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Muslims in the West: Between Stereotyping and Social Acceptance

A Social Counselor’s View

Muslims in the West: Between Stereotyping and Social Acceptance
Stereotyping is a common challenge faced by Muslim’s living in the West.

Race…religion….skin color…ethnic origin…disability…gender…age…body shape…marital status…family makeup…career choice…favorite food…etc…The list goes on…we are all different!

Despite this, so much animosity exists in the world today as a result of these so called differences so it’s important that we learn how to appropriately cope with them to avoid falling into psychological distress as a result.

Challenge the stereotype

People do stereotype. That seems to be a part of human nature; judging all people in a certain category based on the appearance or acts of a single or small minority group of people from the same group. Opinions will always be shaped by stereotypes and the media. For those in the minority, this can be difficult.

This is a common challenge faced by Muslim’s living in the West. However, as the one in the minority, this gives the opportunity and power to disprove any negative stereotypes. By being a good example of a Muslim, then, in true line of stereotyping, people will begin to perceive all Muslims in this positive light as they begin to challenge this inbuilt stereotype that they once held.

This also has the added benefit of making things easier for others in this same minority. Additionally, people talk, so they will share this positive stereotype with others and further encourage acceptance. As a Muslim, take it as an opportunity for da’wah, show the true beauty of a humble Muslim.

Break free from the stereotype

It is too easy to become a part of this stereotype and base your self-worth on the stereotypes that exist or the media portrayal. As a result, people can become tempted to deny the difference by either attempting to hide it or hide themselves.  Although that is not to hide the fact that there is a need to be cautious given the increased prevalence in hate crimes, but that should not stop us from at least smiling at the very least to those who cast a glance.

A smile alone can challenge any potential stereotype they hold and it feels good too and besides, who said that it’s because you are different that they are even looking? Now, this is not an article about dealing with discrimination, that’s a whole other topic on its own, here the focus is on dealing with differences, but we can also draw on some Qu’ranic quotes that would apply in both situations of discrimination and stereotypes and can help us deal with both from the very root.

When greeted with a greeting, you shall respond with a better greeting or at least an equal one. Allah reckons all things.” (Qur’an, 4:86)

Feeding into stereotypes relating to difference will restrict you, prevent you from communicating with others. You don’t have to force yourself into the stereotype that society has created. Break free from it. Accept your difference and be yourself!

Mix with different people, educate yourself

As much as we desire acceptance from others, it is as much a responsibility for us to be accepting of the differences in others. Even as Muslims, despite following the same religion we all come from different backgrounds. Instead of sticking firmly to our groups, and perhaps reinforcing any negative stereotypes simply by sitting back and not challenging them, we should reach out and mix with others. Learn about different cultures and ways of life. It can be a very enriching and educating experience, learning about the way others do things and this will encourage acceptance between many groups.

Talking with others will make the difference less prominent too. Sometimes we can be overwhelmed by our feeling of difference which leads us to not communicate with others for fear of discrimination. You already think they have negative view of you so you chose not to integrate. This is not always the case. Don’t assume what others are thinking and feeding into your own thoughts.

Don’t let this stop you from interacting with others who are seemingly ‘different’ to you. By not mixing with those who are ‘different’ you reinforce this negative stereotype both for them as well as reinforcing it in yourself. Be accepting to be accepted. Accept other’s differences and they will accept yours. This is a golden rule in Islam.

Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) said “None of you truly believes (in Allah and in His religion) until he loves for his brother what he loves for himself” (Al-Bukhari & Muslim)

Muslims in the West: Between Stereotyping and Social Acceptance - About Islam

Sometimes we can be overwhelmed by our feeling of difference which leads us to not communicate with others for fear of discrimination.

Be a positive role model. This will also make you a good role model for others too, especially children,  who see people of difference interacting positively and give them the confidence to do so despite any perceived differences.

Seek commonalities

For all the differences between us, there are also similarities too. Finding commonalities between 2 people will bridge the gap between any differences and encourage dialogue.

Ultimately, let’s face it, if we were all exactly the same, wouldn’t the world be so boring?


About Hannah Morris

Hannah Morris is a mum of 4 and she currently works as Counsellor and Instructor of BSc. Psychology at the Islamic Online University (IOU). She obtained her MA degree in Psychology and has over 10 years of experience working in health and social care settings in the UK, USA, and Ireland. Check out her personal Facebook page, ActiveMindCare, that promotes psychological well-being in the Ummah. (www.facebook.com/activemindcare)

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