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Part 3: Myths and Stereotypes

Capture of the movie Lawrence of Arabia

What are stereotypes?

“The Arab man has been and still is continuously represented in films, TV shows, news and other media narratives as a one-dimensional character. During the early 1920s with movies such as The Sheik and The Son of the Sheik or in the 2000s with movies such as the popular Gladiator, those stock characters haven’t necessarily changed. They’re more or less the same, just packaged differently with some modern twists.”

Capture of a Disney movie

As for the Arab/Muslim female she is frequently either the sensual seductress, belly dancer, or the oppressed and powerless veiled woman.

A stereotype is widely held but fixed and oversimplified image or idea of a particular type of person or thing.


Stereotyping is alive and well when it comes to Muslim and Sikh religious symbols in Canada: poll.







Nun's Habit





Kippa 80% 20%
Kirpan 29% 71%
Stard of David 86% 14%
Crucifix 89% 11%

The Province. By Gordon McIntyre. Nov 25, 2014

The House of Wisdom is considered the supreme achievement of Baghdad under the Abbasid Empire. This was a center of learning, translation, and manuscript copying. It housed a research laboratory and an observatory. Muslims, Christians, Jews, Zoroastrians, Sabaeans and Hindus scientists, philosophers, doctors, and others harmoniously cooperated in research at the “House.” Much of what was achieved there was transferred to Europe over many centuries.

What's a Media Myth?

A “media myth” is created when groups are misrepresented because of the extreme action of a few in that group. This extreme action dominates the media.

Media coverage of Islam

Capture of Newsweek magazine portraiting Muslims

Media coverage of Islam-related issues has changed dramatically since the beginning of the new millennium, both in quantity and quality. The events of September 11, 2001, thrust Islam into the global media forefront: not only did coverage of Islam drastically increase, particularly in news and entertainment media, but the way in which Islam was framed by the media changed as well. The American-led ‘War on Terrorism’ led to an increase in Islamophobia (fear or hatred of Islam) across the globe. This increase in Islamophobia was in turn reflected in the way media outlets addressed and stereotyped Muslim populations. While some deliberately framed Islamic coverage positively in an attempt to counter Islamophobia, many of the portrayals of Muslims contributed to the formation of harmful Islamic media stereotypes.

The most prevalent Islamic stereotype is the radical Muslim insurgent, bent on waging jihad, or holy war, against the West. This stereotype usually represents violence as an inseparable part of being Muslim, as well as religion as justification for violent actions.

Myth Busting

Photo of Arab woman competing during weightlifting championships.
Kulsoom Abdullah, of Atlanta, competes during the national weightlifting championships in 2011, in Council Bluffs, Iowa. Abdullah is the first woman to compete in the championships while wearing clothing that covers her legs, arms and head, in keeping with her Muslim faith, after the International Weightlifting Federation ruled on her behalf that athletes could wear a full-body outfit.

Painting of Palestinian women.
A detail from the Palestinian painter Laila Shawa’s ‘‘Impossible Dream.’’

True or false?

Adapted from Show Racism the Red Card.

1) Islam means surrender or submission to the will of god.

TRUE: A Muslim is a follower of Islam.

2) Islam is the world’s second biggest religion.

TRUE: Christianity has 2 billion followers; Islam has 1.3 billion followers, and Hinduism has 900 million.

3) All Muslims are Arab.

FALSE: While Islam is often associated with Arabs, they make up only 15% of the world's Muslim population. The country with the largest population of Muslims is Indonesia. Large numbers of Muslims are found in Asia (69% of the population is Muslim), Africa (27% are Muslim), Europe (3% are Muslim) and other parts of the world.

Painting of Palestinian women.
Photo of mural

4) Muslims worship a different god to Christians and Jews.

FALSE: ‘Allah’ simply means god in Arabic and the roots of the Islamic, Jewish and Christian faiths are the same.

5) The Muslim holy book is called the Qur’an.


6) In recent history women have been head of state in four Islamic countries.

TRUE: Contemporary Muslim women heads of state have included Megawati Sukarnoputri of Indonesia, Benazir Bhutto of Pakistan, Tansu Ciller of Turkey, and Khaleda Zia and Sheik Hasina Wazed of Bangladesh.

Painting of Hijabis by LaRita Dixon
Photo of Muslim women boxing.

7) Muslims and Arabs have only come to Canada in the last 50 years.

FALSE: Exactly a century and a quarter ago, amid the numerous immigrants then pouring into Canada, a 19-year-old youth landed in Montreal. It was 1882, just 6 years after the establishment of Canada as a federal state, and Abraham Bounader from Zahle, a small town in The Lebanon (then part of Syria) overlooking the fertile Beka’ valley, had become Canada’s first Arab immigrant. By 1901, there were 2,000 others of Arab origin in Canada, by 1941 this number had grown to about 12,000 persons, and today it is estimated that there are about 600,000 Canadians of Arab origin (i.e., about 1.8% of Canada’s total population).

8) Islam is a violent religion which encourages terrorism.

FALSE: By an overwhelming majority, Muslim leaders around the world reject violence. Jehad, so often associated with terrorism, is understood by the majority of Muslims as an internal, self-reflective struggle to overcome human weakness.

9) Muslims believe in forced marriage.

FALSE: The Qur’an states that a woman has the right to choose her own partner and the vast majority of Muslims do not believe in forced marriages. Muslims that do practice this don't use Islam to justify it but local cultural practices.

Map of the world Muslim population

Learn more about the war in Syria on Part 4