‘100 Questions and Answers About Muslim Americans’ aims to educate the public about Muslims and is written by students at Michigan State University. Photo Credit: Michigan State University.
By Niraj Warikoo
Detroit Free Press
Detroit, MI – From pronouncing the word “Muslim” to explaining Islamic holidays, a new guide written by students at Michigan State University aims to educate the public about Muslim Americans at a time when the issue of Muslims in the West is being intensely debated.
Titled “100 Questions and Answers About Muslim Americans,” the guide offers a basic introduction to Islam and the practices of observant Muslims. It’s the latest guide by a journalism class at MSU that seeks to inform about various groups, including East Asian Americans, Latinos and Arab Americans. This month, the class will start work on a guide about Jewish Americans.
“At the beginning of the course, we agreed that there were several misconceptions about Muslim Americans,” said Kate Kerbrat, a senior at MSU who helped write the guide last semester along with other students. “A lot of people spread misinformation about Islam in order to scare people and vilify the religion.”
The students interviewed and consulted last semester with Muslim Americans, experts on Islam and Muslim groups to compile the information into a guide available as a small book or electronically.
Given the recent attacks in France, the guide deals with an issue that’s being widely discussed this month. On Friday, President Barack Obama talked at a news conference with British Prime Minister David Cameron about Muslim Americans, contrasting them with Muslims in Europe
“Our biggest advantage is that our Muslim populations, they feel themselves to be Americans,” said Obama, according to media reports. “There is this incredible process of immigration and assimilation that is part of our tradition.”
In contrast, Obama said, “there are parts of Europe in which that is not the case and that’s probably the greatest danger that Europe faces.”
The MSU guide echoes the view that Muslims in the U.S. have become assimilated, citing studies that show they have educational and income levels comparable to the American average. In Europe, the Muslim population tends to less educated and less wealthy on average compared to Europeans overall.
The guide also delves into personal issues, from dress to dating to marriage and polygamy, stressing that there are no monolithic practices in the Muslim-American community.
“The guide allows us to see the diversity of the Muslim-American community,” which might be the most diverse in the world, said Mohammad Hassan Khalil, an associate professor of religious studies and director of MSU’s Muslim Studies Program, who wrote the guide’s preface and helped the students with it. “The guide helps to dispel certain misconceptions and introduce nuance.”
Joe Grimm, a former editor at the Free Press who’s the editor of the series of guides and teaches the classes that have produced them, said that Islam is “misrepresented by the actions of political extremists and terrorists.”
Islam is “a very complicated religion, given it’s widespread, and it was a challenge to reflect that,” said Grimm of Bloomfield Township.
The class decided to focus on Muslims after a Pew survey was released in July showing that Muslims are the religious group that Americans are most likely to have negative feelings toward.
Kerbrat said that all the Muslims she interviewed for the guide “denounced terrorism and wanted to … convey that Islam is not a violent religion, that the extremists misinterpret a few verses in the Quran.”
And as for pronouncing “Muslim,” the guide says that the first syllable uses the sound of the letter “u” in “push,” and is stressed. It’s not pronounced “Maaz-lim” or “Mooz-lim,” as some mistakenly do.
“The guides are not for experts or members of the groups, but for people who just want a clear, concise introduction,” Grimm said.
Editor’s Note: This story originally appeared in the Detroit Free Press and is reprinted here with permission.