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Ohio State lecture focuses on perception of Muslims in America

Reza Aslan, a writer and scholar of religions, spoke at the Mershon Auditorium Wednesday for the Buckeye Book Community.  Credit: Sam Harrington / Lantern photographer

Reza Aslan, a writer and scholar of religions, spoke at the Mershon Auditorium Wednesday for the Buckeye Book Community.
Credit: Sam Harrington / Lantern photographer

Some Americans’ views of Muslims have been influenced since 9/11, but one writer says the blame may not lie on the 9/11 attacks.

Reza Aslan, a writer and scholar of religions, gave a presentation for the Buckeye Book Community in the Mershon Auditorium Wednesday, the day of the 12th anniversary of 9/11, about the perception of Islam in America over the past 12 years.

Buckeye Book Community is an OSU program that assigns first-year students a book to read during the summer before starting college.

“People anticipated this great backlash against Muslims by Americans after the attacks, but this never happened,” Aslan said. “Polls conducted between 2001 and 2005 showed no dramatic change in the percentage of Americans that had anti-Muslim sentiments.”

However, Aslan said there was a change over time.

“In 2006, there was a slight uptick and by 2007, 2008, the percentage was way above normal. All that backlash happened, but six or seven years later. What happened?” Aslan said.

Aslan showed various ads and polls from the past five years depicting Muslims in general as the perpetrators behind 9/11 instead of specifically the terror group al-Qaida and said “Islamophobia” is the source of this intolerance. He also described how supposed Islam experts released reports painting the religion in a negative light.

Terrorists attacked the United States Sept. 11, 2001, when two airplanes hijacked by members of the Islamic extremist group al-Qaida struck the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center in New York City and a third hit the Pentagon in Washington, D.C. Another attack was prevented by aircraft passengers, who brought down a plane in Pennsylvania that was overtaken by terrorists, killing everyone on board. Nearly 3,000 Americans were killed in the aircraft strikes.

The U.S. responded by declaring war against terrorism, including all nations, organizations or people involved in the 9/11 attacks, on Sept. 18, 2011.

Aslan mentioned a fear of Sharia law being implemented in the United States as an example of “Islamophobia.”

“Our constitution does not allow religious law to be imposed upon others. In fact, only two countries in the world use the penal aspect of Sharia law as part of their governments,” Aslan said.

Sharia is Muslim law, which comes from the Quran and the teachings of Muhammad and protects individual rights, as well as the rights of women and minorities. Saudi Arabia and Iran are both governed by Sharia law.

Aslan said the solution for the bias is for people to become acquainted with Muslims.

“Relationships change minds. The greatest determinant of whether people view Muslims in a positive light is whether that person knows a Muslim,” he said.

Julie Schultz, First-Year Experience senior assistant director, saw Reza Aslan’s TED talk “Unity in Diversity” from 2011 and thought he would be the perfect candidate to give a presentation for the Buckeye Book Community.

“We felt the message really resonated with what we want our first-year students to learn from reading ‘The Submission,’” Schultz said.

“The Submission,” by Amy Waldman, is a fictional book about a jury randomly choosing an American Muslim to be the architect for a ground zero memorial and the various reactions from New York City’s citizens.

TED talks are short presentations based on “ideas worth spreading.”

Some in attendance of Aslan’s lecture reacted positively to his presentation.

“It was very entertaining. It kept my interest the whole time,” said Alex Phipps, a first-year in exploration. “He was a great speaker who connected well with the audience.”

Others agreed.

“He was very engaging. I did not expect it to be so interactive and exciting,” said Yusra Shao, a graduate medical student and a Muslim.

First-year in exploration Sarah Hudacek was impressed with Aslan’s knowledge.

“Dr. Aslan definitely knew what he was talking about and communicated it to the audience. It surprised me when he shared that Muslim immigrants are the richest immigrant group with the highest literacy rates,” Hudacek said. “It makes you stop and think that you can’t judge people by what you hear in the media.”

Shamiyan Hawramani, the Muslim Students Association female outreach chair and a third-year in human development, said the perception of Islam on campus is tolerant and non-hostile as a whole.

“If anything, it’s just that some students from rural areas have never been exposed to Islam and are afraid to ask questions,” Hawramani said. “I think Dr. Aslan coming to campus is a great opportunity for others to see Islam differently than how it’s portrayed in the news.”

According to Aslan’s research, hope exists for getting rid of the stereotypes. Aslan said in 2013 polls showed a severe decrease in anti-Muslim sentiments among Americans, but prejudice still exists.

“It will probably take a generation or so,” Aslan said.

One comment

  1. If one wishes to speak of “phobia”, one should speak instead of Candor-phobia, the fear of and revulsion toward perfectly legitimate criticisms of Islam.

    Secular Muslims (interested in reform) are left unsupported because most Leftists fear being accused (falsely) of bigotry by sharia advocates, more than they fear being (accurately) branded as moral cowards for abandoning the defense of human rights.

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