What is the first thing that comes to your mind when you think of Islam and Muslims? Sadly, I feel I can already anticipate the most common response. Perhaps some of the responses will pertain to some form of terrorism or oppression of women. If not directly stated, then these thoughts are at the very least on many peoples’ minds.

Honestly though, I don’t blame anyone for having these initial perceptions, because it seems that every day there is another story that negatively portrays the religion of Islam and its followers. Among these include suicide bombings, terrorist attacks, misogyny, childish responses to offensive cartoons, honor killings — all pitifully linked to being committed in the name of Islam. There is a persistent portrayal of my faith associated with violence and animosity, and I understand that as a result, it is only natural for some to have developed a mistaken preconception of Islam.

However, what I ask of all of you is to put these initial perceptions aside, and give Islam another chance. One can approach this religion of more than a billion followers in the world today in two ways: with the objective of satisfying a preconception that Islam is a barbaric religion or with an open mind not influenced by these negative preconceptions.

The former will inevitably lead one to the conclusion that Islam is a backward religion. This is not just a lesson in the context of religion, but rather a lesson in the context of being a moral human being. If we approach any belief system with negative preconceptions, then we are bound to find demeaning aspects about it. We will only find the truth if we actively seek it with a self-critical attitude — acknowledging that we could potentially be incorrect. Although I was born a Muslim, I only began to truly embrace Islam less than four years ago, and it has brought a sense of peace and serenity to my life that is indescribable. It is truly disheartening to see that people today have this horrific image of the faith that I and many others have devoted our lives to. (MORE)

Sabih Khwaja (khwaja@wisc.edu) is president of the UW Muslim Students’ Association and is a junior majoring in biochemistry.


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