The State of Muslims in America

By Portia Booker, Neville Hardman, Bryan Heraghty, Stephen Means, Matt Poe and Lexi Walters

Following the 9/11 attacks, Muslims have been the target of misconstrued impressions, discussion and discrimination in the U.S.

Muslim means someone who submits to the will of God. In the simplest terms, their religion, Islam, translates to doing good and believing in God. However, as the media continues to report on radical Islam, Americans’ misconceptions of Muslim citizens vary. A 2014 Pew Research Center survey reported that only 38 percent of Americans know a Muslim. With an upcoming presidential election in November, Muslims have been subjected to harsh criticism by some of the candidates as they face negative stereotypes cast by the extremists.

Day in the life of a Muslim

Video by Portia Booker. Words by Neville Hardman.

Unlocking the door, Aalia Haque steps inside a red bricked building. She removes her shoes before proceeding to the next room, a wide space with carpet and almost no furniture. Save for a chair leaning against the wall or a bookshelf, the area remains clear so others who tread inside can pray peacefully.

The Masjed of Kent, located on Crain Avenue in a residential area, offers Muslims a place to worship. The mosque is open during all prayer times, five times a day. Since these times follow the strict pattern of the lunar calendar, each prayer time doesn’t follow the previous day, but go as before sunrise, early afternoon, late afternoon, sunset and before one goes to sleep.

Mosques in the area

Islamic Society of Akron & Kent
152 E Steels Corner Rd.
Cuyahoga Falls, OH 44244

Cleveland Muslim Community Center
4600 Rocky River Dr.
Cleveland, OH 44135

The Masjed of Kent
325 E Crain Ave.
Kent, OH 44240

Akron Masjid
1147 S Old Main St.
Akron, OH 44301

Masjid Al-Rahman
1300 7th St. NW
Canton, OH 44703

Islamic Center of Cleveland
6055 W. 130th St.
Parma, OH 44130

Islamic Society of Greater Dayton
26 Josie St.
Dayton, OH 45403

In more recent years, The Islamic Society of Akron and Kent has hosted more than 30 groups ranging from church groups to high school or university classes who visit and ask questions about Islam and how it’s practiced.

“It goes to show this area is willing to learn,” Haque said. “I hope that means (presidential) candidates will come to realize that what they’re saying does have an effect on everyone’s lives and to be more vigilant.”

According to the 2016 American Muslim Poll from the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding, Donald Trump suggested mosques should shut down in order to decrease radicalization. However, the poll found there is a correlation between mosque attendance and high levels of civic engagement, not violent attitudes.

“(Candidates are) just the ones saying the words,” she said. “What about all the people who are supporting their policies? It’s not just one person. It just goes to show that numbers do matter, that civic engagement does matter.”

Haque, 29, spends time volunteering in order to engage in her community. Her most long-standing commitment is with the Islamic Society of Akron and Kent in Cuyahoga Falls, totaling six years of volunteer work. She also has put in three years at the FBI Citizens Academy Foundation of Cleveland.

“Violence is not the means of the religion and eventually (people will) realize that Muslims are people just like them,” Haque said. “They have families, they have jobs, the have classes. They have bills to pay. Any sort of mistake I make is on me and not reflective of Muslims in general.”

Video by Lexi Walters

Muslim students react to political candidates

By Stephen Means

One of the biggest stories of this year’s presidential election has been the controversial comments of Republican candidates Donald Trump and Ted Cruz.

Both Trump and Cruz have been on record for their comments on the Muslim community in the United States. Kent State students have heard their comments and haven’t taken kindly to their words and are shocked to see them coming from people in this position.

“There’s always been people who are anti-Muslim,” Lama Abu-Amara of Kent State’s Muslim Student Association said. “We’ve never actually had a presidential candidate that went up on a stage and spread anti-muslim sentiments in the way that Donald Trump and Ted Cruz have.”

Trump, especially, has become notorious for his statements about the Muslim community and the nation of Islam. During an interview with CNN’s Anderson Cooper the billionaire businessman stated that he felt “Islam hates us” and didn’t feel that the U.S. should allow people into the country who have this hatred toward the country.

“It’s sad to see how many people actually support Donald Trump and some of the rhetoric that he’s been spreading,” Amara said.

Supporters of Trump have often been linked to violence acts during his rallies which contrary to popular belief isn’t part of the teachings of the Muslim religion. Muslims are taught to be peaceful people.

“I know that most of them aren’t as educated as everyone else,” Amara said. “But they really haven’t gotten exposed to people who really are Muslim.”

Recent terrorist groups such as Al-Qaeda and ISIS have swayed the opinion of how many people view the Muslim community and made it difficult for everyday people to live their lives without being stereotyped as possible terrorist themselves. It’s forced many, like Amara, to become defensive when meeting new people who aren’t Muslim.

“I personally struggle with on a daily basis because every new person that I meet I always assume or think about what type of educational background, or how open-minded they might be,” Amara said. “When groups like ISIS come out—I know that a lot of Muslims don’t actually say anything—I know for a fact that most Muslims don’t agree with the things that they do. You start thinking about what people think about you before you introduce yourself. You start to think about whether people are judging you based off of the way you dress or the what religion you’re representing.”

Amara said that though there has been a wide variety of negative connotations around Muslims following the events of 9/11, she has had positive interactions with other students at Kent State.

“I very quickly became aware of the thought that a lot of people were very open-minded,” Amara said. “When I first came to Kent State I was shocked at how many Muslims were actually attending Kent State because I wasn’t aware of the international student community and how many students actually came from Saudi Arabia and the Middle East.”

With the presidential primaries heating up, what candidate do Muslims seem to prefer?

Video by Bryan Heraghty

Lack of Knowledge, Education on Islam remains focal point

How the current political climate and tension in America coupled with a lack of knowledge on Islam has impacted the Muslim community, both at Kent State and elsewhere.

By Matt Poe

The terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, has forever changed how the Muslim community in America is perceived. Both domestic and foreign, the group has been the target of heavy discrimination, leading them to be perhaps be the most misunderstood religious group in America.

Often times, the beliefs toward Muslims may be the product of misinformation or a byproduct of stereotypes. These irrational beliefs or perceptions from outsiders can have a negative effect on Muslims everywhere and is no different for Muslim students at universities. From the clothes they wear to the beliefs they hold, educating and understanding the practices of Islam is a major key to understanding its people.

One example of how Muslims, especially Muslim women, can be misunderstood is through their portrayal of clothing. Many Muslim women may wear traditional garments or headdresses, such as burkas and hijabs. Burkas are headdresses that cover the entire body and face of a woman, leaving only her eyes exposed while hijabs intend to cover more the neck area, leaving the wearer’s face exposed. Many Americans often view these garments as a sign of oppression towards women but for most Muslims, the purpose behind these garments is much more symbolic.

The intention for these garments as stated in the Qur’an, the holy book of Islam, is to promote modesty, privacy and morality while limiting the gaze from men and outsiders. This idea of privacy and a limitation to reveal the body can be very abstract to many Americans who do not understand or know the religious meaning and purpose behind the garment, serving as just one example of misconceptions about Muslims.

Lama Abu-Amara is a sophomore chemistry major and newly elected president of the Muslim Student Association (MSA) at Kent State. Born in America and ethnically Palestinian, she has witnessed firsthand some of the prejudice a Muslim may receive for wearing a head garment.

“I wear a headscarf, so every single time I meet a person, I kind of have to take into consideration how they feel about the headscarf because it’s like I’m shouting to the world I’m Muslim,” Abu-Amara said.

Abu-Amara notes that the rise of anti-Islam movements has led her to be cognizant of her image. While she hasn’t received any comments from students or people on campus about her appearance, she has received some outside of Kent State.

“I was parked in a Wal-Mart parking lot and I left my car and this guy just walks by and he’s like ‘this is America’ and I’m like, I know it is, it’s supposed to be the land of the free, it’s supposed to be welcoming,” Abu-Amara said.

These interactions between Muslims and non-Muslims have become more commonplace in the last decade. Not only does it occur on a local level as it did with Abu-Amara, data and polling shows that this type of anti-Islam behavior is becoming more widespread on a national level.

According to a survey conducted by the Pew Research Center about individual’s feelings toward different types of religious groups, Muslims were the only group to be viewed as “coldly” and were the only group perceived more negatively than atheists. Jews, Catholics and evangelical Christians were viewed as “warmly” with Hindus, Buddhists and Mormons viewed as “neutral.”

Another related study also conducted by the Pew Research Center found that American knowledge of Islam as a whole is minimal, with 30 percent of Americans saying they do not know very much about Muslim practices and 25 percent saying they know nothing about the religion of Islam.

It’s this lack of even basic knowledge about Muslims that has led many Americans to have a pre-conceived view of the religion, even though data shows that many people do not even know someone who is a Muslim.

Fatima Shendy, a senior nutrition major at Kent State, believes this phenomena is only becoming more of a problem in the United States.

“I think it’s getting worse (feelings about Muslims) and not because people are mean and hateful,” Shendy said.“I don’t think anyone has that intention but it’s the act of not knowing.”

The conversation about Muslims has become rampant in the 2016 general election, with many of the presidential candidates having to repeatedly address the issue of Muslim refugees both domestically and foreign, as well as the growing concern of terroristic threats from radical-Islamic groups like ISIS.

“When you listen to the debates, it’s nothing factual (in regards to Muslims)….it’s based on assumption and fear,” Shendy said.

The most notable and outspoken candidates about Muslims has been Republican front-runner Donald Trump, stating that he would not allow any more Muslims to enter the country for an unstated time period. It’s these types of views that have Abu-Amara concerned about the current political culture in America.

“It’s pretty alarming to see the number of people that are supporting Donald Trump,” Abu-Amara said. “I haven’t really seen someone in power that (is) as anti-Muslim as Donald Trump.”

Abu-Amara also notes that Trump isn’t the only presidential candidate who wants to monitor or control Muslim communities in America. Republican candidate Ted Cruz has stated that police need to patrol Muslim neighborhoods and areas, something Abu-Amara finds laughable.

Abu-Amara believes that ultimately the rise to these potential leaders is a result of one major thing from citizens: lack of education about Muslims.

“It’s just the number of people that are out there supporting him, it just shows that a lot of them (people) are misled and are not very educated (about Islam),” Abu-Amara said.

Like all religions, Islam is not confined to one ethnic group or race; anyone can become a Muslim, a concept that many people do not understand, according to Abu-Amara. Without the desire to learn more about the religion and its people, Abu-Amara believes the balance between Muslims and non-Muslims may only get worse.

“We’re not just Arabs, we’re African-Americans, Latinos…like any religion it’s universal,” Abu-Amara said.

Janet Klein, Middle Eastern studies director at Akron University, was contacted repeatedly for this assignment, along with Ghazi Falah, the faculty advisor for MSA at Akron University. Neither were willing to comment.

For more information regarding data, facts or trends on Muslims and Islam in America, visit http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2015/12/07/muslims-and-islam-key-findings-in-the-u-s-and-around-the-world/