Who said Muslims were all the same? Late last month, a Twitter conversation unlike any other began — a conversation that worked to debunk the stereotypes that are so often associated with Muslims, using the hashtag #NotYourStockMuslim.
So often, Muslims are put in a homogenized box, expected to fit false stereotypes and to be the voice of a very complex and divergent Muslim world. People often perceive Muslims as all having one occupation, one mindset, one look, one ethnicity (Arab), and all as aliens. Not to mention violent, terrifying, and oppressing toward women.
Kaye M, the woman behind the hashtag, started this conversation after the Alice in Arabia movement that resulted in the cancellation of the show. Kaye, a 21-year-old and young adult writer, said, “I wanted non-Muslim writers to be aware of the diverse voices of Islam, so as to not fall back on said stereotypes and isolate their audience, or hold the belief of Islam being a homogenous religion based on only one voice (typically perceived as Pakistani or Arab) … For Muslims, I wanted to draw people together and allow them to share their experiences, and how those experiences countered racism and stereotypes.”
As this Twitter conversation unfolded, Tweets revealed a diverse Muslim community: Muslim women who are encouraged by their families and their faith to be feminists. Muslims who engage in social justice activism, who play sports while sporting the hijab. Writers, poets, lawyers, activists, and feminists, one by one, Tweet by Tweet, working together to challenge the stereotypes that society has placed on them since the tragedy that was 9/11. As the media continues to dehumanize, alienate, and marginalize Muslims, misinformed societies hinder Muslims from being equal participants of society and instead place them in stereotypical boxes.
One user tweeted: “You’re Muslim … but you seem so … ‘normal’.” Oh, I’m sorry did you mean human? Because yes, that’s exactly what we are.”
Another added: “Wait you actually *support* LGBT equality? Women’s rights? You believe in science?!” Sorry to disappoint you …”
And another activist rallied against commonly held perceptions about women wearing the hijab. She said: “You’re so brave to refuse to cover your hair.” (I think my mum’s brave for weathering the slurs her hijab attracts.)”
Another lashed out against prejudices among some sections of society which brand all Muslims as terrorists. She added: “Please stop asking me to constantly, publicly condemn terrorists whenever you want me to prove myself to you.”
As a 19-year-old Muslim-American social work student who cares deeply about issues in social justice and female equality while running a blog and keeping up with stylish new trends in fashion on the side, enjoys romantic comedies, and is currently wearing a stylish daisy-printed jumpsuit with a bright yellow blazer and a cotton white scarf wrapped around my head, sitting in my biology class listening to my professor drone on about Pavlov’s Classical conditioning, one can easily see how different I am from the stereotypical Muslim woman many perceive me to be. I don’t need to Americanize or “normalize” my behavior to prove that I do not fit into the stereotypes you hold against me, nor do I need to change my identity to make you feel more comfortable with my Muslim identity.
I am not oppressed in my bright colored hijabs (headscarves). I am not oppressed with my music blasting and my windows down on a beautiful spring day. I am not oppressed as I jot down notes in my notebook about sociology and pubic policies, sipping on a Starbucks to keep me awake. My religion does not oppress me, so please stop oppressing me with the boxes you insist on squeezing me into.
It is this placing people into boxes that creates this idea of “us” and “them,” as if we’re not all the same; as if we’re not all people. When people are placed into boxes, they are viewed as immensely different from what is “normal;” they are dehumanized and labeled as “other.” This dehumanization of a specific group leaves the group vulnerable to being taken advantage of by those with power and privilege. Society’s construction of these stereotypical boxes of what each race or individual of a particular race, ethnicity, or religion, is supposed to look and act like leaves societies broken and damaged and leaves many isolated, dehumanized, and oppressed.
It is this Twitter conversation, this type of Hashtag Activism, that reveals the true power and impact words can have on the society. With our voices and with our words, we can change the depiction of Muslims in the media — we can work to reveal the humanness of each of us, to strip away the toxic stereotypes, and to learn to appreciate the remarkable differences that lie in all of us. Because they are not all the same, they each have unique stories, unique talents, diverse backgrounds, distinct passions, just like the rest of humanity.
Written by Dina El-Rifai
Header image courtesy of http://bostonmuslimah.blogspot.com