became a hero after he saved the lives of 15 shoppers. Lassana Bathily was working at a Kosher Grocery store in Paris on Jan. 9 when an Islamist gunman burst in, killed four people, and began taking hostages. Bathily hid several costumers in the basement freezer then snuck outside to help police with their operation.
Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve said Bathily’s “act of humanity has become a symbol of an Islam of peace and tolerance.”
“Yes, I aided Jews,” Bathily told France’s BFMTV. “We’re brothers. It’s not a question of Jews, Christians, or Muslims. We’re all in the same boat. We need to help each other to get out of this crisis.”
Worldwide, nationwide and statewide people are being stereotyped as terrorists just because they are Muslim. “Many Muslims hate Al-Qaeda but we may think they like Al-Qaeda because they look similar,” said Charles Mink, Ph.D. student in Middle Eastern and North African studies, at University of Arizona.
Kamel Didan is a highly respected member of the community, has a PhD. in Agricultural and Biosystems Engineering, is also the vice chairman of the board of the Tucson Islamic Center and has been a victim of Islamophobia. He does not look like a stereotypical Muslim he often gets mistaken for a Mexican he said. Shortly after 9/11 Didan was in the car with his wife when a group of high school students approached “flipping their fingers” and calling him a “terrorist.”
“Maybe it was a reaction to 9/11 or maybe it was just kids being kids,” said Didan. “I always try to give people the benefit of the doubt.”
As a leader in the community Didan teaches people to take hatred and fear and turn it into a learning experience to show people that all Muslims are not terrorists and do not support violence whatsoever.
Over the past decade, the Arizona Muslim population is growing. Approximatley 25,000 Muslims reside in Arizona with about 30 Muslim congregations, said Didan. These growing numbers are opportunities to open up warship centers for anyone to visit so they see it’s not a mythical place, said Didan.
Islamic centers around the state are trying to familiarize people with the culture by inviting people to their celebrations and speaking to the media.
“These simple things humanize us,” said Didan. “When my neighbor knows I’m Muslim and I treat him well, he treats me with respect back.”
The best way to combat stereotypes is to change what people know or think they know, said Stone. The Tucson Islamic center has been inviting students of all ages to come in, take a tour of the center and ask any questions to have a conversation about their thoughts and feelings based on historical facts and not just perceptions.
“The quickest and easiest way to combat stereotypes is to befriend a Muslim,” said Mink. “Once you get to know someone who is Muslim you quickly reprogram yourself to not see him or her as a Muslim but as an Individual.”
Rachel Leinson is a reporter for Arizona Sonora News, a service from the School of Journalism at the University of Arizona. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org
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