In the last few years, there are have been several laws passed in different European countries that relate to Muslim communities. For example, in France and Belgium, laws were passed banning the niqab and in Switzerland a law was passed to ban the building of minarets. Many Muslims considered these moves to be a sign of an anti-Muslim sentiment. Occasionally, however, there are stories that indicate positive change.
This past January, the University of East Anglia in the United Kingdom introduced a new class on Muslim women and the media. The first of its kind, the course will examine the role of women in Islam and how they are portrayed in the media. The class will look at various issues that include wearing the hijab, marriage, and “honor” crimes and how they are addressed in film, television, and the media in general.
The course will be taught by Dr. Eylem Atakav, who graduated from Ankara, Turkey. Atakav argues that the media often portray issues like “honor” crimes as being Muslim issues rather than instances of violence against women. Atakav states that if an Arab woman, for example, is killed by a man in her family, it is labeled an “honor” crime, but if a British woman were killed by her husband for infidelity, it is simply called murder. According to Atakav, the media plays an important role in perceptions of Islam and she hopes her course will change attitudes.
This course is one example of new ways to educate people about Islam and Muslims. In the same month, in Germany, the first university department of Islamic theology opened. Moreover, institutions have been established to train imams who are familiar with the struggles of the German Muslim community. These kinds of initiatives pave the way for more dialogue and allow European Muslims to feel that there is a real interest in understanding their communities. Hopefully, more projects like these will continue to emerge all over the world.
What do you think about initiatives like the new course at the University of East Anglia? Do you think that more education can counter Islamophobia? Do you think that the media contributes negatively to the perception of Islam and Muslims? Please share your comments below.