Story by Mina Onar
As humans, feeling connected to something or someone greater than ourselves makes us feel secure and like we have a goal in life. This is why religion plays such a big role in people’s lives. However, even if someone has beliefs on a specific religion, as we all know, that does not mean that there is only one true religion. There are roughly 4,200 religions in the world, but the most common religions are Christianity, Islam, Judaism, Hinduism and Buddhism. Since people do not feel the need do further research on things that they hear on a daily basis, it is easy to assume things are true without doing any kind of fact checking. There are many misconceptions about every religion which can be offensive to the believers of those religions. Dec. 25 is celebrated by many people as Jesus Christ’s birthday; however, other countries who do not celebrate Christmas think it is the celebration of the New Year. And even though we think they are, atheists are not necessarily anti-religious. So how educated are we, really?
As the 15th Street News Staff, we realized there are a lot of stereotypes when it comes to religion. We would like to open this column for anyone who would like to share his/her experiences based on religious topics. For this issue, I would like to share my own experiences, and would like to share my own knowledge. I have never considered myself a religious person, though my parents raised me to be respectful of all people who have different ideas and beliefs. I do not consider myself a Muslim, but I carry the culture with me, and I grew up learning different aspects of Islam.
There are about 50 countries that are Muslim-majority. The Republic of Turkey is one them. I was born in Ankara, the capital city of Turkey. Turkey is located between Eastern Europe and Western Asia and has borders with Syria, Iraq and Iran. Contrary to popular belief, Turkey does not have a main religion, but 98 percent of the population is Muslim. In fact, it is the only popularly Muslim country that has no state religion. The Constitution guarantees religious freedom and tolerance is the rule.
Most people who did not grow up in a diverse environment directly assume that Islam has specific rules, which a Muslim person should be following: If that person is female, she has to be covered. He or she cannot eat pork or any meat outside his or her country because the meat is not halal, or cannot drink alcohol. Basically, many people assume that Islam is based off of these restrictions and nothing else. This is not necessarily true.
People often make these assumptions largely based off portrayals by the media. Unfortunately, we have witnessed many incidents that have escalated stereotyping, whether it’s toward Muslims, refugees, immigrants or different cultures. Starting with 9/11, the world began to look at Muslims as if they were terrorists, radicals or unacceptably different from other people. One of the main and disturbing forms of stereotyping is considering every Muslim person and ISIS militants or supporters of ISIS as equal. What we do not realize is this is the same as considering every Christian as a supporter of Irish Republican Army or other Christian terrorist groups. We do not see the media covering such things, so why are Muslims the target?
The main question I am asked is where I am from, which is understandable since I have an accent that reveals I am foreign. When I say I am from Turkey and studying in Oklahoma, most people get excited. Some people start asking me questions, and while I do not normally mind answering questions, I think the questions should be educated ones, which leads us to this column.
When people find out I am Turkish, some look directly at my hair and ask me why I do not cover it. I kindly inform them that not every Muslim female or a female who grew up in a Muslim country has to cover her hair.
Another form of stereotyping people practice, even though their only intention is to be kind, is informing me about the meat when I eat around them. I am told what kind of meats are my options. They say I should be careful because there might be pork inside the food that I am eating or ordering, because they assume I certainly cannot have pork. So, they always warn me about the food in front of me. To be honest, pork is not my favorite meat of choice; however, I grew up eating it occasionally. In my family or when I am with my friends, it is never an issue.
It should be understood that many people only take some parts of a religion, and regulate it according to their own personal views. Or maybe the culture they grew up in has strict rules and their religion has nothing to do with it.
Even though I do not take any questions or concerns personally, some other person might. Stereotyping can grow into wrong information, and even racism. We all should be less biased and more kind to each other, not just when it comes to religion but also when it comes to politics, personal views or just the characteristic features of ourselves. We are not the same person, but we are equal.