“WHAT?! Muslim ka pala? ‘Di obvious!” exclaimed by one of my friends back in college. Having experienced this type of reaction on various occasions, I smiled and replied, “Yes, I am a Muslim. Born and raised by an Iranun family from Maguindanao.”
I could sense the tension in that conversation with my friend, unsure if I was offended or not. I smiled and asked her, “Ano pala ang mukha ng isang Muslim? (“what does a Muslim look like?”)
My friend explained, “I thought Muslims looked like those selling stuff in the sidewalks. Muslim women cover their hair....” At that moment, I decided that it will be one of my advocacies in life to talk more about this topic. I wish to enlighten our fellow citizens about Islam and the Muslims.
My parents taught me that I should never judge a person based on their religion, race, or ethnicity. The best way to educate people is to show kindness. Thus, every time I encounter casual racism, I choose my words carefully. I try to reassure my friends that they are probably not racist, but that their words matter and the idea that their stereotype view of Muslims are “normal” in any sense is problematic.
Although it may be considered “outdated,” a 2005 Pulse Asia survey reported that 55 percent of respondents think that Muslims “are more prone to run amok” and that 47 percent think that Muslims are terrorists or extremists. However, most of the respondents do not have actual engagement with Muslims.
The study concluded that “a considerable percentage of Filipinos (33 to 39 percent) are biased against Muslims.”
According to a repeat of the same survey, which was conducted nationwide in March 2014, 47 percent “think Muslims are terrorists or extremists” while 44 percent believe Muslims “harbor hatred toward non-Muslims.”
The Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility highlighted that, “Reports on the Mamasapano clash revealed the extent of deeply held anti-MILF and anti-Muslim biases among both the media and the majority Christian population”.
They added, “Because the media dwelt on the death of the SAF 44, and the grief of their families, any call for restraint and sobriety was interpreted in the social media as reflecting partisanship for the MILF. Any attempt to clarify the perspective of the MILF was being dismissed as attempts to “speak for the MILF,” and interpreted as hostility to the SAF 44.”
To address the problem on casual racism, our team from Salaam Movement under Our Generation #MPower has proposed a project called #SCRAM (Stop Casual Racism Against Muslims).
We recognize that here in Mindanao, most of us Muslims are victims of casual racism due to lack of background about Islam, ethnic identity, family orientation, peer pressure, influence of the media, and other factors.
Casual racism is the conduct of using offensive words or phrases and stereotypes or prejudices, as a form of joke, insult, or normal activity that involves one's race, religion, tribal affiliation, color, etc. It leads to marginalization of those who experience it. It degrades one's self-esteem and it can cause anxiety and depression (data from the Australian Human Rights Commission).
To learn more about casual racism, this website, https://itstopswithme.humanrights.gov.au/what-can-you-do/speak/casual-racism, can be helpful.
We need to work together in addressing casual racism. With our power to influence others through social media, let's work together to disseminate information and spread awareness about racist actions and language, and encourage people to apply racial cultural sensitivity. Only then can we truly combat this issue.