Islam, Not ISIS

By Breonnah Colon

There is a tragedy taking place within the world and it is not getting very much media coverage, therefore many people are unaware of it. There is a genocide taking place in the Republic of the Union of Myanmar. The country is located on the border of five others: India, Bangladesh, Laos, Thailand and China. As a result of its geological location, the population of Myanmar is quite diverse, however, there is still a minority group within the nation- the Rohingya people. The Rohingya people are Muslim and practice Islam as their religion. It is this religious practice that is causing the Rohingya people to be targeted by the military of Myanmar since the religion followed by most people in the country is a form of Buddhism.

New sources such as CNN and BBC News have been covering stories on the genocide occasionally, however, the circumstances facing the Rohingya people have been taking place for as long as four years. In the year of 2012, Myanmar experienced a sort of civil war where an article on cnn.com entitles “Is genocide unfolding in Myanmar?” by Matthew Smith explained, “Buddhist civilians and state security forces unleashed coordinated attacks against Rohingya and other Muslims. I documented pre-dawn raids and cold-blooded massacres.”

A lot of people are still at risk, especially children.

The article went on to state, “Children were hacked to death. Some were thrown into fires.” While the violence facing the Rohingya may have diminished over the past few years, it seems tensions are once again rising and the victims are the Rohingya people.

How could such a thing take place without anyone intervening? Well, whether or not an actual genocide is taking place has been quite a controversial topic, especially since the current leader of the country, Aung San Suu Kyi denies there is a genocide taking place, despite people referring to the horrendous acts against the Rohingya people can be equated to an ethnic cleansing. An article on bbc.com entitled “Myanmar says ‘no evidence’ of Rohingya genocide” explained, “(The government in Myanmar) dismissed allegations of genocide on the basis that there are still Rohingya Muslims living in Rakhine and that Islamic religious buildings have not been destroyed. It said it had so far found ‘insufficient evidence’ that anyone had been raped by security forces, despite widespread claims. Accusations of arson, arbitrary arrest and torture are still being investigated.” The article also explains that there have been allegation of militant government forces targeting Rohingya civilians and killing them as punishment and retaliation for attacks by Rohingya rebels.

How could such a devastating terror take place for an entire group of people and most of the world not know? Did you hear about the three Muslim family members who were murdered in February of 2015 over an argument about parking? How about the woman in New York City who had her hijab set on fire in a “possible hate crime” in September of 2016? Most people would not be able to identify these stories, all of which were captured and shared publicly by reliable news sources such as The New York Times, The Washington Post and NPR. It is quite clear there has been a growing trend of violence against Muslims both within the United States and globally. Yet, if these things are being covered by such prominent ad well-known news sources, why aren’t these stories more widely known? Perhaps because bigger headlines read about terror attacks in Paris or Boston or even Syria, Iraq or Afghanistan carried out by the notorious terrorist group ISIS make up most of the news regarding the Muslim community. This sort of coverage leaves a very strong message about Islam and those who practice the religion in people’s’ minds and that message is almost always the idea that Islam is a very violent religion and Muslim are extremists who look to oppress anyone who goes against them. Much like the Rohingya people in Myanmar, this sort of majority thinking victimizes the minority group: Muslims.

Islam is the second largest religion in the world and fastest growing  major religion today, with as many as 1.7 billion people identifying as Muslim. That’s almost as much as a quarter of the entire global population. Despite the prevalence of the religion, however, Islam is very often misunderstood and preconceived as violent due to media coverage and stereotypes. This sort of social stigma deeply impacts individuals with Muslim backgrounds.

Jesus Maldonado is a Muslim of Puerto Rican descent. He faces a sort of discrimination quite rare due to the fact that he does not inherently look Muslim, yet is.

“People don’t believe me when I say I’m Boricua (Puerto Rican) and Muslim,” Maldonado said. “I usually have to speak in arabic and then spanish to kind of prove my point.”

The stereotypes goes beyond his language. Maldonado explained a time at The College at Brockport’s dining hall where he asked if the meat served was halal, which is a sort of dietary practice followed by Muslims. The server was a Muslim woman wearing a hijab, however, since Maldonado did not look Muslim to her she questioned what he knew about halal food and why he was asking.

Such situations take place constantly Maldonado explained. He was either too spanish for his fellow Muslims or too Muslim for his hispanic counterparts, however, this is nothing new for Maldonado.

“It doesn’t bother me. This is who I am, I’ve always been Puerto Rican and Muslim,” Maldonado said. “If someone is interested in either my faith or my culture we discuss it, if not we don’t.”

While Maldonado may be used to the sorts of stereotypes and discrimination that cause a difference for those who practice religion, others are not so used to it. Dayana Germain is a Christian woman of Haitian descent, yet her partner is an Egyptian Muslim. While religion wasn’t a big part of their relationship in the beginning, her partner has recently started to become more involved in his faith.

“He’s been reading the Quran more and he prays several times, sometimes three times a day,” Germain said.

While the practices of her partner do not bother Germain she admits that it’s certainly a different experience for their relationship which has caused her to learn more about Islam.

“I didn’t know too much about Islam. I knew it was a religion and that there were some things people were saying bad about it, but I like to know things for myself so I didn’t just listen to what others said,” Germain said.

She went on to explain that she has also taken to reading the Quran and was surprised by the teachings she came across.

“I’m a Christian woman, but even I must admit the teachings (presented by the Quran) are really good,” Germain said.

Both Maldonado and Germain are touched by Islam everyday, both experience the impacts of having the guidelines and teachings of Islam play a role in their lives. Yet many others do not have this firsthand experience and as a result view Islam only by preconceptions introduced by the masses. It is this sort of understanding that allows such horrors like the genocide in Myanmar to take place against innocent Muslim people. What can we do to help put an end to the discrimination and mistreatment of a group of people that make up almost a quarter of the world’s population? Educate ourselves.

“I would say just do research so you can know for yourself,” Germain said.

Perhaps with a wider understanding of Islam and the different cultures that make up the faith, the major headlines will ring with just as much urgency when Muslims are under attack as when non-muslims are attacked and maybe those attacks wouldn’t happen so frequently in the first place.

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