From Lindsey Faraj, a student at UNC Charlotte:
We’re all bombarded on a daily basis with the latest in sports, political and world news, and we often take the initiative to look further into stories and topics that interest us. So why is it that one of the most significant topics of the past decade continues to also be one of the most misunderstood? Islam, by far, is one of the most controversial subjects today, yet since the attacks on 9-11, there has been a mere 6 percent increase in the number of people who know some or a lot about Islam, according to Pew Research.
A lack of communication and interaction between Muslims and non-Muslims is partially to blame for this growing disconnect. Some Muslims understandably withdraw from society, fearing rejection and discrimination, especially amidst stories of nationwide hate crimes. At the same time, many non-Muslims may feel uncomfortable interacting with someone whose religion they believe is significantly different from their own – a belief held by an astounding 65 percent of non-Muslims polled in a separate Pew Research poll.
As a white American of European descent, I’ve personally seen the world from both perspectives. Only after becoming acquainted with Arab-American classmates in college was I interested in learning more about their fascinating culture, as well as their religion of Islam. After years of casually learning about Islam, I became one of several thousand Americans, most of whom are women, to convert to Islam.
My observation of various practices of Islam had an impact on my life, including the five daily prayers and fasting during the Islamic month of Ramadan, but nothing like my decision to observe the headscarf did. For the first time, I was occasionally subjected to discriminatory looks and actions, sometimes even being told to “go back to my country.” My fair skin and blue eyes meant nothing – my headscarf, it seems, now says it all. I now understand that it is only human nature to dislike that which we are ignorant of, and that the only way to coexist with one another is to educate ourselves on the diverse array of people who also call America their home.
If one were to choose to become acquainted with just a few of the millions of American Muslims, they would likely find that many aren’t so different after all. In fact, nearly one-quarter of the Muslim population in America are recent converts of white and African-American descent, most with Christian backgrounds, according to a 2007 Pew Forum survey.
Perhaps more surprising would be the actual teachings of Islam, which are likely to contrast with numerous common misconceptions. Islam’s similarities to the other Abrahamic faiths can perhaps serve as a fantastic starting point for some much-needed interfaith dialogue. From the belief in one true God, referred to as Allah; the belief in many of the prophets found in other Abrahamic faiths; and the belief in both Jesus and the Virgin Mary; one is sure to find that these three faiths stem from the same foundation, but have branched off into various directions over time.
Original post: As a white American convert, let me tell you about Islam