Friday, September 2, 2011

One Muslim's Perspective: Utah and Religious Discrimination

This is the second installment in The Culturalist's 2011 Series on Islam.

What is it like to be part of the Muslim minority in Utah? This kind of question is best answered not with a generalized summary, but by hearing the perspective of one individual at a time.

Maysa Kergaye, the woman who spoke at the Islam presentation I attended at the Salt Lake City Library last month, agreed to answer a few personal questions through facebook a few days after the presentation. I asked her to speak as an individual, so please note that she is not speaking for all Muslims.

Q: Do you ever experience discrimination here in Utah because of your religion?
A: I think everyone experiences
discrimination or prejudice at one point or another. I think I have been very fortunate that what little prejudice I personally experience does not bother me at all. I feel bad when my children experience it due to kids being simply insensitive or trying to find a way to crack a joke at my kid’s expense. I have seen other Muslims experience prejudice especially when they are trying to get a job. I have too, but since I am not the bread winner in my family, I felt it was their loss, and I moved on to better opportunities.
Q: In your opinion, what is the cause of discrimination?
A: I think most discrimination is due to ignorance. People see a foreign name on an application and make assumptions. They see a woman in Islamic clothing and make assumptions. I am fortunate that those I come in contact with have been positive. I teach Zumba at many locations and my head covering did not scare them and they gave me the benefit of the doubt and let me start--to see what I had to offer.
It also stems from people not knowing Muslims on a personal level. I try really hard to achieve that with all my neighbors, students, and almost anyone I come in contact with. I try to encourage people to ask questions rather than have them keep their stereotypes and misinformation.
Q: One stereotype out there is that Muslims have militant attitudes, and view people of others religions as their enemies. What would you say to someone who feels that way about Muslims?
A: Here is what I have to say. Please meet Muslims and keep a tally of who is nice and who isn’t. Call it an objective science experiment. Do a survey. Observe. 
Then do a similar survey with Christians and see how they feel about people of other faiths. I think [you] will find that Muslims are not just tolerant, but accepting and mostly peaceful and loving.
There are always exceptions, but I think [you] will find that the bad apples are the exception and not the majority.

 Thanks for your insights, Maysa!

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