There are 1.8 billion Muslim people worldwide and an estimated 3.45 million Muslims living in the United States. Islam is currently the second largest religion in the world next to Christianity. Despite the fact that there are so many Muslims in the world, in many places there is a lack of understanding about Muslim people and Islam. In addition, the increase in anti-Muslim rhetoric and the unfortunate conflation of terrorism with Muslim people contributes to biased attitudes and reinforces stereotypes. As a result, Islamophobia—the fear, hatred and discrimination of Muslim people—is manifesting itself in personal biases, rhetoric, education, politics, hate crimes and more.
This resource is intended to: (1) provide background knowledge about Muslim people and Islam, (2) dispel stereotypes and myths and replace them with facts and information, (3) suggest ways that educators can address these important topics in the classroom and (4) provide relevant key words and definitions.
Myth #1: All Muslim people are Arab or Middle Eastern.
Although Islam began as a religion in the Middle East and its holiest sites are located there, the region is home to only about 20% of the world’s Muslims. As of 2015, there were 1.8 billion Muslims in the world, which is roughly 24% of the world’s population, according to a Pew Research Center estimate. While many people think that most Muslims are of Middle Eastern descent, in actuality Indonesia (in Southeast Asia) currently has the single largest Muslim population. Projections into the future estimate that India (in South Asia) will have the world’s largest population of Muslims by the year 2050.
In terms of Muslims in the United States, 75% of all U.S. Muslim adults have lived in this country since before 2000. The Muslim American population is significantly younger and more racially diverse than the population as a whole, with 30% describing themselves as white, 23% as black, 21% as Asian, 6% as Hispanic and 19% as other or mixed race.
Myth #2: Islam is a violent religion and Muslims identify with terrorism.
Within every religion, there exists a spectrum of attitudes and behavior and extremism is not unique to one particular belief system. There are people who sincerely view themselves as Muslims who have committed horrible acts in the name of Islam. These people, and their interpretation of Islam, is rightly called “extremist;” they are a minority within Islam and the vast majority of Muslims reject their violence and consider their interpretation a distortion of the Muslim faith. Extremism is not unique to Islam.
According to a 2015 Pew Research Center study collected in 11 countries with significant Muslim populations, people overwhelmingly expressed negative views of ISIS. It is important to keep in mind that Islam, like other Abrahamic religions, includes a large pool of opinions and different ways to understand the traditional holy text that was written in a different era. Terrorists use radical interpretations of Islam, which take a small number of texts that were meant to regulate warfare in the early days of Islam. Terrorists then apply these interpretations to contemporary times.
There is also a perception—even among many Muslims—that Muslim groups and leaders do not sufficiently denounce acts of terrorism. A 2011 Pew survey found that about half of all U.S. Muslims said their own religious leaders have not done enough to speak out against terrorism and extremists. However, it is useful to note that there are many Muslim heads of state, politicians, organizational leaders and individuals who regularly condemn these acts. For example, after the 2015 terrorist attacks in France, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Qatar and Egypt led condemnations of the attacks. A coalition of leading national and local American Muslim groups also held a press conference to condemn the attacks. Further, thousands of Muslim clerics worldwide passed a “fatwa” (i.e. Islamic legal opinion) against terrorist organizations such as ISIS, the Taliban and al-Qaeda and requested that these terrorist groups not be branded as “Muslim organizations.”
Muslims are also subject to increased incidents of hate crimes. In 2014, there was an overall decrease in hate crimes in the United States, but the number of hate crimes targeting Muslims grew from 135 in 2013 to 154 in 2014. And this is most likely an underrepresentation of the number of Muslims targeted because the numbers reflect only those crimes reported to police.
It is important to remember that terrorist attacks in the United States have been committed by extremists who have adhered to a wide range of ideological beliefs including the Ku Klux Klan, white supremacy, anti-government, Islamic extremism and others. No one ideology is responsible for terrorism in the United States.
Myth #3: You can’t be Muslim and be patriotic to America.
Based on a Pew Research Study survey, there are an e