Making an effort to see the world as it really is and helping others to do the same was the common thread in the opening session of BYU’s “The Islamic World Today: Issues and Perspectives” conference.
“Through active engagement, and conscious efforts to challenge misinformation and disinformation widespread in the media and internet about Islam and Muslims, one can affect incremental changes in the way both are imagined, constructed and represented in the global West,” said Asma Afsaruddin, a speaker at the session.
The conference opened with speakers addressing the topic of Islam and Muslims in the global West, focusing on the challenges and opportunities Muslims face.
Afsaruddin, a professor of Middle Eastern languages and cultures at Indiana University opened the morning session by speaking on the anti-Islamic sentiments that have existed in Western societies, and how this has evolved into Islamophobia today.
The public’s views toward Muslims shifted dramatically after the events of 9/11, Afsaruddin explained. She shared that in the year 2000 only 20% of Americans believed Islam was inherently violent, with 51% disagreeing with that view. Those views have shifted significantly. In 2011, 40% of Americans believed Islam promoted violence, with 42% disagreeing.
Other factors, according to Afsaruddin, like the war on terror and President Donald Trump’s administration have only made the situation worse, with the first year of Trump’s presidency marked with spikes in violence against Muslims.
Sherman Jackson, a professor of religion, American studies and ethnicity at the University of Southern California also spoke at the session, focusing on the lens through which people see America and “the West.”
The United States, Jackson said, should be seen as a country that can constantly accommodate everyone because its citizens have many labels. But because of the historical context of America, there is a divide between white people and other races.
Jackson said people need to preserve the idea of multiple American identities to promote more tolerance and understanding among the country’s citizens.
A good way to fight the narrative of hate and division and to promote tolerance is through acts of kindness and interfaith solidarity, Afsaruddin said. “Good deeds have a way of boomeranging and creating a reservoir of goodwill that can be tapped into in times of tragedy and crisis.”