by Sarah Bellal
“I think Islam hates us.”
These words were uttered during an interview with CNN by everyone’s favorite insult-comer-upper, Donald Trump.
Allow me to assure you that it is an utter and complete waste of my time to write about why Trump’s views are problematic.
However, I coincidentally saw the headline from the interview while thinking about something that has been racking my brain for months. The last time someone asked if I am “racially Islamic”, I was at work—thank God—and I had to suppress my frustrations. But even people who are aware that Islam is a religion are guilty of racializing it.
It is important to note that the racializing of Islam exists outside as well as inside the Muslim community. Those less familiar with the religion can be spotted using “Arab”, “Muslim”, and sometimes even “ISIS” interchangeably (but right now we’re talking about the first two).
“But Sarah!” you rudely exclaim. “Aren’t most Muslims Arab?”
If 15% is most, then yes. Will someone kindly inform the Nobel committee?
The racializing of Islam is manifested in so many aspects of our lives. From asking a woman in hijab where she’s from, to telling Muslims to go back to their country, we see an all too common idiocy incarnated. A piece of fabric is not a birth certificate and believing in God is not a visa.
In the United States specifically, there is a tendency within Muslim communities to divide ourselves along the lines of Arab and Desi. Those who fit into either category participate in the disunification of the ummah, and everyone else is swept under the oriental rug.
Possibly the most detrimental side effect of this dichotomy is the alienation of thousands of Muslims who exist as minorities within their religious communities. Any Muslim will tell you that the last thing they want to do is push someone away from their faith. Any Muslim will express concern over people not wanting to come to the mosque.
And many Muslims still think of their skin color as the default.
The phrase “Islamic culture” is often used to describe something that may very well be nonexistent. It makes very little sense to use it to describe abayas or hummus. The phrase implies that whatever practice being referred to is intrinsically Islamic when it is likely just a cultural component of some predominantly Muslim countries.
The guidelines of hijab can be followed in clothing other than an abaya. Fries are halal, too.
At the root of this issue is our tendency to categorize people for the sake of convenience. I can only draw so many maps in the air to explain how Algeria is in Africa, I have light skin, and I am a Muslim. It is time we stop making sweeping racializations that, with the existence of the World Wide Web, have no valid excuse. Society at large needs to stop thinking of Muslims as people who “come from somewhere.”
Islam is unique in that it is not exclusive to any racial, ethnic, socioeconomic, or regional demographic. What ties Muslims together is not their complexion, but their complexities.
The simple antidote to this problem is to cease the equating of Islam to any race or ethnicity. If you aren’t Muslim, this means acknowledging that being Muslim is a choice and being Arab is predetermined. If you are Muslim, this means remembering that the ummah is more diverse than you can imagine.