MSU community reacts to Muslim misrepresentations

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Batoul Sadek was a freshman at MSU when she first heard the term ‘towel head.’  

Her roommate’s mom was referring to her hijab. Later in the semester during dinner, Sadek  surprised her roommate’s family by revealing how empowered she feels, using the role of her religion as a means to create female-centered communities.

“My old roommate telling me she was afraid to live with me when she learned I was Muslim,” was just one of the stereotypes Sadek, now a junior, has faced as a Muslim woman.

But she isn’t alone – these are just some stereotypes Muslim women experience.


And the incidences of discrimination Muslims face continue to increase in the U.S.A., according to a survey conducted earlier this year.  

The Pew Research Center discovered 60 percent of Muslim Americans feel their portrayal in mainstream media is unfair, and Muslims report that the most important problems for Muslim Americans are “discrimination, persecution, and misconceptions.”

A 2016 study by Saifuddin Ahmed of the Department of communication, University of California-Davis) and Jörg Matthes of the Department of communication at the University of Vienna analyzed media representations of Muslims and Islam to show how themes of ‘war,’ ‘migration’ and ‘terrorism’ are the most common common themes associated with themes of the religion. Other Muslim accounts and perspectives are heavily neglected. 

The increase of terrorist attacks correlating to the rise of U.S. political activities.


This study also found studies not analyzed Muslim countries and Muslim media.

Incidences of Discrimination

And the incidences of discrimination Muslims face continue to increase in the U.S.A., according to a survey conducted earlier this year.  

One third of Muslims say people have acted suspiciously toward them because of their religious beliefs. Approximately “1-in-5 have been called offensive names,” or been singled out in airports because of their appearance.

[infogram id=”data-on-misconceptions-of-islam-1hzj4oj5p5k76pw”]


Why stereotypes persist

So why and how do these stereotypes perpetuate? Professor Mohammad Khalil, an associate professor of religious studies and director of the Muslim Studies program at MSU, said history is one reason.

Khalil said “Muslims are currently a small minority,” of the U.S. population. They started arriving in the U.S. in the 1960s.

And they’re experiencing ‘growing pains’ as a community right now.

And he believes the ‘growing pains’ is due to the massive influence of white supremacists in the U.S. “White supremacists will undoubtedly dislike the growing presence of Islam as it may be taken to be a threat to their conception of white American Christian culture,” he said. Their fear of losing the Eurocentric culture in the U.S. results in false narratives about Muslims.

The most used narrative of Muslims are suicide bombers, growing to become a stereotype today because of mainstream media, he said.

“When I was born in the 1970s, there was no such thing as a Muslim suicide bomber,” Khalil said. “And even after the technique of suicide bombing was used by some Muslims in the early 1980s, not one Muslim thought to blow him/herself in the very intense Soviet-Afghan War (which bin Laden participated in).” This suggests that suicide bombing, which became more common in the 1990s and especially in the 2000s, is an unfortunate “fad” of sorts. It is a historical aberration, said Khalil.

Even though stereotypes pervade about the silent, oppressed Muslim woman, polling data shows Muslim women in the  U.S. “may have roughly the same or higher levels of education than the average American woman,” Khalil said.

It was because of 9/11, that Khalil decided to “get to the bottom” of these Islamic misconceptions that most media outlets used. He was in dental school when he got frustrated with how Islam and Muslims were portrayed in mainstream media.

Khalil said, “at that time there were a lot of problematic things said about Islam in the media, online, and at the local bookstore.” So he decided to learn more about Islam to educate himself and correct misconceptions.

The media effects on coverage of Islam hence, have a major impact on Islam in America.

Media coverage

And Journalism Professor Joe Grimm, believes news media are not doing a good job.

Grimm said, “they’re not handling it very well.” And continued to explain that whatever “bleeds, it leads,” on television.

He explains that mainstream media outlets tend to generalize the whole Muslim community as one title like extremists or terrorists when, in reality, don’t know much about the community because they don’t visit local mosques or try to understand the culture.

“Understanding a community is not easy. This takes time; you have to go out and listen to a lot of people, you have to compare your notes and then you have to go back again,” Grimm said, referring to what he thinks journalists should do when reporting on stories of them.

But Grimm also realizes the pressure of newsrooms and editors. “Journalists don’t have much time,” he said and end up creating careless mistakes like providing an incomplete translation of ‘Allahu Akbar’ which means ‘God is the greatest’, as an example.

So what can journalists and newsrooms do to improve the quality of their content? “The most important thing is getting to know Muslims personally,” Khalil said. He expresses that the idea of ‘other’ is deeply rooted in fear of difference and ideas that we’re not familiar with.

He said “when people interact with ‘the other,’ they quickly realize that the ‘other’ is more like the self.”


2 thoughts on “MSU community reacts to Muslim misrepresentations

  1. A Bangladeshi with a pipe bomb in Manhattan attempted to reinforce the stereotype of the suicide bomber – must be the media’s fault, or ‘white supremacists’, or Trump, or (……. insert anything but islam).