CAIR-Philadelphia along with the Interfaith Walk for Peace and Reconciliation sponsored a screening and interfaith dialogue of the documentary film, Inside Islam: What a Billion Muslims Really Think last week. About 45 people of different faiths came together to have a real conversation on Islamophobia, American Muslims and the war on terror.
Inside Islam debunks common stereotypes of Islam and Muslims based on hard facts. Research experts featured in the film discuss controversial issues highlighted by a world-wide Muslim public opinion poll conducted by the Gallup organization. Muslims in more than 35 Muslim majority countries and American Muslims reveal personal thoughts on terrorism, democracy and women’s rights.
The film shows that respondents of the poll spoke highly of freedom of speech and women’s rights. The majority categorically condemned terrorism and terrorist acts. A few quoted verses directly from the Koran to denounce the killing of innocent civilians.
Participants were shocked. If this is reality, where does the notion that Muslims are violent come from? According to MediaTenor, fundamentalists and militant groups account for 66% of media coverage on Islam. In other words, more than half of the news coverage of Islam is focused on violence. This creates a false illusion that most Muslims are radicals, when in fact the “radical fringes,” such as Al-Qaeda, are a tiny speck of the entire global Muslim population.
The screening was not only educational, but timely. As series of revolutions in the Middle East unravels, it’s clear to see that Gallup’s research is accurate. People are hungry for change, and it’s not Islam which suppresses them, but corrupt governments and leaders.
The dialogue following the film was engaging. Muslim participants stressed the ethnic diversity of American Muslims. One person mentioned the increase in Latino Muslim converts in the United States.
Some attendees, however, felt that Muslims aren’t active in condemning terrorism. The counter argument was that Muslims constantly condemn terrorism (click here to read CAIR’s statement), but in theory, should not have to succumb to “guilt-by-association”. One attendee stated, “When people find out you’re Muslim, they immediately want an apology for something you didn’t do”. The program ended on a lighter note with a conversation on the similarities in beliefs between major “Abrahamic” faith traditions.
CAIR-Philadelphia conducts interfaith dialogues to open the lines of communication with people of all faiths. We believe grassroots dialogues encourage community members to see each other as human beings not as individuals belonging to specific ethnic or religious groups.
Rugiatu Conteh is the Outreach and Communications Director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations Philadelphia Chapter.