One of the many things I love about traveling is the opportunity it presents for greater understanding between peoples. There are a lot of cultural misconceptions out there, and stereotypes exist in all corners of the world, about all people from different perspectives. Stereotypes aren’t that great to begin with but what really bothers me is when they become the basis for prejudice and discrimination, as is so often the case.
Since the attacks of September 11th, America has fostered a lot of anti-Muslim sentiment, much of it stemming from ignorance. This chart (found on Tumblr) lists only a few of the most common misconceptions about Muslims:
Many people are surprised to hear that the Koran contains many of the same stories and characters found in the Bible. Islam began by accepting and building off of the Christian and Jewish traditions of the time. That’s why the three Abrahamic religions are so similar, and why they are often referred to as the “People of the Book”: they have the same origins and share many of the same stories in their holy texts.
Another phenomenon I’ve noticed is a tendency to look at Saudi Arabia as a prime example of the Muslim world. Granted, Saudi Arabia is the home to both Mecca and Medina, two cities of great religious significance to Muslims worldwide, and was the birthplace of Islam, but one country is not representative of an entire religion. Of course, Saudi Arabia will say it’s the home of ‘true’ or ‘pure’ Islam but I’ve found in my time here in Morocco that many Arabs (at least here) see Saudi Arabia as the most backward of all Arab countries.
I feel like the Arab Spring has done a lot to put the Arab World in a more positive light in the West. It has served as a reminder that these people are not so different from us, what they want is not so different from what we desire, they struggle for values we share, and there are more countries in the Middle East than just Iran and Iraq.
In truth, the so-called “Arab World” is incredibly diverse. Muslim countries include some in the Middle East of course, but also Africa, Asia, and Europe. That’s not even mentioning the large numbers of Muslims living in countries without a Muslim majority (like America). Even within one country the interpretations of “Islam” are multitudinous. You could, in theory, lump all Protestants, Catholics, Mormons, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and all other branches of Christianity together and claim that they’re all exactly the same because they’re all “Christian”, but you wouldn’t really understand their beliefs. Same goes for Islam. There are countless numbers of branches and interpretations, lumping them all together does none justice.
Of course, there are many other issues concerning America’s perception of the Arab World, but I hope that this at least provides some basic information so the next time someone mentions ” those Arabs” or “those Muslims” you stop and think before jumping to conclusions. It’s a big world out there, and we all have our differences in customs and perspective, but at the end of the day, no one’s really all that different.