After the recent terror attacks on Paris, the world was left reeling, aggrieved, and confused. In their distress and confusion as to why events like the Syrian Civil War and Boston Marathon Bombings occurred, people become prone to making rash conclusions.

In the case of all three events, motivations of terrorism—particularly carried out by terrorist groups who identify with Islam—are present, and this leads some people to rashly conclude that there is a link between Islam and terror. As a result, Islamophobia is on the rise.

According to the Ontario Human Rights Commission, the term “Islamophobia” has its origins in a 1997 British Runnymede Trust report. The term is defined as “the dread, hatred, hostility towards Islam and Muslims perpetrated by a series of closed views that imply and attribute negative and derogatory stereotypes and beliefs to Muslims”.

A 2009 survey conducted by Angus Reid, shows that 54 percent of Canadians held unfavourable views toward Islam.

The Medium asked three UTM Muslim students to share their thoughts and personal experiences regarding islamophobia. The interviewees were Marium Faisal, a second-year sociology student, Yusuf Kapoor, a first-year criminology student, and Amena Baalbaki, a second-year philosophy and criminology student. When questioned about the degree of their faith, two of the three interviewees identified strongly with Islam, while the other identified moderately.

Thankfully, the interviewees said that they have never faced discrimination on campus. They addressed some common misconceptions about Islam.

Islam and terrorism

It is important to note that several unjustified wars and other heinous crimes have been committed in the name of religion. However, just because extremist groups use religion to justify their actions, it does not follow that their actions accurately exemplify the teachings of that religion.

If we take a look at the teachings of all three Abrahamic religions—Judaism, Christianity, and Islam—none of the religions condones the murder of another human being. In Christianity and Judaism, for instance, “Thou shalt not kill” is one of the Ten Commandments. In Islam, the verse 5:53 of the Qur’an says, “Whoso kills a soul, unless it be for murder or for wreaking corruption in the land, it shall be as if he had killed all mankind.”

On the subject of Islamic terrorism specifically, Faisal says, “ISIS and terrorist organizations use Islam’s name, but it is against what they truly stand for.” Extremist groups either twist the words of the scriptures or blatantly ignore them. Every religion has such extremist groups: the Ku Klux Klan and Westboro Baptist Church for Christianity, ISIS and Boko Haram for Islam, Khindranwale Tigers Force of Khalistan for Sikhism, and the Jewish Defense League for Judaism.

There is a saying in the western world that actions speak louder than words. If this were true, then taking a look at the actions of extremist groups shows that merely vocalizing an affiliation with a religion is not the same as actually practicing the genuine teachings of that religion.


Hijab and niqabs

When Baalbaki chose to wear the hijab, she was in grade six. She says that for her, the hijab represents “liberation and empowerment”. For Faisal, wearing the niqab represented an “educated choice”. By wearing such garments, both women vehemently deny being “forced to wear it”. On the contrary, they feel as if they were exercising their freedom of choice based on their study of the Qur’an.

When asked to comment on cases where women are forced to wear the hijab and niqab, all three interviewees showed a strong response.

“My parents were worried about me [wearing the niqab] especially in Canada. I chose to wear it […] and just because some people are forced, it doesn’t mean all Muslim women are forced,” said Faisal.

Kapoor provided an analogy that parents generally have their children dress or behave a certain way as part of their upbringing, and that “the niqab is no exception”.

What the word “jihad” really means

There is a misconception on what the term jihad truly means. The most common definition is “a Muslim war or struggle against unbelievers”. In the media, the term is thrown around lightly to refer to the actions of Islamic extremists, who some argue are not true followers of Islam, and the connection of these extremists to a religion sheds a negative light on the religion itself.

According to Faisal and Kapoor, the mainstream definition of jihad is a very “western” definition of the term and the term actually has a more sacred meaning. Jihad literally translates to “to struggle”. The Qur’an defines it as cases where Muslims exert an effort in the way of God. It is also described as a struggle against personal weaknesses. Examples of jihad include acts of charity or abstaining from lying (Qur’an 9:79, 29:68-69).

Final thoughts

We may have developed certain prejudices unintentionally, but once we begin to recognize them, we have a duty to respect each other—and this respect entails educating ourselves about the truth. Islamophobia is one of the prejudices that we must aim to eliminate.

“If people actually took the time to learn about Islam on their own, instead of [listening to the media] as a source of information, they [may be surprised to learn] how different Islam really is from how it’s portrayed,” says Kapoor.