The 9/11 terrorist attacks have left an indelible mark on the United States, resulting in discrimination against the Muslim population in specific. A recent film explored the ways that Muslims have suffered as a result of Islamophobia, or prejudice against Muslims, in the post-9/11 era.
The Center for Middle Eastern Studies at Rutgers presented a film screening of "The Test of Freedom" as well as a discussion with its director, Khaliff Watkins, yesterday at Alexander Library on the College Avenue campus to shed light on the pervasive anti-Muslim sentiment in the United States.
Watkins said the movie raises questions concerning who "belongs" in this culture and what it means to be unquestionably American.
He said he had three reasons for creating the film. The first was his desire to expose how certain media and politics provide a misconstrued and biased image of Muslims.
The second was his duty as a Muslim-American to tell his story and the personal stories of his peers. He also wanted to send a message of hope to youth.
He continues to bring awareness to this topic by visiting various organizations, film festivals and universities.
The film details the rise of Islamophobia and the forms of individual and collective action that counter this mindset.
According to the website of the Muslim Public Affairs Council, FBI statistics reported anti-Islamic incidents were the second least reported hate crimes prior to 9/11, but following 9/11, they became the second highest reported among religion-bias incidents.
The movie cites a study from the Center for American Progress called "Fear, Inc.," which traces the roots of the Islamophobic network in America.
The study argues foundations and wealthy donors provide direct funding to anti-Islam grassroots groups. Seven of these major organizations provided $42.6 million to Islamophobic think tanks between 2001 and 2009.
This money funds political, financial and ideological motives as exemplified by American politician Newt Gingrich in July 2010, when he claimed Sharia law, or traditional Islamic law, was a mortal threat to the United States. He went on to claim Sharia has principles and punishments abhorrent to the Western world.
But according to the study, Sharia, or Muslim religious code, includes practices such as charitable giving, prayer, and honoring one's parents.
Shehnaz Abdeljaber, outreach coordinator at the Center for Middle Eastern Studies at Rutgers, said Muslims are overcoming obstacles in this country by reshaping who they are and how people perceive them.
The film presents the work of Anisa Mehdi, a professor at Seton Hall University who creates documentary films.
National Geographic contacted Mehdi to have her tell a story that other people were not hearing. Her documentary "Inside Mecca" follows the pilgrimage to Mecca, the holiest city in the religion of Islam, and people's journey for absolution.
Mehdi said the desire to tell people's stories accurately inspired her to pursue journalism. As an educator, she wanted to challenge the next generation of journalists.
The film noted a number to call for anyone, Muslim or non-Muslim, to ask questions about the Muslim faith and to untangle misconstrued public opinion.
Murtala Aliyu, a School of Arts and Sciences first-year student, came to the event because as a Muslim, he wanted to know more about his religion and how his religion could be perceived.
"When you tell certain Americans that you are Muslim, their expressions automatically change, even if it isn't necessarily hostile," Aliyu said.
Karina Correa, a School of Arts of Sciences junior, said she liked how the movie depicted that prejudice is universal, and if one group such as Muslims could be targeted, then any other minority group could be easily targeted as well.
She said education could help solve this problem by helping society see how the world has more complexity than simple black-and-white issues. It conveyed the message that people and problems have multiple dimensions.
"Even as a Latina I felt included in the conversation," Correa said. "I am not Muslim, but I'm taking Islamic Law ... and I think it is a beautiful religion."