HOW WE CAME ABOUT

Given the challenging times ordinary Muslims are living in today, what is urgently needed is a strong and transparent horizontal leadership structure, consisting of at least 10 to 20 well-rounded, media savvy and eloquent Muslim individuals who can connect with today’s youth and teenagers and speak for ordinary Muslims in the non-Muslim West.

And thus, help shape and guide this peaceful dissent against growing irrational Islamophobia today, with the sole aim of helping raise the morale and self-confidence of ordinary Muslims worldwide.  

However, this seemingly simple initiative has proven to be difficult to kick-start.

Embarking on a whirlwind tour funding it out of my own pocket meeting a number of Islamic-majority governments and ultra-high net worth individuals in early-to-mid 2015, I, spent months pushing the idea of an ordinary Muslim focused group among ambassadors and career diplomats in Europe some of whom were advisers to or senior members of a certain royal family as well as Islamic organisations like the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), a large entity known for its dozen-odd annual toothless and cosmetic Islamophobia reports.

There are too many of us sitting in silence, unable or unwilling to take action. Instead of overcoming irrational Islamophobia, we help legitimize it with our inaction

Travelling to London, Paris, Jakarta and Kuala Lumpur meeting senior embassy officials at Turkey, Morocco, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Brunei, Qatar, Bahrain and UAE, discussions were held with a handful of very senior Arab diplomats and their legal advisers at their embassies and private office suites at high end hotels, owned by their fellow ultra-high net worth Muslims – to no avail.

As bottomless as the depth of their wealth seemed to a clear outsider like me, I was left just as profoundly disappointed when these philanthropists, diplomats and senior royal advisers politely suggested one after another that Ordinary Muslim Productions tone down (read: “guarantee to withhold”) its criticism of Muslim-majority countries and find ways to work with them instead, a compromise that seemed too much of a dilution from the original vision OMP had in mind.

Not long after, I gradually gathered how these wealth-savvy individuals and senior diplomats seemed more concerned on gathering exotic-branded artworks and fancy cars parked outside their embassies and private properties than funding a US$2-3 million global project that could crucially help reverse the decline of self confidence of ordinary Muslim youth worldwide.

Planting informants at mosques and schools and spying on Muslims en masse has never worked in the past and there is no evidence to support it will work in the future

Thus, the idea of training a small group of between ten to twenty well-rounded, media savvy and eloquent Muslim individuals who can connect with today’s youth and teenagers and speak for ordinary Muslims in the non-Muslim West, was ironically too unsettling for a number of key Muslim-majority governments, principally in the Middle East (perhaps due to skeletons in their own closets including suppression of human rights, regressive policies contrary to the teachings of hadiths, etc.,)

To be fair to those I met with – especially in Paris and London, it felt at times as if there was some sort of an intra-embassy protocol among these senior diplomats.

Almost every senior ambassador I met with privately confided there was nothing stopping OMP from turning the metaphorical gun barrel at these royal families, despots and dictatorships given OMP’s active stance on researching, preparing and countering every lie about Islam and ordinary Muslims with a short and concise response.

In some ways, they were probably right, I concede.

The perpetrators of Islamophobia are not only right-wing politicians, anti-Muslim hate-groups and the media in the West but indirectly, a number of Muslim-majority governments have done little to raise the morale and self-confidence among the next generation of Muslims around the world, exacerbating the crises among ordinary Muslims, all the more.

It was perhaps for this primary reason alone among surely others, I struggled to obtain the necessary funding required to kick-start this project and was forced to consider nine months into the project how the idea may have to be put on hold.

There were of course a number of self-professed Muslim billionaires and philanthropists (according to Forbes magazine), in the Middle East, Malaysia and Indonesia, many of whom very courteously sent their best wishes back in writing, when responding to my meeting requests, adding how they preferred supporting “non-political charities” addressing social causes rather than what one notable Arab princess called “seemingly controversial ones” like OMP – regardless of the fact that all OMP aims to do is help raise the morale and self-confidence of Muslim youth and teenagers by directly tackling irrational Islamophobia.

One of many meetings I had with ambassadors, senior advisors to royals and ultra high net worth individuals seeking funding for Ordinary Muslim Productions

Utterly exhausted from hearing “great idea but no thanks”, I then met with Mahathir Mohamed in July 2015, former maverick Prime Minister of Malaysia and a historically controversial and vocal critic of Islamophobia at his office in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, incidentally on his ninetieth birthday (10 July, 2015), as I foolishly found out the next morning reading the local paper.

Like others, Mahathir spoke many words of encouragement but unlike others genuinely advised me on some minor gaps in my thinking and most crucially added how this battle should never be given up until an avenue is found that can fund this. Once a fighter, always a fighter, I remember thinking, as I left Mahathir’s office for the lobby.

Looking out the window in a taxi on my way back to the hotel, I had an epiphany. It suddenly dawned on me perhaps there was a way not to let the in-depth literature I developed for this project go to waste by turning the 10,000 worded OMP pitch into a book on countering irrational Islamophobia, for the masses, everywhere around the world.

This is how the idea of the book Q&A with an Islamophobe came about.

To be honest, “the easy part was writing it”.  The hard part was to “undertake research going through volumes of books, articles and video clips by Islamophobes, talk-show hosts, anti-Muslim hate groups, right-wing politicians and misinformed, self-doubting Muslims who veiled themselves as reformed Muslims”. Summing up the entire experience, the effort was perhaps “as painful as having to read a Dummies Guide to Islam written by ISIS or its fellow deviant groups”.

Fast forward two years growing the wordcount to 79,000 nevertheless, I hope the book Q&A with an Islamophobe (official release date: 30 October 2017) will help tilt the tectonic plates and bring about much needed positive change for ordinary Muslims by sparking a much needed debate in the West for overcoming widespread Islamophobia today – which could in turn, help raise the morale and self-confidence of Muslim youth and ordinary Muslims around the world in their own faith, which is today under attack from multiple directions.

Siddiq Bazarwala, Founder, Ordinary Muslim Productions

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