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Speak Out: Challenging Muslim Stereotypes
YCteen staff

When the media, communities, and individuals promote stereotypes of the dangerous and violent Muslim man or the mistreated and ignorant Muslim female, they are contributing to Islamophobia—the hatred, or fear of Muslims. One way to stop Islamophobia is by listening to the stories and experiences of real-life Muslims. When we connect with others in this way, we can move beyond ignorance, fear, and stereotyping. Here, several Muslim teens share their experiences in an effort to set the record straight. Reporting by YCteen staff.

Muslims value peace

Ever since the 9/11 attacks on the Twin Towers at the World Trade Center, Muslims in America are viewed negatively. Even though this happened almost 15 years ago, when people find out I’m Muslim, they immediately become cautious with me, suspicious. There’s this fear that a lot of Muslims are terrorists.

I was in class once and we were learning about the 9/11 attacks. The conversation shifted to terrorists and Saddam Hussein’s name came up. One of my classmates turned my way and, with a sly smile, joked that I was related to Saddam just because my last name is Hussain. I snapped back “You are an idiot, you know that?

I mean, seriously, Saddam was a dictator in the Middle East. I’m not even Arabic and not all people with the last name Hussain are terrorists.” I looked straight into his eyes. The classmate who teased me shrunk back in his seat; his face was red and he didn’t say anything else.

I Correct my Ignorant Peers
People have told me they think Islam discourages females from learning and that we’re nothing more than objects to produce babies. In reality, Islam teaches people to treat females with respect and give them the same rights as men. I wish that people would understand that not all Muslims are Islamic extremists who deny women rights. For example, my aunt in Bangladesh has a master’s degree in economics and is experienced in computer science. Another relative there is an English teacher.
—Farhana Hussain, 16

Muslims come from all races and cultures

You know what? I am white and I am a Muslim. When I first came to New York I was surprised people stereotyped Muslims like that because being a white Muslim is normal in my native country of Turkey.

From my perspective, my skin color doesn’t define who I am or where I come from. I think what matters is what’s on the inside anyway. What seems even stranger to me is that some people don’t believe my mom is a Muslim with her blue eyes and blond hair. It’s a myth that all Muslims have brown or black eyes with black hair.
—Hande Erkan, 16

Women’s roles vary from country to country

Americans judge Muslims because of what is happening in other countries like Saudi Arabia and Afghanistan. In those countries they mistreat Muslim women. But that doesn’t mean all Muslims treat women badly. What happens over there is over there and shouldn’t be a reflection of all Muslims.
—Hasan Erkan, 19

My parents let me go out and don’t make me wear a hijab

There are strict parents in every religion, but my parents and those of my Muslim friends are pretty liberal. For example my parents don’t force their decisions on me, such as whether to wear the hijab, and they let me hang out with my friends.

Non-Muslim kids at school automatically think that my parents don’t let me go anywhere. They’ll say, “Please convince your parents. Just tell them it’s related to school, please.” My parents never say no to anything I want to do unless they have a good reason.

My mother doesn’t wear a hijab and never asked me to wear one. It is my choice alone. I started wearing one last year in 9th grade. Two of my friends wear a hijab and their decision was not influenced by pressure from their parents. The hijab is mainly for covering up the girl’s shoulders, neck, and hair because in Islam it’s considered appropriate for a woman to cover her body and hair. I also wear it as a personal statement against all the media images of women wearing hardly any clothes.
—Shameera Sheeraz, 15

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