Muslim scholar highlights prominent Islamophobia in current political climate

Muslim scholar Hussein Rashid discusses the misconceptions of the Muslim population during the "The Uncanny Muslim: Real and the Imagined in America" lecture on Sunday, Oct. 29. Photo by Cheyenne Roper

Muslim scholar Hussein Rashid discusses the misconceptions of the Muslim population during the "The Uncanny Muslim: Real and the Imagined in America" lecture on Sunday, Oct. 29. Photo by Cheyenne Roper

By Cheyenne Roper, News Reporter

The forces at work behind the demonization and misinterpretation of Muslim people were brought to light during a lecture by Muslim scholar Hussein Rashid on Sunday, Oct. 29. 

“The Uncanny Muslim: Real and the Imagined in America” was this year’s Al-Ghazali lecture that shed light on the way Muslim culture is understood by Rashid, founder of Islamicate, LC3.

 “There are political forces at work that seem to continue to demonize Muslims both abroad and at home. You can try to combat them head-on. From a community perspective, I’m a little bit more hopeful, but in terms of societal pressures I don’t see that going away anytime soon, in fact, I see this building up,” said Rashid.

Rashid touched on three time periods in American history to exemplify what he means: The early part of American history and imagining the nation, American Orientalism, and the Muslims of today.

A notable comparison in American society mentioned is between that of Jabba the Hutt and the Ottoman of Sultan, a Muslim figure.

“We develop this image of the Ottoman of Sultan who tends to be corpulent and smoking a water pipe with the dancing slave girls around him,” Rashid said. “So we are both recognizing a political reality and this imagination of this other who is so un-Christian, he is sexually deviant, has no sense of control, and he sits very lazily.”

Rashid continued with, “we think sometimes that we have grown past these images. But, the reality is that these images continue to persist because Jabba the Hutt is that Ottoman Sultan who sits with his dancing slave girls and smoking his water pipe.”

Rashid discussed this as being representative of how we construct the ways Americans conceive Muslims in the country today and the similarities to how it has been in the past. 

In explaining how he imagines the country’s history, Rashid said, “When we think about what is the American nation I think a lot of people are quite surprised that when we look at our founding fathers, Islam and Muslims play a very big role in the ways we begin to conceive the nation. Many are familiar with the fact that Thomas Jefferson owned a Quran.”

“When the first Muslim was elected to congress, Keith Ellison was sworn in on a Quran, and people were saying, ‘This is un-American, how dare he.’ and then he got sworn in on Jefferson’s Quran. People were like, ‘Okay what do we do? Jefferson had a Quran,” continued Rashid.

People voiced their opinions on their disapproval of a member of Congress using the Quran as a means to swear himself in. However, when these same folks found out about Jefferson’s Quran (and the fact he even had one), they were much more accepting of the idea. 

The President of the Muslim Student Association of Elmhurst, Obaidullah Kholowadia, spoke of how confident and secure he feels to be a Muslim student of Elmhurst College. 

“I think the school is very welcoming of us. I think even [E.C President Troy VanAken] as of recently has been more involved on campus. The school is very welcoming to us, no one has ever given us a hard time.”

Rashid’s recommendation to young people of the future is to “start building relationships, start building communities, start organizing, find that issue, find those people, make some trouble and anytime someone says ‘Well that’s just un-American’ I’m sorry but this country was founded on trouble. It is the definition of the American to cause trouble, keep that tradition alive.”