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Misrepresentations of Islam; youth, media and culture

By Naila Missous

It’s readily known that the West have projected unwanted and undeserved negative attention onto the religion of Islam in recent years.

If the religion as a whole isn’t being blamed for every terrorist happening throughout the world, they also seem to steal the spot light in every news headline: especially within the Israel/Palestine conflict and most recently the events in Syria.

What is never highlighted is the Muslims who reside in the West who represent the genuine and humane reality of the religion. A case in point; when the media in the West chooses to show a Middle Easterner burning the American flag and yodelling ‘Death to America’; the equivalent would be the Middle East media showing their viewers an image of the west burning their religious holy book, The Qu’ran.

Islam is portrayed as one culture

There are currently 2.8 million Muslims in Britain alone, and yet they are one of the most misunderstood and marginalised religious groups in the country.

There is a common misconception that Islam is just one common race.

This is very wrong.

For example, there are over 23 million Muslims alone in China. They are Chinese and Muslim. The two are not mutually exclusive.

With so many Muslims living their normal daily lives, contributing to society and living harmlessly with other socio-religious and ethnic groups, is it not time that they were given a higher platform to make their voices heard? This would let them answer the questions that are so violently misinterpreted by those who are outside the religion.

Though this is all part and parcel of the ever complicated and never shy topic of religion versus politics versus culture. Also the key to viewing the raw transition of Islam is through its youth.

Young Muslims struggle for identity

Many teens and young people struggle with fitting in, regardless of their religion or cultural status. You have the self conflict with what everyone else is doing up against what popular culture is telling you to endeavour in.

So why is this balance weighted even heavier when the young person is a Muslim?

Young Muslim women in particular face an identity struggle

Among the challenges that Muslims encounter, the greater and probably more obvious is that of Muslim girls. The identity crisis is very popular. Many girls separate their Muslim identity from their personal one; at home these teenagers can be devout Muslims but out of the home these girls adopt a more Western identity. While some girls work hard to disassociate both identities, some just want both to be recognised.

They want the freedom to be allowed to flaunt the entirety of their identity with no cost, no fear of judgement of what other may think. Sadly, this is not the case.

Obviously, being Muslim transcends all national, cultural and personal identities, but is it possible to blend them all? Rather than just being known as “that Muslim girl”, can they not simply be known as ‘that girl’? The identities do not have to be independent from each other; instead morals and values should be derived from the person as a whole.

Unfortunately, the harsh reality that is often experienced by most Muslim women is that opinions and judgements are formed on the basis of people’s appearances. The hijab serves as a great conversational topic and sparks interest in the religion. However, it is hard to walk down the halls of school or in the mall knowing that the terms “oppressed” and “terrorist” are floating in people’s minds.

Not only females but males also should not feel the need to bury the “Muslim” aspect of their lives and all the morals that come with it and instead portray an identity that is more accepted.

‘Westernised’ Muslims in traditional cultures

Adding to the problem of Muslim and Western stereotypes are the equally formidable stereotypes of the traditional cultures of Muslims.

For example, a young person that has grown up in Britain may be unfairly labelled as being troublesome because he or she is seen as “Westernised” and has having lost the traditional culture (and by culture, this varies from country to country. There is no single ‘Islamic’ culture that has not passed and fused with ethnic groups own cultural traditions).

By understanding that principle of unity, young Muslims should have the potential to live and implement it to produce a positive picture. However, emphasising the growing understanding is not to deny the deep racism, tribalism and colourism that exists and may even be prevalent amongst those outside of the religion. Nor is it to deny that ethnic cliques form very easily amongst Muslims because of the large immigrant communities. Additionally, there are many Muslim youth who compromise their religious beliefs, cultural background or both in order to wholly be a part of mainstream Western society: which only adds to the colossal confusion of what a Muslim is.

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