Nearly a decade after the 9/11 attacks, many in the U.S. still believe the actions of a tiny minority of violent Islamists is representative of all Muslims and Islam more generally. Yet even in the midst of hateful bigotry and prejudice towards Muslims, much of New York has taken constructive steps towards understanding who Muslims are and what Islam is. The New York Public Library system is just one a few prominent New York institutions that has made efforts to educate the public about Islam.
In collaboration with the Carnegie Corporation and other prominent organizations, the Three Faiths: Judaism, Christianity, Islam exhibit at the Steven A. Schwarzman library displays Jewish, Christian, and Muslim texts and artifacts, side-by-side. Just one block from Times Square, visitors step into this magnificent hall to learn the shared importance that each tradition places upon Abraham, monotheism, and revelation through the art, calligraphy, and manuscripts on display. The differences highlighted, mostly theological in nature, are not skirted over by any means, however, the similarities between these three Abrahamic religions are what really stand out.
The New York library system and other initiatives around the city are emphasizing the similarities of Islam with Judaism and Christianity, as opposed to discussing Islam by itself. This familiar Abrahamic context helps to make Islam more accessible and understandable. But it isn’t just museum exhibits and speakers at foundations that are creating awareness. Average New Yorkers have gone out of their way to learn more about Islam and Muslims by forming interfaith discussion groups, gaining knowledge of faith, tradition, and culture from practicing Muslims.
Exhibits, lectures, and films are certainly helpful in educating folks about Muslims and Islam around the world, but the most powerful and lasting learning comes from personal experience. A discussion at work, a community project, or other shared experience between non-Muslims and Muslims are what’s needed. Museum exhibits can be one of the first steps in facilitating more interfaith engagement.
Do you think museum exhibits and public lectures are helpful in dispelling Islamophobia within the United States? Are there other efforts that should be made? Are discussions going on in your own community?