Last night, a group of students and faculty members gathered in the Petteruti lounge for a teach-in entitled “Muslims at Brown and the Reality of Islamophobia.” The room quickly filled with people and boxes of pizza.
The event began with a quick introduction by Adnan Adrian Wood-Smith, the Associate Chaplain of the University for the Muslim community, who outlined the layout of the next 30 minutes. He then introduced Reverend Janet Cooper Nelson, Chaplain of the University. Reverend Nelson spoke briefly, noting that Brown has a rich and diverse religious community and that, since its founding, Brown has always been religiously neutral “in terms of of who taught here and who studied here.”
Provost Richard Locke then spoke briefly, emphasizing that politicians and the media have used recent events for their own gain in many cases and that it is of utmost importance that all members of the Brown University community listen and “take care of one another.”
After the provost finished speaking, the organizers showed a video entitled “American Muslims: Fact vs. Fiction.” The video began with an overview of a few stereotypes of Muslims that are often perpetuated in Western media, such as the idea that “all Muslims are terrorists” or that “Muslim women are oppressed.” Following these statements, the video sought to explain that these stereotypes are inaccurate. For example, only 6% of domestic terrorist events in the US involve Muslim people or are motivated by Islam, and Muslims compose 82-97% of those killed or injured by terrorist attacks. Muslims are the religious group in the US that is most likely to believe that other religious groups can reach salvation, and Muslims are more likely than any other religious group to believe that killing civilians is never justified. In spite of this, only 27% of United States citizens have a favorable view of Islam.
The video then discussed that the way that Muslims are represented in Western media, emphasizing that the inaccuracies and stereotypes often make Muslims feel as though they aren’t a part of US society (for example, acts of terror performed by white perpetrators are rarely labeled terrorism).
The video used textual support from the Qur’an to show that the conflation of Islam and violence is incorrect at its core. For example, the Qur’an says that “whoever has taken the life of an innocent person has taken the life of all people” and the opposite for saving a life. The video ends by showing the ways in which the American Muslim community continues to help the United States as a whole through charity and careers that aid American society as a whole.
After the video finished, Chaplain Wood-Smith returned to the podium and said “I hope its clear now that I don’t want to kill you.”
He explained that he and other Muslims at Brown face stereotypes and microaggressions from the general community as a result of the religious landscape of the United States. The US is predominantly Christian, and the focus of our society on secularization has created a place where the average American knows very little about Islam. Therefore, the modern idea of the “good” Muslim is one who isn’t very religious at all.
The Chaplain then began a short lesson on the history of Islam in reference to Islamophobia, though not before acknowledging his white privilege regarding the matter. He explained that, though 30% of the African slaves brought to America were Muslim, black Muslims have faced erasure in the media and public eye. Conversely, the conflation of brown skin with Islam has erased people of color who are of other religions, and the system as a whole has dehumanized Muslim and non-Muslim people of color alike.
European Christendom has established Islam as the ultimate “other,” as even terms like “Judeo-Christian” to ignore the third Abrahamic religion. The concept that headscarves and other head garb worn by many Muslim women are oppressive is an idea that stems from the views of non-Muslim people, as a large proportion of Muslim women who wear religious clothing use them as a tool for female empowerment.
The Chaplain then went on to address how the modern media affects the view of Muslims in America. He noted that, since there are no laws against the use of lies and fear mongering in political campaigns, many politicians capitalize on public misconceptions for support. In fact, during elections seasons, the proportion of Americans who have a negative view of Islam rises by 15%. He also noted that social media allows news to be framed in a way that doesn’t challenge a person’s assumptions, preventing learning. Chaplain Wood-Smith finished by emphasizing that “Muslims in your community are affected,” citing the recent vandalism of the Islamic School of Rhode Island. While the Brown community is viewed as progressive and socially-conscious, Islamophobia is present at Brown.
Many departments and groups around campus sponsored this event, including the Brown center for the Study of Race and Ethnicity, the Brown Center for the Study of Slavery and Justice, the Brown Center for Students of Color, the Sarah Doyle Women’s Center, and the Brown Muslim Students’ Association. For more information or questions about Islam at Brown, check out the Brown Muslim Students’ Association on Facebook or attend the Introduction to Islam open house on December 18th at 12 p.m. in the Brown Muslim Students’ Center.