When news outlets reported that a supposed convert to Islam had beheaded a woman in a Moore grocery store, OU junior Yazan Salus was worried.
“I told my sisters and mom to lay low for a little bit because people will have this sort of ignorance towards the situation, and it’ll just spark a fire,” Salus said.
Salus, an energy management junior, was concerned for his mother and sisters because they wear head scarves called hijabs — an unmistakable symbol of their Muslim faith, he said.
“When you look at me, you can’t tell that I’m a Muslim,” Salus said. “But whenever you see someone wearing the hijab, the scarf, you can tell that they’re 100 percent Muslim.”
Elementary education freshman Sana Sandhu said that because she wears a hijab, people often treat her like an outsider.
“They’ll look at me weirdly, and be like, ‘Why are you here?’ but I was born here,” Sandhu said. “I’m here to get my education. I was born here, and people don’t believe that because of the way I dress.”
Situations like the attack in Moore are an example of how Islam and its believers are cast in a negative light, unlike other religions. Had the attacker been of a different religion, “we probably wouldn’t be having this conversation right now,” biology junior Mohsain Gill said.
“There are people that do hateful things, and they happen to be Muslim or they happen to be Christian, but just like there’s nowhere in the Bible where it teaches people to kill, there’s nowhere in the Quran where it teaches people to kill,” Gill said. “When people do those things, it’s just a bad bunch of people that have some crazy ideologies, and they use religion as a shield to promote those ideas.”
Salus explained that because media coverage of Islam is overwhelmingly negative, it can be hard to convince others that the stereotypes are untrue.
“Whenever this type of stuff happens, you can’t really convince others that this is not the stereotype of Islam whenever they see some terrorism acts going on frequently,” Salus said. “It’s very hard to show that Muslims are peace-loving people.”
Gill said that just because the media paints all Muslims with the same brush, the actions of a handful of Muslims shouldn’t determine the image of the millions of Muslims in the world.
“There are so many people — doctors, engineers, politicians — that are Muslims.” Gill said. “If there’s 1.5 billion, and there happens to be one or two or 10 or 20 people that do bad things … we can’t paint the whole culture, the whole race, the whole religion based on that.”
“I think … in journalism, [there is] a big problem with not understanding religions in depth — not just Islam, but probably all faiths,” said David Craig, associate dean for academic affairs in Gaylord College. “Journalists in general don’t have a high enough level of understanding of the religious backdrop of Islam to always provide intelligent context for what may be going on.”
By thinking through their actions more thoroughly and educating themselves on various religious beliefs, journalists can become more adept at reporting on religious issues ethically, Craig said.
Craig added that reporters don’t who understand Islam can inadvertently harm the Muslim community.
“If you focus too much on the labels or focus on them in a crudely worded manner, then that causes potential harm to the broader Muslim community here,” Craig said. “I’m guessing it’s creating a good deal of fear and anxiety for them.”
Microbiology senior Manar Kabbani, president of the Muslim Student Association, agreed, saying education on Islam would help dispel misconceptions and stereotypes brought about by the media.
“I just wish people honestly would just try to understand and interact with Muslims and read about our religion and what it teaches before immediately just judging based off of [how] the media portrays us,” Kabbani said. “I believe that they’d have a completely different perspective if they tried to do that.”
Gill said he wants people to understand that Islam promotes peace, and that situations like the Moore attack aren’t representative of his faith.
“The Moore situation has received a lot of national attention as well as international attention, and that’s just not what our faith is,” Gill said. “We don’t promote killing. We’re a peaceful religion. Islam means peace, literally.”