Dialogue about religion is part of route to fixing religious ignorance

Mohammad Syed

A few weeks ago, biology freshman Yoseph Mahmoud posted on Facebook a detailed description of how a man came up to him on Guadalupe Street, yanked his headphones out of his ear and accused him of being affiliated with ISIS before cursing and spitting on him. Mahmoud said he was sickened by the incident and felt he would always be seen as an outsider.

The discrimination Mahmoud faced isn’t isolated. Muslims all over the world are constantly being forced to apologize for crimes they didn’t commit. Hatred resulting from religious ignorance is an issue of great magnitude and is something that we have to address. There’s a huge misconception in this world that certain religions preach violence while others preach peace. 

In a viral CNN interview, professor and religious scholar Reza Aslan argued that religion isn’t inherently peaceful or violent, but rather it’s the individual who determines whether his or her own interpretation of religion is peaceful or violent.

“Islam is just a religion, and, like every religion in the world, it depends on what you bring to it,” Aslan said.

Regardless of the religion you identify with, if your religious interpretation moves you to act violently, your religion will be seen as such. Conversely, if your religious interpretation moves you to act peacefully, your religion will be seen as such.

Seeing as less than one percent of the 1.57 billion Muslims can even be considered radical, it’s poor logic to extrapolate and say that Islam inherently is a religion of terrorism. In fact, statistics show that more than 90 percent of all terrorist attacks in America were carried out by non-Muslims. 

Islam isn’t the only religion that falls victim to hatred derived from ignorance, however. Ignorant individuals everywhere have different vindictive generalizations about people from various religions, and it’s these vindictive generalizations that lead to actual hate crimes.

We see this ignorance with Wade Michael Page, who three years ago went to a Sikh temple and killed six people purely because they had a different skin color than him. We see this with the Umpqua Community College shooter who singled out Christians. We see this with 59.2 percent of religion-based hate crimes in America being  against people practicing Judaism.

Religious ignorance certainly exists at a large public university such as UT, but the University does a good job promoting diversity and creating an inclusive environment. Yet being open-minded on an individualistic level isn’t enough. 

We live in a society that is filled with people who are constantly blinded by a veil of ignorance. Our obligation as informed individuals is to actively go out and start a conversation. The only way we can reduce ignorance is by talking to people in a productive manner. We have to have an exchange of dialogue and understand each other’s qualms in a diplomatic, respectful way. Only by starting a conversation can we fix the problem.

Syed is a biochemistry freshman from Houston. Follow him on Twitter @mohammadasyed.

Editor's Note: This article has been updated since its initial publication.