Credit: Buzzfeed and Twitter

by Zara Marvi

Every year people get excited for the opportunity to dress up in costume for Halloween. Many people get the chance to show off their creativity and produce amazing costumes. Those that are not creatively inclined will opt to venture to their local party store to pick up a costume. Last week, Halloween fell on Friday ensuring that the entire weekend was busy with festivities.

However, a major problem that we continually see with many costumes, whether they are worn on Halloween or on any other occasion, is simply wearing costumes that use another group or individual’s cultural or religious attire for the sake of being funny or sexy rather than in a cultural context or setting. One has to wonder what exactly individuals who choose to wear such costumes are thinking.

Just before Halloween, a story circulated around the Internet of young Muslim American woman who received a text message from a former college classmate asking her if she could borrow her hijab for her ISIS costume. Not only did this former classmate misjudge her decision and asked if she could borrow the young woman’s hijab, many other people thought it was a good idea to dress up as ISIS for Halloween too. This is just another horrific and offensive example of stereotyping that result in discrimination and racism.

Is this acceptable? Americans may feel that dressing up as an ISIS fighter is a way to make light of a situation that they are afraid of. It is a way to cope with the anxiety and fears of ISIS militants in the Middle East. If we think about it, Halloween is centered on the idea of dressing up as ghosts, devils, and the Grim Reaper – characters that represent our greatest fears like death and the supernatural. This makes sense right? If we ridicule and satirize, it will give us power over ISIS and seeing that we do not take them seriously, it will hurt their cause.

I find this argument problematic. It is not an excuse to ask a Muslim woman if you can borrow her hijab and turn it into a costume. It promotes the stereotype of the “evil Arab terrorist” that we frequently see on television and in movies. It also delegitimizes the experiences of millions of people who are living through the chaos and terror that ISIS has created in Iraq and Syria. The same can be said for dressing up as Ebola health workers – what about the experiences of thousands of people in Africa who live in areas where Ebola threatens their lives and claimed the lives of their family members or the health workers who have volunteered to combat the crisis?

Muslim Americans, along with every minority group in the United States, struggle with prejudice and stereotypes that have been created by the media and the entertainment industry. Americans who think dressing up as an ISIS fighter is funny and amusing fuel the negative stereotype that all Muslims are violent and racializes Arabs and South Asians. It is a stereotype that Muslims all over the world are continuously fighting against.

Stories such as this happen too frequently, not just for Muslim Americans, but for many minority groups. It is not new and it has to stop. Using another group’s cultural and religious attire as a prop or a costume, perpetuates stereotyping and racism. There are many people who do it unintentionally and do not realize that they are inadvertently dehumanizing and taking advantage of the marginalized group. With the current debate over the appropriation of Native American and Arab cultural dress, it is evident that this will continually be an ongoing and controversial issue. However, it is incredibly important that a discussion should be had about the issue in order to educate and recognize the message this behavior conveys.

Disclaimer: The views, opinions and positions expressed by the authors and those providing comments on these blogs are theirs alone, and do not necessarily reflect the views, opinions or positions of American Islamic Congress or any employee thereof.