The Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR) released a poll in October, concluding that nearly 1/3 of Americans hold negative stereotypes of Muslims, such as (1) Islam encourages oppression of women; (2) Islam teaches violence and hatred; (3) Muslims value life less than other people; and (4) Muslims teach their children to hate unbelievers.
Why might Americans hold such beliefs?
1) The charge that Islam encourages oppression of women: In the Middle East, the beating of women is sanctioned regularly on Arab TV shows (see www.memritv.org); Polygamy is legal and women are often forced into marriages; In Saudi Arabia, women have almost no rights and cannot go out in public without a male relative, or even drive a car; In Jordan, honor killings are sanctioned by law; In Egypt, many young girls are forced to undergo female circumcision (genital mutilation); A few days ago, Dutch filmmaker Theo van Gogh (great grandson of Vincent van Gogh) was murdered, allegedly by a man with Moroccan-Dutch citizenship, following a documentary he made about the treatment of Muslim women.
2) The charge that the Muslim religion teaches violence and hatred: The world's three leading mainstream Sunni Muslim figures all espouse violence and hatred.
Sheikh Abd Al-Rahman Al-Sudayyis is the Saudi government-appointed imam of the Grand Mosque in Mecca. Themes of his sermons are characterized by confrontation toward non-Muslims. Al-Sudayyis calls Jews "scum of the earth" and "monkeys and pigs" who should be "annihilated." Other enemies of Islam, he says, are "worshippers of the cross" and "idol-worshipping Hindus."
Sheikh Muhammad Sayyed Tantawi is head of Egypt’s Al-Azhar University, Sunni Islam’s most prestigious establishment. Under Tantawi’s leadership, Al-Azhar has declared jihad against the U.S. repeatedly, and has called for suicide attacks against American forces in Iraq as recently as August. He has called Jews “apes and pigs.” CAIR invited Tantawi to speak in D.C. at its 10th annual dinner last month.
Sheikh Yousef Al-Qaradhawi is considered the spiritual leader of the Muslim Brotherhood movement, and increasingly influences European Muslims through his roles as head of both The European Council for Fatwa and Research and The International Council of Muslim Clerics. He has called for Islam to conquer Europe, expressed support for suicide attacks, and most recently issued a fatwa calling on Muslims to attack U.S. troops.
3) The charge that Muslims value death more than life: A Palestinian textbook published during the Oslo accords teaches 2nd graders, “As much as you love life, we love death – and the desire for it.” Leading Muslim clerics often refer to the love of death. Chief Palestinian Authority cleric Sheikh Ikrimeh Sabri, who is the spiritual leader of Islam’s third holiest mosque, explained in 2001, "As much as you love life, the Muslim loves death and martyrdom.”
4) The charge that Muslims teach their children to hate unbelievers: A look at education systems in the Arab world reveals widespread incitement to hatred against non-Muslims. Examples include a Saudi textbook for 8th grade students quoting the Koran that Jews and Christians were cursed by Allah and turned into apes and pigs. Another Saudi textbook for 5th graders instructs the students that the only true religion is Islam, adding, "The whole world should convert to Islam and leave its false religions, lest their fate will be hell." Even though Saudi Arabia claims it no longer teaches hatred in its schools, this is not true.
Responding to the poll, CAIR doesn't address why Americans might have legitimate concerns about some aspects of the Muslim world, such as ones listed in this column. Instead, it placed the onus on Americans to learn about Islam – which is a code word for the Islamic concept of da’wa, converting non-Muslims.
CAIR’s executive director Nihad Awad explained one positive development about the poll results: "The majority of Americans are open-minded and receptive" to learning more about Islam, including CAIR's efforts to teach Islam to Americans. It should be noted that in an interview on November 16, 2001, Awad triumphantly told the Saudi newspaper 'Ukaz that "34,000 Americans have converted to Islam following the events of September 11, 2001." 'Alaa Bayumi, Director of Arab Affairs for CAIR, also wrote in Al-Hayat the same week, adding “The Americans are showing increasing willingness to convert to Islam since September 11…”
Americans are correct to oppose objectionable practices and ideologies in the Arab and Muslim world that lead to terrorism and hatred. It is unfortunate that CAIR has failed to do so. This, of course, does not justify prejudices against individual Muslims.