Muslim Scholar Shakir Discusses “Islamophobia”

With over one billion followers worldwide, Islam is of the worlds most practiced religions, but also one of the most popular topics for debate and discussion. This past Wednesday, Imam Zaid Shakir visited campus to speak about Islam and the connotations the religion holds around the world. Imam Shakir was the featured guest in a discussion entitled “Islamophobia: What’s the Threat?” Also present on the panel were Bob Braile, Instructor in English, Frank Tipton, Instructor in History, and Susan McCaslin, Instructor in Philosophy and Religious Studies. Imam Shakir is a Muslim scholar and community activist who has been exploring issues relating to Islam for decades. In 1977, he converted to Islam while serving in the U.S. Air Force. Since then, he has studied at American University, Rutgers University, and Abu Noor University in Syria. He has also spent time in Egypt, Morocco, and Syria, studying the Arabic language and different aspects of the Islamic faith. He currently teaches and studies at the Zaytuna Institute in Hayward, CA. According to Mrs. McCaslin, he is generally considered an “articulate voice on [both] Islam and African-American Issues.” The discussion began with an introduction by Mrs. McCaslin, followed by a “salaam alaikum” and prayer by the Imam. This introductory Muslim prayer, recited in Arabic, set the tone for the rest of the discussion, namely popular sentiments toward Islam and Muslims. The panelists were prompted by a hypothetical situation in which a Middle-Eastern man wearing a skull-cap sat down next to them on an airplane. The discussion focused on how an average person would react and why they would feel that way. Imam Shakir spoke about what people in general can do to feel safer. He recalled a story in which a woman told him that after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, she felt afraid of Middle Easterners. The Imam responded to the woman: “This is not a time for cowards.” During the course of the discussion, the Imam stressed the importance of collective security over simply worrying about one’s individual safety. He said that “difficult and challenging times create great people,” citing a letter written centuries ago that held the same crucial point. In it, Abigail Adams wrote to her son, John Quincy Adams, encouraging him to “stand in the faces of the challenges of the day, not shrink to them.” He concluded by adding the advice, “We are all in this together. It is important to work together to collective security.” His speech closed with a quote from a speech Martin Luther King, Jr. delivered in 1967: “Now let us begin. Now let us rededicate ourselves…to a long, but beautiful struggle to a new world.” After the Imam finished, Mr. Tipton spoke about the roots of people’s fears about Islam and ethnicities associated with Islam. He explained several main sources, the first being the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. However, he said that these attacks were “a necessary, but not sufficient” explanation of “Islamophobia.” Mr. Tipton addressed ignorance and the fact that many people fear Muslims simply because they do not know enough about the religion to feel comfortable with it. He also mentioned the cultural differences that exist between Muslims and the rest of the American population. Mr. Tipton cited a study which found widespread differences in the assimilation of Muslim students in the school system of Dearborn, Michigan. Next, Mr. Braile discussed Islam as it relates to the American mass media. He commented that the “extraordinary impact of 9/11 on American media” led to a “borderline jingoism” in which many news agencies felt the need to report stories with a pro-government and pro-American viewpoint, therefore depicting Muslims as the cause of so much American grief. Mr. Braile continued that since then, the pro-American lean has vanished, but the phobia toward Islam is still there, largely as a result of ignorance. That ignorance, he added, exists because of the difficulty of reporting on the groups responsible for the 9/11 attacks. Because terrorist groups do not give interviews or hold press conferences, it is very hard, he said, to write objective and accurate news stories about such groups.