We discuss religion/spirituality and religious discrimination, focusing on islamophobia in the U.S. Though religious/spiritual identity can be difficult to talk about, millions of Americans identify as some level of religious or spiritual1 - meaning that not talking about it leaves room for bias and discrimination. Despite women being religious/spiritual at higher rates than men,2 the intersection of religious discrimination and sexism also often goes unexamined. We hope that these tips get you to ask important questions about being a part of a growing religiously diverse country and seeing how this topic affects women. Sincerely,
Reflect: How does religion relate to everyday life?
Think about how the modern U.S. calendar is set up. Why do you think we mark the start of the new year on that date? Why are our weekends set as Saturday and Sunday? What holidays are traditionally given as time off from work or school? Though religious shifts are happening in the American population every year,3 the United States has been organized with a hegemony of Christian beliefs - reflected in things like our calendar and our currency. The reality of living in a country that claims freedom of religion while also using imagery/language of a specific religion can make it very difficult for people of other faiths and “religious ‘nones’” to feel included. This hegemonic representation of Christianity not only pervades many of our national systems, but is compounded by many of the interactions people have that are related to religion – particularly for women in non-Christian religions.
Learn: Islamophobia in Higher Education
Bias and discrimination are commonly perpetuated against Muslim people, even in higher education. Muslim people feel a simultaneous sense of being monitored by their peers while also having their identity invalidated.4, 5 Universities also often exclude Muslim people in daily life, such as offering food which violates religious rules and course scheduling that conflicts with religious prayer/holidays.6 When intersected with sexism and other systems of oppression, religious discrimination and bias present uniquely difficult challenges for women. For example, Hijabis – Muslim women who wear a traditional religious headdress called a Hijab—are more likely to experience employment and workplace discrimination/microaggressions because of their religious dress,7 which is associated with increased stress and decreased job satisfaction.8 Gendered microaggressions are also experienced by Muslim women students, frequently revolving around the belief that visibly Muslim women are oppressed and in need of saving9— without the input of the women themselves.
- Reconsider how you view religion: While religion is often considered in a very one-dimensional light that focuses only on a narrow window of belief, re-examining your latent views about spirituality can help you resist this tendency. Reflect on how religion intersects with other identities. For many marginalized communities, spirituality is an intimate element of cultural identity and can be an important buffer to marginalizing experiences. Considering the relationship of spirituality to some marginalized communities, such as for women of color, can help us empathize with others even if we don’t share beliefs.
- Do your best to accommodate religious beliefs/practices: Being inclusive of all religions doesn’t mean that you must adopt the beliefs of another religious practice or give up your own; however, we all can take steps to respect basic elements of religious beliefs. Avoid religious holidays when you are planning events or setting due dates. Consider different dietary restrictions when ordering/catering food, including what is considered halal versus haram. Examine ways to make your schedule flexible to meet the needs of people who have religious schedules that require prayer at certain times or may be fasting as a religious practice.
- Call out spiritual microaggressions: People of all (non-)religious backgrounds can perpetuate and experience microaggressions around religion and spirituality. There are several features of religious identity expression that can lead to organizational conflict when religious diversity is not explored: in-group/out-group classification (worsened by fundamentalism); religious expression vs. proselytism; and how religious expression highlights potential inequities.10 A more commonly visible manifestation of this conflict are microaggressions,11 including making jokes about religious clothing, calling someone “crazy” for their beliefs, making statements of superiority of one’s religion over another’s, and homogenizing all people of a religious group. If you see someone speaking this way, call them in and ask them what they are trying to say.
Additional Resource Recommendations
- Book: Combating Islamophobia in Higher Education – This edited volume features scholars, practitioners, and lawyers taking a layered look at Islamophobia, from policy to daily life.
- Video: Are We Supporting Muslim Students on Campus? - This conversation covers the experiences of Muslim students and what can be done to create a more inclusive campus.
- Article: Discrimination Against Muslim Women Fact Sheet – the ACLU has compiled data to create a clearer picture of the discrimination facing Muslim women in the U.S.
- Podcast: She Speaks: Academic Muslimahs – Dr. Saba Fatima interviews Muslim women academics about their experiences in research, teaching, and more.
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