Gender, Social Justice

I mourn for Muslim men like my father

When people see my father, they see a man they perceive to be barbaric and oppressive.

When people see my father, they see a man they perceive to be barbaric and oppressive.

They see a man they believe doesn’t value women or the community; they see him and make judgments.

As hard as my father tries to smile with strangers (something integrated into our Muslim faith), and as much as he attempted as a child to assimilate, people hold loaded, preconceived notions of him. This is a problem that not only plagues my father, but my uncles, cousins, and brothers in faith.

When I look at my father’s face, I see a man who is soft, gentle, and kind to his core.

I see a man who could not hold me as a baby in fear of hurting me. I see a man who, after days of not holding his newborn, held me (with much coaxing by others) and placed a pillow underneath my body to ensure my safety. I see a man who questions and challenges anyone who tells me I should consider getting married soon and stop focusing on school.

I am assumed to be a victim of both Islam and Muslim men when, in fact, I am not.

My father constantly addresses education for women in Islam as a value and lets me make my own choices regarding marriage; my father is my biggest fighter in this regard, championing my autonomy to receive an education.

Despite the fact that my father has worked tirelessly, defying circumstances to give the women in his life everything, I see a man who has been pigeonholed falsely as a “wife beater,” “honor killer,” and oppressive brown man.

My father is a man whose practice of Islam coincides with his respect and honor of women, yet my father and many others are painted as vicious because of their Muslim names. The false perceptions of my father go further than Islamophobia and intertwine with his embodiment as a racialized man. At the intersection of being both a brown and Muslim man, my father has entered a losing situation when it comes to society believing that he is a good father and husband.

I mourn for the Muslim men in my life who are presumed guilty without a crime, largely a result of the media bias that has tainted Western society.

Muslim men, especially in a post 9/11 world, are seen in a monolithic way, and this view is intensified by shows like Law & Order: SVU, Homeland, and more recently, Tyrant.

Coupled with skewed and disproportionate media coverage of honor killings, Islamophobic government policies have created a trope.

A white man committing a crime is routinely less covered and, often, situational factors such as mental health are brought in to explain their actions as an anomaly.

In stark contrast, racialized men are depicted as a uniform group, and their actions – a phenomenon intrinsic to their being.

White men have the privilege, by default, to be the optimal group. The situational excuses erase white males from being stereotyped, thus nothing can be wrong with them.

Subsequently these narratives morph men of color into monsters and women of color into objects of saving. These polarizing caricatures result in domestic violence being perceived as shocking when a perpetrator is not Muslim or racialized.

The false perceptions of Muslim men projected unto my father and thousands of Muslim men recently re-circulated when the video of Ray Rice, former Baltimore Ravens running back, beating his then-fiancée unconscious in an elevator, was released. Although this was a non-Muslim man beating his fiancé, social media avoided that Rice, like every violent man, was just that: a violent man.

Instead, Islamaphobic commentary emerged loaded with assumptions in stark contrast to Islamic teachings or the Quran. People found ways to drag in Islam when Islam was not even remotely related to the case. Many suggested Rice was a Muslim or should convert to Islam because Muslim men “beat wives daily.”

When news of Adrian Peterson, a Minnesota Running Back, who used a switch to beat his son appeared across media platforms, so did other Islamaphobic tweets about how Peterson might be Muslim or should consider converting because it is perceived as a staple of Muslim manhood.

There are times when I am surprised by being “othered” when my Muslim identity comes up in groups with progressive mission statements. Muslim countries are also demonized when these cases receive media attention; this expunges responsibility off the U.S., where the Bureau of Justice has reported nearly 25% of women face domestic violence.

Yet the problem continues to be distanced through an Orientalist gaze – one that is either distant or imported but never homegrown. Beyond being Islamophobic and often hued with racist ideology, this disingenuously obliterates a very real problem with domestic violence. There is a derailment of men of any creed, race, and class committing these crimes.

By doing this, the dichotomy of nice, white, Western men juxtaposing violent men of color becomes more complex for Muslim men.

These distortions of Muslim men are alarming. Domestic violence has caused more deaths than September 11th and both wars combined.

This happens time and time again; even people who believe they are progressive and not complicit in bigotry have very deep-seated views on Islam from media. These individuals go on to continuously dismiss the fact that white and non-Muslims commit domestic violence. Subsequently, a feeling of comfort is gained when Muslims and men of color continue to be asymmetrically chastised in the media.

The expression that Rice or any man of color is committing an offence due to “Islamic values,” is to disrupt the fact that domestic violence is not isolated to any region or group. This sentiment is an accomplice in discriminating against a religion with over 1.6 billion followers.

This hurtful rhetoric is very specific to the Muslim community; cases of violence committed by Christian males have never painted all of Christianity in the same light that Islam has been painted.

For example, The Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (FLDS) is continuously regarded in the media as an oddity and not representative of all Christians.

In many ways the media finds ways to view groups like this as a cult, whereas with Islam we witness people refusing to differentiate between tenants of the faith and some of its followers.

Although Islam gives women many rights including honor and respect, the distancing of the actual religion from those who are violent perpetrators is never highlighted. This has resulted in domestic violence being politicized as something that Muslim men commit; this claim is detrimental to Islam and assumes that a violent nature is indoctrinated into our religion and upbringings.

This rhetoric, Islamophobic in nature, defaults to very harmful stereotypes; it is an erasure of the fact that domestic violence is rampant and committed by a variety of men. There is a twisted security in viewing Rice as a part of the “other,” thus not American.

Along this line, many blame race as an issue.

When Chris Brown assaulted Rihanna, similar discourses suggesting bias simplifications such as “black and brown men do this, and white men would not do this” arose.

Intimate partner violence becomes isolated as a “cultural phenomena” that is not perpetrated by white men.

Looking at the current state of sports, it is very obvious that society has a racial bias on how domestic violence is treated when perpetrated by certain bodies. This becomes obvious when looking at Rice and Peterson’s media portrayals versus white athletes this year. Contrasting Rice and Peterson’s portrayals with athletes who are white or pass as white, they have not received nearly the same amount of coverage. Oscar Pistorius killed his partner and Jonathan Koppenhaver was charged with attempted murder.

Each of the aforementioned men committed deplorable acts, but the way they were discussed, however, is important in understanding the universalized defamation of Muslim men and men of color.

There has to be a push when discussing domestic violence to do so in a way that does not pin it on false stereotypes created by misinformation and tropes.

These tropes go beyond vilifying my father and other men in my life.

They patronize my existence as one to be pitied.

When I worked as a peer counselor I had training sessions I had to disrupt in order to educate the “educator” on how not to misinterpret Islam as the reason men are abusive when discussing culturally sensitive scenarios. I also had to dismantle the narrative that Muslim women are constantly in need of saving from the barbaric savage men in their lives.

I question current opinions on Islam and domestic violence from my understanding of parts of the Quran.

My community, devout in its faith, is blatantly different than the false allegations we face.

When men are violent in our community, it is inherently a man being violent and does not, and should not, be a reflection and generalization of Islam.