Study: Western-Muslim Tensions Getting Better

July 28, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Amelia T.

After Herman Cain’s recent declaration that American communities should be able to ban mosques, it would be easy to understand why relations between Muslim and Western countries might be strained.  A new study  from the Pew Center has some mildly hopeful news: although tensions between Muslim and Western publics are still palpable, they’ve gotten slightly better in the past five years.  While both populations still hold negative stereotypes of each other, Westerners (i.e. US residents and Western Europeans) are less likely to say that they had bad relations with Muslim countries than in 2006.  Muslims, however, aren’t as optimistic.

Ironically, each population characterized the other as “fanatical and violent.”  Muslims in the Middle East and in Southeast Asia were likely to say that Westerners were “selfish, immoral and greedy,” while Westerners criticized the residents of Muslim countries for refusing to tolerate or respect women.

Even though Westerners think that relations are getting better, while Muslims say that their impressions of Westerners are as bad as they were five years ago, there may be more of a consensus on whose fault it is.  Muslims overwhelmingly blamed the West for tensions, and while many Westerners did blame Muslim countries, a sizable percentage were also willing to point the finger at themselves.

In a change that perhaps reflects the general mood surrounding the Arab Spring, “Muslims and Westerners believe corrupt governments and inadequate education in Muslim nations are at least partly responsible for the lack of prosperity.”  And both Muslims and Westerners are concerned about Islamic extremism.

What the report highlights is the extent to which assumptions about relations between Muslim and Western countries shape the stereotypes that the two populations assign to each other.  It’s important, also, to break down these monolithic categories into area-specific groups. 

For example, Indonesian Muslims are more likely to associate positive traits with Westerners, while Pakistani Muslims (for obvious reasons) have increasingly negative feelings about Western relations.

Identity is also a slippery category.  While Muslims overwhelmingly identify with their religion, rather than their country of origin, European Christians are equally likely to say that their national identity is more important than their religious identity.  There is a palpable divide in the United States, although 7 in 10 evangelical Christians identify first with their religion.  Unsurprisingly, there was a strong consensus among Westerners that Muslims living in the West did not want to assimilate into Western culture.  People without college degrees were more likely to “believe that Muslims want to remain distinct from the broader society.”

While the report does not provide answers to mending the rift between Western and European countries, it does break down some of the complexities in fascinating ways.

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Woman Serves as Mosque President

August 13, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

By Jeff Swicord , VOA

salmenna sedique
Salmenna Sedique prays, at far left.

Toleda, Ohio–05 August 2009–Some in the West have long held negative stereotypes toward the Islamic faith, particularly when it comes to the role of women. But if one woman in Toledo, Ohio has her way, that is about to change. She was recently elected president of a local Islamic center. She oversees the operations of a community center, school, and mosque, including the activities of the Imam. Her goal is to show the non-Muslim world that women of Islam can do and achieve anything they want.

Like many Afghan women, Salmenna Sedique enjoys spending quiet time with her family in their Toledo Ohio home.

But unlike some of her counterparts, Salmenna also plays a prominent role outside the home, in Toledo’s Muslim community. 

She is the first woman president of the Masjid Saad Islamic Center, which includes an Islamic school and mosque.

“It is a hard position for anyone to run, Salmenna said. “It is a responsibility. And every single second I am thinking, am I going to fulfill it in the right manner, in the right way?”

Toledo Ohio is an old industrial city in the middle United States. The Masjid Saad center started as a small prayer area at a local University more than twenty years ago.

It has grown to a community of over one thousand people. Women play prominent roles in all aspects of the center’s life.

Salmenna wants to change the negative stereotypes held by some toward Islam — particularly, the role of women. She says rules that say women cannot be educated, or leave the home without the company of a male family member, or must be covered, are rooted in culture, not Islamic tradition. She says, in Islam, those issues are a matter of choice and points to the role women played in the household of the Prophet Mohammed (s).

“They were not hiding,” Salmenna says, “They were not behind the curtains; they were not behind the walls. They were going to battles, they were in business.”

Salmenna also plays a prominent role in the family business.

She keeps the books and maintains the computer system at her husband Ahmad’s auto dealership. It was her husband who pushed her to become president of the Islamic center. “We needed somebody in our community right now to work and organize it. And she is qualified for that,” Ahmad Sedique says, “And I am fully supporting her for that.”

Salmenna says leading by example is the best way to change perceptions. She encourages young people to get more involved at the center. Today, these young women are planning youth group activities, but were shy about talking with us on camera.

Salmenna wants to see more action from Muslims outside the center.  “We don’t have people in politics, we don’t have people to fill out the social working areas. They don’t look at it as a priority, but to me,” she adds, “it is a priority.”

Her appointment as president is for one year. She encourages women to educate themselves, get involved, and stand up for their Islamic rights.

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