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Apr-22-2010 20:17printcomments

Sheep in Wolves Clothing: How Extremism and Misconceptions are Affecting Muslims Worldwide

What steps can be taken to put an end to ignorance about the Muslim world and what their practices mean to them and us?

Writer Jyl Lytle-Gage says hello to a camel near Egypt's border with Israel.
Writer Jyl Lytle-Gage says hello to a camel near Egypt's border with Israel.

(CAIRO, Egypt) - Terrorism is a word that instantly strikes fear into the hearts of millions. Images of the Twin Towers going down in flames, kidnappings, decapitations, murdered women and children buried in the rubble left by suicide bombings are images many of us will never forget. There are good reasons to fear terrorism. After all, acts of terror are occurring around the world as we speak.

When we think of a terrorist, the picture of hajib wearing women and bearded, turban wearing men in galabeya is the first thing that comes to mind. We recall stories with pictures of women in hajibs hiding bombs in their clothes to commit acts of terror. We think of shoe and underwear bombers. We think of our fallen soldiers. Because the images of war and terror constantly being flashed in front of us on television and the internet are predominantly those of Muslims, it is easy for us to jump to the conclusion that all Muslims are terrorists. This misconception is so far from the truth it’s laughable.

I’ve been traveling, working and living in the Middle East for over a year and now have insights into both the Western and Middle Eastern worlds. I interviewed Ayman Ghoniem, a Muslim accountant in Cairo, Jessica Barth, an executive assistant and advocate for women’s rights from Chicago, IL, Clay Majors, a far right Republican Christian and Nebraska business owner, and Fredrique Sevano, a French Muslim restaurant owner about their thoughts on Islamic extremism, what true Islam is and how we can all work together to put an end to terror.

What does being a Muslim mean?

“Being a Muslim basically means following the prophet Mohammed and obeying the five pillars of Islam. They are: there is no God but Allah and Mohammad is his messenger, doing the five prayers per day, Zakat, which is to give two and one half percent of your income per year to the poor, to fast during Ramadan and to Haj to Mecca, but only if you can. That is all.” – Ayman Ghoniem

“I must admit to not knowing very much about the specific teachings of Islam, but have always considered it to be a third spoke on the big wheel of monotheistic religion, alongside Christianity and Judaism” – Jessica Barth

“Being a Muslim means following the last prophet to give us the message of God. We believe in all prophets, from Adam through Moses, Jesus and Mohammad.” – Fredrique Sevano

What is Jihad and what justifies it?

“Jihad is not what the Europeans think or the Americans think. It is not a saint war or holy war. It is only defense of our country, home, family and religion. The main word is defense. Not attack. As [sic] example, if someone were to attack Mecca or attack the image of Mohammad, Muslims must defend against those attacks.” – Ayman Ghoniem

“To me Jihad is a signature of terrorist activity; nothing more. Jihad is another way to say I’m f’n evil. They are trying to justify people retaliating against the big evil United States of America and the Western World.” – Clay Majors

“Jihad doesn’t mean saint war as people in Europe or extremists would like you to believe. It’s a personal effort to defend what is best and the way to show the good of a person” – Fredrique Sevano

“I’ve never understood if Jihad is simply a holy war, akin to the Christian Crusades, or if the intent is to literally wipe all infidels from the face of the earth. By and large, it’s innocents, civilians, women and children who take the brunt of brutality, not the oppressors.” – Jessica Barth

What causes a moderate Muslim to turn to extremism?

“There are many factors. Lack of education, money, rights, desperation and oppression cause some to turn into terrorists. Also, it is the wrong ideas about defending Islam. The idea Americans have that Muslims must kill infidels is wrong. Once that was true but hardly anyone has stood by that; not for hundreds of years. Only extremists believe that. There are not many extremists. Allah does ask us to defend Islam. If you can do it with words or your hands only you should. Some people misunderstand that to mean we want to fight. We do not want to fight at all. We only defend our religion when it is under threat; when we have to.” – Ayman Ghoniem

“Extremism takes hold for a myriad of reasons, often certain groups think of themselves as an oppressed minority struggling for power and control over politics or autonomy. There seems to be a lot of pressure on Muslims stemming from Westernized regions, notably the US, Europe and Israel, wanting them to stifle their religions and accomplishing this through fear mongering the non Muslim public opinion, and by creating unjust laws and policy. I can understand the frustration that many Muslims must feel from this fear, oppression and disinterest by Westerners to find common ground.” - Jessica Barth

“Some Muslims turn to extremism because they don’t have access to education. A lot don’t know how to write and read. Nobody taught them how to think for themselves. These people interpret the Quran differently. It also depends on whether the person is good inside or not.” – Fredrique Sevano

How do you imagine American and European Muslims feel when they see images of extremism on television and the internet? Do they fear backlash? Does this make them want to defend Islam?

“Of course they want to defend Islam. How would you feel if someone was saying something horrible about your entire family, friends, your clothes and religion over and over? It is embarrassing. It makes all Muslims very sad and angry.” – Ayman Ghoniem

“I’m sure it’s a difficult topic for many Muslims in America. I would imagine most people don’t agree with violence and terrorism, and live in fear of being associated with the people who carry out heinous terroristic acts.” - Jessica Barth

“I am a Muslim and live in Europe. Of course I’m embarrassed by the way terrorists act. But, I’m also embarrassed by people who think that all Muslims are like those people.” – Fredrique Sevano

Many Christians feel their rights are being stripped from them by the Supreme Court, especially since the National Day of Prayer was ruled to be illegal.

This country was founded on the concept of religious freedom for all religions.

Therefore, when our country’s main religion, Christianity, comes under attack we feel threatened, violated, belittled, and angry. It seems very unfair that we cannot practice Christianity and show our faith as Christians in America, the freest country on Earth. So, it shouldn’t be too much of a leap of the imagination to understand how Muslims throughout the world feel.

In France, minarets, which are as symbolic and functional to mosques as church steeples, have been outlawed, as have the hajib clothing, which strict Muslim women choose to where. Muslims have been demonized for their religious practices, scrutinized and mocked mercilessly.

Many Muslims throughout the world feel that the whole world is stacked up against them, that they are misunderstood and that they are unfairly persecuted.

These biases proliferated by the certain media outlets are not only inaccurate, they are dangerous. In more than one instance, I’ve spoken with my friends back home and they’ve told me that they feel Muslims are evil and want to kill Americans.

“More needs to be done to show the world that we are peaceful people…I think there are about two billion Muslims in the world. If we were all bent on killing everyone that did not agree with us, do you think anyone would be left on earth? That is crazy,” - Ayman Ghoniem

What steps can be taken to put an end to ignorance about the Muslim world and what their practices mean to them and us?

“Only education can change the situation. Tolerance about cultures which are different from your own is needed. They need to know that being different is good and that we can learn from each other. If America and Europe never gains these two things, the struggles will only continue. No one wants that.” – Ayman Ghoniem

“The media is responsible for the misconceptions against us. They have the power to fix the problem. People should try to think for themselves too.” – Fredrique Sevano

If you could get any message across to Europe and America, what would it be? “Treat people as humans and not as a religion. You will learn that Muslims are good. We don’t want to be judged always. We don’t want to kill people and don’t want to be killed in return. A true Muslim loves all people, just as a true Christian does. We are not too far from each other that way.” – Ayman Ghoniem

“I would tell the terrorists they are a shame for all Muslims. The message that all prophets gave us is a message of love and peace to help all the people in this earth to live together.” - Fredrique Sevano.

Ultimately, the widespread lack of understanding and respect for the moderate Muslim people by the Western world is causing emotions of Muslims worldwide to boil over.

The more they are pushed, insulted and degraded the more they feel they need to defend themselves. If we want peace, we will have to first give respect and understanding for a way of life that is very different from our own, but works for them.

===============================================

Jyl Lytle-Gage's background as a Cairo-based writer and journalist currently living and working in Cairo, Egypt. She is a former resident of the Pacific Northwest; namely Salem, Oregon. Chapter President of Phi Theta Kappa International Honor Society in college, her writing experiences include Internet marketing for charities and businesses, including Blanket America, luxury hotel reviews on the Red Sea and Mediterranean Sea, Middle East human interest pieces, and fashion show reporting.

The Salem-News.com team is happy to welcome Jyl aboard as a featured writer, and we can't help but appreciate the connection- as Jyl is a former resident of Oregon's capitol city. She is a quality writer and we are especially excited to feature her work which is both interesting and innovative. Issues involving women in the Mid East are important and her diverse take on this type of subject is both refreshing and necessary. As a Native American, Jyl speaks with an extremely unique voice, based on world experience. We can not emphasize how important it is for Americans to receive their news through an unfiltered, on-site perspective, and it is why we prefer to work with people who have spent time in the places they write about.




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Anonymous March 31, 2013 5:24 pm (Pacific time)

Levi Y? No


Rick January 2, 2013 10:25 am (Pacific time)

Have you seen or heard from Levi Y?


Jyl September 20, 2012 9:00 pm (Pacific time)

Actually, for those who have grown up in a society that is run by a dictator and is very poor, freedom really is hard to wrap their head around. It takes time. Most Egyptians say constantly, "we will never be anything until we get organized." It's a major struggle for them right now. Their country is having major growing pains.


philip White September 18, 2012 7:21 pm (Pacific time)

when will the muslims try to understand the west ? I no,freedom is hard to understand.


Anonymous 2 April 24, 2010 6:23 am (Pacific time)

If you saw what we saw in the middle east while trying to help the poor, you'd support Palestine too. I'm not a Muslim, but I can certainly understand their anger with Israel.


Vic April 23, 2010 5:41 pm (Pacific time)

I absolutely agree with the first three comments !


Tariq Khan April 23, 2010 11:57 am (Pacific time)

The source of all demonisations of Muslims can eventually be traced back to Israel. And why? Because the Muslims dare to support the Palestinian cause. Those who distance themselves from this cause are called moderates.


Anonymous April 23, 2010 5:49 am (Pacific time)

Governments, from the beginning of time, have used fear to control its people. They used fear to take away civil liberties. it is interesting how people think, just because its the 21st century, that history does not apply to them. Like all the sudden the entire universe transformed and claimed the western world is is immune to history repeating itself. Thinking "MY government would NEVER" do something like that" is an extremely dangerous mindset to be in. Thinking someone is going to come along with hope and change is even more naive.


gp April 22, 2010 9:25 pm (Pacific time)

I appreciate this writer's style, she allows the interview to speak for itself. Very informative and intelligent essay/interview.

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