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Monday, April 15, 2024 — Houston, TX

National media distorts image of Muslims

By Shamsa Mangalji     1/28/10 6:00pm

It's Christmas day. You see that foxnews.com has published an article stating that a "Muslim terrorist tried to blow up a Detroit-bound airliner packed with 300 people just moments before landing." Soon, you notice that other major media networks follow suit. "Oh, God," you groan. "Not again. What's wrong with these Muslims? What are they thinking?"I can't tell you what those so-called "Muslims" were thinking. I can't jump inside their heads to discover why they commit these merciless, terrifying acts in the name of "Islam." But I can tell you what I think. Simply put, I feel outraged at these terrorists' disgusting perversion of my Islamic faith. I am ashamed to see the way my faith is being portrayed in mainstream media, and I think the world needs to understand the real meaning of Islam, a word derived from the Arabic concept of "salaam," or peace. With this column, I would like to give you a new perspective of my religion.

I belong to the Shia Imami Ismaili sect of Islam. My Imam, or spiritual leader, is the Aga Khan. He teaches that Islam should always be interpreted in the modern context, and that Islam's core values today are education, service to others and pluralism; there is no mention of committing suicide or massacring innocent people in our houses of worship. The Aga Khan's international aid organization, The Aga Khan Development Network, aims to foster hope and opportunity for progress in developing countries; its agencies have helped build countless hospitals and schools in Asia and Africa, as well as supported numerous microfinance ventures and promoted cultural preservation in every area in which they work.

Muslims of all sects agree that these values are intrinsic to the Islamic faith; there are numerous Qu'ranic verses encouraging Muslims to "be merciful" and do "good works." Similar to the Bible and the Torah, the Qu'ran commands us to "be good to our neighbors."

So I am appalled that these horrible extremists who claim to be "Muslim" commit vicious acts of terror that completely contradict all of the Qu'ran's morals, ethics and commandments. The perpetrators of such heinous and tragic acts have twisted the Qu'ran and its phrases for their own evil bent; they are no more Muslims than those behind the Inquisition were true Christians.

And the media falls for their claims of "Muslimhood" nearly every time, citing their religion as the source of their twisted ideas. What is lost in translation is that it is the other way around - they are twisting Allah and the Qu'ran into an excuse for their atrocities. I am disturbed by the way mainstream media habitually interchanges the words "al-Qaeda," "extremist" and "Muslim," as if all three terms are one and the same. Having Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab and his awful antics splashed on every page of every newspaper has further perpetuated American stereotypes of Muslims as violent, suicide-bombing creatures.

Because of this stereotype, I get double takes when I call myself a Muslim, especially in Texas. My Arabic name, Shamsa, raises eyebrows and security wands of airport security personnel. The verses about mercy and beneficence in the Qu'ran remain unknown or forgotten, as does the incredible charitable work of the Aga Khan, or that of other Muslim figures, for that matter.

I am a Muslim who takes my true, Islamic values to heart. To me, Islam means everything from singing "Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes" with nursery school students in East Africa to brightening people's day with a smile and an impromptu dance-party study break. It means reusing my water bottle and sprinting like a maniac around the house, turning off every single light before I head out. It means striving to get an A in my statistics class, no matter how many weeks of sleep I have to sacrifice to do so.

And it means showing the world a wildly different perspective of Islam than the one portrayed in the media: one in which I am proud to share my views, and one in which I am proud to call myself a Muslim.

Shamsa Mangalji is a visiting student from Columbia University.

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