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I feel it's quite fitting that I'm sat here writing this just after Ramadan: a month of reflection and prayer. The more I think about how the world has changed in the past decade, the more I feel that there were lessons to be learnt that weren't.
Before 9/11, I felt that most people simply looked at Islam as another religion. After 9/11, this has changed considerably. Still, I have found that my Islam has been strengthened by the increased media spotlight on Muslims in the West. Like many Muslims, I felt the need to defend my religious identity that has been under constant attack ever since. Muslims on campuses and in society at large have been saying: "We are like you. Islam is peaceful. Complex socio-political factors have driven some fringe elements to commit barbaric acts. But they don't represent us. This is not our religion. Please don't judge a billion and a half people on the actions of a few."
I have felt the need to educate myself about Islam first. How can I tell others if I haven't got the answers myself? Time and time again, I read comments under YouTube videos and blog posts about how the moderate majority of Muslims have not been vocal enough in their condemnation of terrorism. I think to myself, why should I have to prove that I am against terrorism more than anybody else? I have nothing to do with those 19 hijackers. I'm telling you that Islam does not teach that and then I still have to apologise?
Apologising implies that I have to take responsibility for their actions. More Muslims have died at the hands of extremists than non-Muslims. Mini 9/11s happen regularly in some countries. Muslims also died on 9/11. And think about the thousands of civilians who have died in the War on Terror in Afghanistan and Iraq. Do we even know their names? I am not trying to take anything away from the losses suffered by the families of 9/11 victims. I just wish that we didn't have so many double standards. Why have their legacies been allowed to be used for such politicised agendas?
Starting my studies at University in 2004 was when I began to feel like I needed to do something. Being part of the Islamic Society on campus made me aware of the work that needed to be done. There were no two ways about it. Islam had a bad rep. As I have said before in a previous post, Islam is and always will be beautiful but it is Muslims who have managed to make something beautiful into something so misunderstood. Thankfully, I have never had any verbal abuse directed at me, but I have read about hate crimes against people who even look like Muslims.
Another thing has really bugged me. Since when has every man and his dog been an expert on such complex aspects of Islamic jurisprudence as jihad and the Shariah itself? And why do the most misinformed and sensationalist "experts" get all the airtime? Because it sells in this post-9/11 age. It's as if extremists on both sides have hijacked (for want of a better word) the discourse. I'm not a religious scholar, but even I can refute the rubbish that you hear in the media about Islam. At first, I could never understand how so many people could all believe the same lies. But it makes sense really. If you have had no real-life experience of dealing with Muslims or if you don't know any Muslims, it's kind of understandable. But non-Muslims should not believe everything they read about Islam in the media. Especially when the people putting forward the "facts" are sensationalists.
At the same time, I realise that Muslims themselves have a lot to answer for. Why did it take something tragic like 9/11 for us to start coming out and engaging with our wider communities? Before 9/11, Muslim immigrant families were happy to just go about their daily lives and keep their heads down. Now we've more or less been forced to come out and educate people about Islam. I have been lucky in that I grew up mainly around non-Muslims: our neighbourhood, the school I went to and thus my best friends. For this reason, I would like to think that at least the people that know me well have a more positive view of Islam.
If everybody had a Muslim friend and therefore had a positive experience with Muslims, the islamophobic drivel out there would fall on deaf ears. So this is a call to action for Muslims. Go out and speak to your neighbours. Stop treading water and make a difference in your communities. Muslims need to be socially relevant here in the West. Come out and support the issues that matter. It is part of our religion to be on the side of justice; be it with the Muslims or against them. Campaign for issues that are affecting us all in our communities here in the UK. Whether it's student fees, NHS cuts, your local youth club losing funding or feeding the homeless. Come out and show your communities that they are gaining by having Muslims as neighbours. Community spirit is part of our faith. It's high time we started to show it.
Here is a teaching of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) that I want people to know:
“The Prophet (peace be upon him) said, ‘Help your brother when he is the oppressor and when he is oppressed.’ His Companions replied, ‘O Messenger of God, we do understand helping him when he is oppressed, but how can we possibly help him when he is the oppressor? The Prophet replied, ‘Seize him by his hands!" - Sahih al-Bukhari, narrated by Anas bin Malik
Shibli Zaman from SuhaibWebb.com summarises the implications for this nicely:
“(As a Muslim in the West) I will do as my Prophet has taught me and do everything I can to protect you, but I will not allow you to oppress me and blame me for a deed that was not mine.
Those flying angels, flying out of the World Trade Center and to the next world, deserved more than to be used for the opportunistic political gain of fear mongers. They deserve more than bumper stickers emblazoned with over-marketed slogans of “Never forget” and “Support our troops”. Those slogans are meaningless without action. Let us truly “never forget” and love one another, for the murders of 9/11 were the illegitimate child of hate bred with fear.”
Collective punishment is immoral and unjust. I am sorry that such a barbaric act was done in the name of my religion but that is not my religion. If somebody is a lunatic, it doesn't matter what religion or race or culture they profess to come from, they are still a lunatic.
“From a national security interest, we want to be clear about who the enemy is here. It's a handful, a tiny minority of people who are engaging in horrific acts, and have killed Muslims more than anybody else.
The other reason it's important for us to remember that is because we've got millions of Muslim Americans, our fellow citizens, in this country. They're going to school with our kids. They're our neighbours. They're our friends. They're our co-workers.
And, you know, when we start acting as if their religion is somehow offensive, what are we saying to them?
I've got Muslims who are fighting in Afghanistan in the uniform of the United States armed services. They're out there putting their lives on the line for us, and we've got to make sure that we are crystal clear, for our sakes and their sakes, they are Americans, and we honour their service.
And part of honouring their service is making sure that they understand that we don't differentiate between them and us. It's just us.”