There have been many indications in the last year that Islamophobia has been increasing: the protests around the building of Cordoba House in New York, the attempts in some states to ban sharia law, and Peter King’s hearings on the radicalization of Muslim Americans. All these stories revolve around the concept of fear, specifically fear of Islam and Muslims. While many people have strong opinions on Islam and Muslims, many actually do not know that much about the faith or its followers, even though it is the second largest religion in the world.
Students can go through much of their education understanding very little about the faith. Since much of the problem stems from lack of familiarity, there must be a more concerted effort in academia to counter Islamophobia. The most obvious thing is to offer courses on Islam and to teach it the way that other world faiths are taught. Another way to foster understanding is to create assignments that would ask students to talk with members of the local Muslim community. At UW-Madison, for example, students in anthropology often go to the mosque as part of an assignment.
Also, universities and colleges that now offer terrorism studies classes should have courses on Islam. Students who are asked to study the Middle East and the worldwide Muslim community from one aspect should have knowledge of Islam and its role in the lives of believers beyond a discussion on terrorism.
In addition, professors should maintain a certain level of objectivity in their approach to talking about Islam. In the Huffington Post, Abdulrahman El-Sayed, a doctoral student, mentions two professors from the London School of Economics and New York University who were openly expressing opinions that were intolerant towards Islam and Muslims. While these professors may be in the minority, it is important that educators not participate in furthering the growing Islamophobia.
Without understanding the faith and its followers, stereotypes continue to define over 1. 5 billion people. Things that are said about Islam out of fear and based on ignorance could easily be corrected with some basic knowledge about the faith.
Do you think that there is a lack of knowledge about Islam? Why do you think that is? Does the academy have a responsibility to counter the growing Islamophobia? What do you think can be done? Please share your thoughts below.