Friday, February 27, 2015
“Islam In The Media: How Global Events Tarnished Its Reputation”
BY: Usma Hosain, Senior at The Bryn Mawr School
The latter half of 2014 was a busy time for global events and happenings. Not only was the Gaza-Israel conflict appearing everywhere, but the execution videos released by ISIS were dominating headlines. Topping all of this off was the coverage done on the behalf of media, tarnishing and slandering Islam as a religion and muslims as a population.
In late September, I was watching CNN, eager to hear about the conflicts filling the world and praying it would have nothing to do with muslims. My heart dropped, however, as I read the headline posted on the screen. “Does Islam promote violence?” I felt tears fill my eyes and the lump in my throat made itself known. The screen flashed and changed to two news anchors interviewing one of my favorite authors and scholars of religion, Reza Aslan. As I listened to Aslan critique the remarks of Bill Maher regarding muslims, one of the anchors interrupted him and brought up an aspect of Islam I had never heard of; the reason being that it doesn’t exist. She questioned why Islam is so misogynistic towards women. I could hear my heart pounding and all of a sudden, I couldn’t hear the interview anymore.
Thoughts were running through my head faster than I could process. Words regarding muslims that I had heard throughout the years flashed through my head. ISIS, Al-Qaeda, jihadist, terrorist, monster, murderer, and more. I fixated on one, however: “jihadist.” Alongside all these events, I had been writing college essays and I had used jihad in one of them. I looked up the dictionary definition, wanting to verify I was using it correctly in terms of how people hear it today. Yet again, I was let down. The dictionary definition is as follows:
ji•had noun \ji-'häd, chiefly British, -'had\
"a war fought by muslims to defend or spread their beliefs"
1. a holy war waged on behalf of Islam as a religious duty; also a personal struggle in devotion to Islam especially involving spiritual discipline
2. a crusade for a principle or a belief
The definition provided by not only Merriam-Webster but also the Oxford English Dictionary (slightly varied) puts muslims and Islam in a light that is less than tasteful. Although the second definition is closest to the original, deriving from Arabic, the former is less than accurate. I consulted my Arabic-English dictionary that I had purchased for school. Among the hundreds of definitions listed, ‘a holy war’ did appear, however, there was nothing to suggest it had anything to do with Islam. In fact, in the Qu’ran, it is written that those who wage war on behalf of Islam are not true muslims. After emailing and exchanging several correspondences with the editors of Merriam-Webster, my concerns with their inaccurate definition were politely dismissed. And so, I set out to right the wrongs that I had seen. I started to write a petition to have the definition changed.
I’m not sure what I expected to happen, nor am I sure I had any expectations. I knew that if I could draw enough attention to the issue, even in the case that it did not get changed, I would have done my part. Be it one person or one hundred that read it, I would know that I tried, and I did change the way some people viewed my religion and my culture. I did not, however, expect that this project would take as long as it has.
More often than not, we are much too eager to put people into a box based on what we can see. More often than not, we blindly follow and agree with what the media says, not taking into account that the information they provide may not be the full story. More often than not, we do nothing to speak up, for it is easier to maintain silence than break it. Of course, as I grew older, I came to understand this, but it was not until I began writing the petition that my heart swelled with pride and I embraced my identity. Until that moment, I had not found the courage to break the silence.
My journey, however, does not end here. Over the months that I’ve been doing research and emailing scholars of Islam, I have been envisioning my future. I know that as a woman in politics, I will come to face many hurdles. There will be days when I want to give up. There will be days when I feel my effort is wasted and I am making no difference at all. I will, however, have days when I take pride in having the courage to undertake such a huge project at the age of 17. I will have days when I know that I may be inspiring other people to speak up for their beliefs. I will have days when I feel I have started a movement, for a movement starts not with thousands of people but one person, courageous, willing, and brave enough to begin.
They say women in politics is a bad idea because we’re so hormonal. They say we’re too emotional to make sound decisions and keep in mind what matters. They say women can’t do it on account of their gender. I beg to differ. Women have been the unsung heroes of the world for hundreds of years. In the absence of men, instead of shying away, women stepped up to the plate, ready and willing to help with anything and everything.
I suppose my education at an all girls’ school for 13 years has shaped me into what some would call a die-hard feminist. Some may say my views on women in politics makes me a radical feminist. Some may say that my hopes, goals, and aspirations for my petition are far too ambitious. I, however, refuse to back down. I refuse to walk away from a cause I feel so passionately about. I refuse to silence the voice I was given.
My name is Usma Hosain. I’m a 17 year old first generation American from Baltimore, MD. I am a feminist and I am an advocate for what is right. Above all, I am and always will be proud to be a Muslim.