Getting ready for the road ahead
I’m tired of condemning. I’m tired of apologising. I’m tired of clarifying and re-clarifying. I’m tired of seeing ordinary Muslims held responsible for terrorist acts that have nothing to do with Islam – and told to apologise, integrate and “change from within”.
Most of all, I’m tired of hearing vile individuals with Muslim names shout “Allahu Akbar” every time they commit some grotesque act of violence, in direct contradiction to the Qur’an and Hadith, the two primary sources of teachings the entire religion of Islam is based upon.
Like hundreds of millions of Muslims around the world, I too am tired of reminding people criticising Islam and ordinary Muslims is not Islamophobia. Islamophobia is to repeat already discredited statements about Islam and Muslims. I am also tired of pointing out (without sounding as if I am justifying violence) the brutal political and historical complexities that has led to today’s violence in the Middle East that the West is, in large part responsible for, without sounding bitter.
Unfortunately, calling ISIS and other groups vile names is also not going to solve the problem nor is all the good talk and inspired ideas going to adequately choke off the oxygen of those who are out to attack Islam and stoke hatred and fear in the hearts and minds of ordinary Muslims and non-Muslim citizens of the West.
What then, is the solution?
Clearly, empty rhetoric and noise is not enough. This much is clear. A strategic approach is urgently needed to solving issues where many parties are invested differently to Islamophobia and its benefits, groups I have identified throughout this book. Unless we can empower, optimise and amplify a clear and united message in an organised fashion, there will be no paradigm shift with the current status quo remaining just as it is, if not worse.
In fairness the key I have observed in recent years, is to first and foremost make an effort to understand the viewpoint of Islamophobes, however convoluted and uncomfortable it may seem at the outset. This in order to combat the irrational Islamophobia they so passionately espouse when on TV or in their writings.
In fact, I may have pre-empted myself by a bit. Before going after irrational Islamophobia propagated by the Islamophobes, we need to first discredit people who call themselves Muslims and yet create disharmony and havoc in our midst by calling for revenge and violence or mistreat women in direct contradiction to the teachings of Islam. Once we successfully discredit them, we disarm a large portion of the ammunition Islamophobes often use.
Although verbally condemning the writings and actions of militant groups or Islamophobes is important, in the scheme of things, this is perhaps the easiest thing to do especially given the long list of many other difficult challenges ahead.
What is far more daunting is finding an easy-to-use, non-defensive sounding and honest refutation against the damaging narratives around Islam and ordinary Muslims today, employed by militants with Muslim names and Islamophobes with an axe to grind. I hope therefore the Q&As in this book help alleviate the challenge by at least a few notches, if not more although it is worth remembering Muslims have bigger systems to be fighting against, than ignorant internet trolls and bullies from the pulpit of social media who appear to have little else to do.
Meantime, we ought to remind ourselves and others when refuting Islamophobes and militants with Muslim names, it is best to focus on tackling one issue at a time rather than trying to focus on multiple issues that get thrown our way. The underlying agenda of focusing on multiple and divergent range of issues is to weaken the overall argument and we run the risk of being seen as frazzled and defensive when the whole point is to calmly refute the arguments made against Islam and ordinary Muslims, one argument (most likely, already repeatedly debunked), at a time.
We ordinary Muslims also need to start asking ourselves and others among us, what we stand for and stop reminding each other what we are against. Militants with Muslim names as well as Islamophobes would like nothing else than to see us chase our own tail and be as disjointed as we are today.
For example, what hope have we got as ordinary Muslims when leading anti-Islamophobia civil rights and advocacy groups, which as it is receives disproportionally high angry calls and critical coverage for its work from non-Muslims – can’t find common ground to work together as a single Muslim bloc, however diverse we are? Instead of nitpicking on the differences that runs counter to the aims of combatting anti-Muslim attacks, we should find ways to agree on plenty of issues we have in common. This is complicated I know but surely possible.
It is frustrating how we sometimes fail to see past basic ideas that divide us such as whether it is okay to have a Jew or Christian on your advisory board when it was none other than a Christian priest Waraka ibn Nawfal our beloved Muhammad (PBUH) reached out to when he came upon the initial verses of the revelation. Our current senseless obsession is pointlessly reductive for everyone concerned and yet most of us find it hard to see.
Regrettably, the intra-Muslim fighting does not only exist among high profile organisations in the West spearheading the fight against Islamophobia.
At a micro-level, we ordinary Muslims need to overcome silent racism in our midst, be it when it comes to marrying a Muslim from a different ethnic group or in the fight against Islamophobia where uncomfortably put, black activists are often sidelined, undermined and discounted as well.
“We say that Muslims are all equal in the eyes of God, that racism doesn’t exist in Islam.” And yet, cases of overt racism aren’t uncommon, like when South Asian or Arab immigrant parents don’t want their kids to marry black Muslims. (Source: Muslim Americans Are United by Trump – and Divided by Race, Emma Green, 11 March 2017, The Atlantic)
Furthermore in this battle against irrational Islamophobia, we should also combat intra-Muslim hatred and intolerance among various races, ethnic groups let alone sects within Islam among Muslims living in the West and the East and in between, a highly sensitive matter, although overly sensitised with no meaningful end.
Every effort should be made to address the conditions that lead to such divisions among the various divergent sects within Islam today as the battle of Badr and Uhud – best illustrate about the need for the Ummah (Muslims, the world over) to unite in order to overcome what may. For as long as we remain in denial about intra-Muslim intolerance among ourselves, we will end up going around in circles doing everything except what is actually needed to overcome the challenges ahead.
In essence, lazily focusing on issues that are not directly relevant or do not have an immediate negative impact on combatting irrational Islamophobia is, one such debilitating ailment that has held us ordinary Muslims back from eviscerating the extremist elements camouflaged as Muslims living in our midst. Put simply, we need to unite and focus.
Unfortunately for ordinary Muslims the world over, challenges abound and there is no magic potion to defeat the cult of murder and mayhem so widespread today. Therefore, each and every individual Muslim regardless of age, race and gender needs to do a lot more collectively to warrant the attention of people we are trying to educate about Islam. In fact, not said often enough, the one very useful way to be heard attentively is to earn it through our conduct, as almost every Imam at every Masjid around the world has pointed out repeatedly for years now.
We, ordinary Muslims meanwhile must set about breaking the hold extremism (in the false name of religion) is exerting on young men with low self-esteem and a propensity towards violence. This can only happen if we get off the sidelines, instead of just nodding our heads, in the fight against extremist ideologies mutating in our midst.
In some of the most defining words that beautifully summarises the best course of letting our action become the biggest defender of our faith: “To a cartoon you reply with a cartoon, to a drawing with a drawing, to a newspaper article with a newspaper article . . . But you don’t reply with guns,” said Mustafa Riad of the Union mosque in the southern city of Montpellier, Southern France. (Source: French Muslim leaders slam ‘odious’ attacks by The Local, France, 9 January 2015)
For those in power in the West, it is important the role and contribution of ordinary Muslims living in the West is not overlooked the way it is at present. Muslims across all strata living among us would welcome an expression of support and recognition by their respective governments of what is being done today by Muslim citizens living in the West since ordinary Muslims are no doubt on the front lines in this battle against extremists living camouflaged in our midst while our faith is attacked by those with an underlying social, economic or political agenda. Without genuine trust and mutual respect between law enforcement and Muslim citizens, we are left with a zero-sum game.
Staying in the West, the threshold for what is designated as a “hate crime” should also be unambiguously defined when it comes to anything involving minorities, be it when it comes to Americans or Europeans ethnically from South America, the Caribbean or people of colour, LBGT let alone people of the Muslim and Jewish faith as well as any other minority groups.
In fact, in 2016 alone, the US saw over 385 mass shootings or over 1 shooting per day. A woman in America is fatally shot by her current or former intimate partner every 16 hours and 80 percent of people killed by rearms annually in America by intimate partners are women, making gun violence a key women issue. Intriguingly in Pakistan, this is known as “honour killings”, something that evidently happens in “civilised” America as well.
Yet ordinary Muslims and Muslim-majority countries receive disproportionate media and political attention, unfairly projected as acts of violence by individuals with Muslim names but not the mass shootings caused mostly by mainly white Christian anti-abortion activists, anti-black church shooters, white supremacists and others, where the perpetrator’s religion is rarely, if ever mentioned.
This of course happens because the path to learning about ordinary Muslims and Islam is wide and varied. One out of every 4.4 person in the world today is a Muslim and yet Islam is not very well understood. Not only by non-Muslims let alone Muslim children and teenagers today.
Unfortunately, wherever you turn to today, Muslims, the world over are discriminated against and in some cases not even considered worth giving a chance to. Muslims are far too often singled out for suspicion, alienation, and face endless questioning of loyalty.
We are stigmatised on TV, online and in the local, regional let alone international press – for our perceived lack of work skills, for our perceived religion, for our perceived culture and as a result of which, we end up shoving our heads in the sand every time we are shone the spotlight.
This – needs to change. Worse still, eighty percent of the time what is disseminated via negative posts, fake news and Islamophobic content and misreported in the mainstream and right-wing media and made to understand by non-Muslims is either partially misrepresented or wholly untrue. This is something we need to fight off today, not tomorrow and not by “the other Muslims” but by you. Yes, you.
Of course, journalists too need to rid themselves of their ideological biases and start seeing reality as it is, with all its complexities, shades and nuances (Source: Misconceptions of Political Islam by Soumaya Ghannoushi, 16 January 2015, Huffington Post)
Indeed, it is no longer possible to deny the fact that in the West, Islam has been unfairly demonised and that the rhetoric from politicians and the media continues to exacerbate this situation. Much ink, many film reels, and an infinite number of news reports have focused on bad Muslims therefore claiming that Hollywood and the media have played no role in the growth in Islamophobia is no longer a tenable position.
Recent research by the University of Cambridge showed that mainstream media reporting about Muslim communities is contributing to an atmosphere of rising hostility toward Muslims, corroborating the findings of an Islamophobia Roundtable held in Stockholm in 2014.
Separately in a report released in June 2017, the Nation Institute’s Investigative Fund and The Center for Investigative Reporting concluded:
“I think the larger perception in the public – and this includes many progressives and liberals – is the inversion of the reality: that the greatest threat we face is Islamist radicals. And it’s reflected in the way the press report upon various kinds of domestic terror attacks: When it’s a white domestic terrorist, they underplay it, write it o to mental illness . . . The media has a long history of double standards when it comes to covering terrorism – starting with how slow mainstream media is to label attacks by white perpetrators as “terrorism,” and quick to label them as such when attackers are perceived as nonwhite or “other” – and specifically, Muslim”.
However, Muslims are not seeking favours or pro-Islam news reports but simply expecting that regular smears about Islam or ordinary Muslims and the unfair conflation of Islam with terrorism is avoided. Given the challenges ahead, we need nuance and accuracy, not sensationalism and bigotry.
As an example, when TV stations and event organisers develop panel discussions or articles about “whether Islam is a violent religion”, you are not examining an issue but perpetuating a false prejudice further. The key is to dispel such myths not legitimise them especially since Western nations have been responsible for a hundred times more killings and wonton destruction than Muslims can ever be, in terms of lives lost and social and economic destruction.
Instead of bringing Islam into these discussions, it is surely more meaningful and constructive to look at the underlying causes of extremism today, so that a solution can be found. Alternatively, it may be worth getting someone who actually knows more about the subject, than if not in addition to, a non-Muslim talking-head with an underlying agenda of his or her own.
This mean stepping aside and giving the microphone to Muslims in medicine, television, media and other fields beyond the political realm. It also means providing room for nuance in the way we cover the Muslim community. The most obvious way to fix this problem is to hire more Muslims in the newsroom. (Source: What Covering Hate As A Muslim Journalist Taught Me About The Media, Rowaida Abdelaziz, 23 January 2017, The Huffington Post)
Again, having been in financial media for almost two decades now, the solution I am promulgating however does not lie in mixing the adverse portrayals with more positive ones or censoring a timely subject of Islam altogether. All religions and their followers deserve fair criticism, satire and fearless inquiry but is it not more important that we first get our facts straight, you know that much neglected first rule of journalism?
The so-called followers of Christianity have been responsible for more bloodshed than Islam and yet why is that religion never put on the dock?
Terrorism is a response to misguided foreign policies and yet why does the clock start from 9/11 rather than time immemorial when Western powers redrew lines in the sand and laid the foundation to the chaos ordinary Muslims in the Middle East and increasingly living in the West are facing today?
In the words of notable scholar Tariq Ramadan: Our contribution to violence in Palestine, in Yemen, in Iraq and in Syria, as well as our support for autocratic regimes that restrict public space and limit Muslim civil society’s freedom should be addressed . . .
There are critical conflicts in these regions that have to be solved, and we cannot skirt our role in them. In the centenary of the Balfour declaration, we cannot deny the fact that in Palestine, people are still being oppressed. Nearly 15 years since the illegal invasion and occupation of Iraq, we cannot forget the destruction it wreaked on the wider region, including Syria. (Source: We will not tackle extremism by stigmatising Muslim citizens, Tariq Ramadan, 5 June 2017, The Guardian)
Lest we forget, inaccurate reporting is a form of abuse of freedom of speech and to intentionally o end someone because they have different beliefs can hardly be understood as a sign of courage.
A former journalist with Charlie Hebdo, Olivier Cyran acknowledged that following 9/11 an “Islamophobic neurosis gradually took over” essentially enabling the stigmatisation of a minority community “with no influence in the corridors of power”. (Source: Can Muslims Ever Truly Belong In Europe? By Salma Islam, 23 January 2015, Huffington Post)
In the candid words of CJ Werleman, author of The New Atheist Threat and notable senior columnist for Middle East Eye: Essentially, 9/11 sealed the deal. That one single attack launched a cottage industry of anti-Islam books, and the media careers of a thousand Islamophobic opportunists . . . Pre-9/11, anti-Muslim bigots such as Pam Geller, Frank Gaffney, Robert Spencer, Sam Harris, among others were total unknowns. After 9/11, they became household names. (Source: Islamophobes perpetuate the myth that Muslims are plotting to overtake the West, 8 April 2017, Muslim Press)
If Bill Maher, Bill O’Reilly, Sam Harris, Richard Hawkins, Pam Geller and the long list of well-known pestiferous Islamophobes truly valued free speech, why have they focused their attention on senseless cartoons and hurtful words about a Muslim minority when there are countless other key pressing issues that is worth advocating for and that demands vigourous media spotlight?
Key issues focusing on the poor, the homeless or the voiceless people who think they’re without hope. (Source: Dan Rather: ‘Have the guts to dig into stories people in power don’t want’ by Andy Meek, 30 August, 2015, The Guardian)
In fact, if one-tenth the time and energy that is channeled into pointless diatribes against Muslims and against other minorities were to be directed towards constructive debate exploring ways to genuinely combat pedophiles, drug addicts, violence against women, poverty, violence against children, teenage pregnancies, online sex abuse against children, gun violence among many other voiceless causes, wouldn’t the world become a better place?
Does it not make more sense to help the downtrodden rather than fashionably “pushing Muslims under the bus”, as Zainab Chaudry, a Maryland-based campaigner for the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR), an advocacy group, told Al Jazeera in a news report on growing Islamophobia in the United States. (Source: Rise in school bullying connected to US election by James Reinl, 12 April 2016, Aljazeera.com)
If free speech were truly about using whatever words you wanted to use anywhere, Pam Geller, Bill Maher, Bill O’Reilly and ordinary white Americans should perhaps try using the N-word in U.S districts populated by people of colour just to see if they survive the “free speech” experience, perhaps illustrating how there are indeed limits to where certain words should or should not be used, and therefore the editorial rules for covering Islam or any other faith should not be any different.
For the umpteenth time, Islamophobia is not about criticising Islam or Muslims. It is about repeating already discredited statements about Islam and Muslims and spreading the endless cycle of misinformation about Islam and Muslims.
While the media is to be partially blamed for reinforcing false stereotypes, ordinary Muslims themselves also ought to take a good chunk of the responsibility, for not behaving like true Muslims like we should. Instead of endlessly complaining about the biased press coverage, we should also speak up about ourselves as much as we should. At present, we are hiding behind the excuse that “PR is not a specialty among Muslims”, as if people of other faiths let alone atheists and agnostics are born with such skillsets.
Fortunately, in our corner for ordinary Muslims and Islam, there are today numerous books written by award-winning, highly respected academics, former spies, terrorism experts, authors and journalists who have spent a lifetime studying Islamic history, sacred texts and actually spent time talking with ordinary Muslims.
While it is tempting to simply say “read the Qur’an” to understand Islam, I believe one will appreciate the depth and brevity of the Qur’an only after he or she has read books written by world renowned and widely respected non-Muslim best-selling authors.
Put another way, if you understand how important it is to spend years reflecting on what Shakespeare is saying in his plays, how does it make sense to treat the multi-dimensional Qur’an as just another book on the bestseller list, going through its interpretation in only 1-2 sittings?
I have therefore in the paragraphs below set aside a select list of top 35 books written on Islam or ordinary Muslims, mostly written by non-Muslims – except those mark with an asterisk, which are written by Muslims but are considered too excellent to miss.
These books are widely considered well-balanced and neutral and a large number of them are international bestsellers. Of course, the suggested books vary depending on your angle of interests in Islam and ordinary Muslims and can be ordered online – as well as through your local bookstore.
To understand PROPHET MUHAMMAD – PBUH (In the order of intensity and depth), read: Muhammad A Biography of the Prophet by Karen Armstrong or The Messenger The Meanings of the Life of Muhammad by Tariq Ramadhan* or Muhammad Prophet for our Time by Karen Armstrong
To understand ISLAM (In the order of intensity and depth), read: The No-Nonsense Guide to Islam by Ziauddin Sardar and Merryl Wyn Davies* or Islam a Short History by Karen Armstrong or The Great Arab Conquests How the Spread of Islam Changed the World we Live in by Hugh Kennedy
To understand WHY MUSLIMS HAD MORE THAN ONE REASON TO BE ANGRY BEFORE 9/11 (In the order of intensity and depth), read: Why do People Hate America by Ziauddin Sardar and Merryl Wyn Davies* or Blowback the Costs and Consequences of the American Empire by Chalmers Johnson
To understand WHAT IS THE REAL MEANING OF JIHAD, read: Unholy War Terror in the Name of Islam by John L Esposito
To understand AFGHANISTAN & WHAT IS THE TALIBAN ALL ABOUT (In the order of intensity and depth), read: Ghost Wars –The Secret History of the CIA, Afghanistan and Bin Laden, from the Soviet Invasion to September 10, 2001 by Steve Coll or Al-Qaida the True Story of Radical Islam by Jason Burke or On the Road to Kandahar Travels through Conflict in the Islamic World by Jason Burke or The Taliban War and Religion in Afghanistan by Peter Marsden
To understand ISLAM’S CONTRIBUTION TO THE WESTERN WORLD (In the order of best explained), read: Lost History the enduring Legacy of Muslim Scientists, Thinkers and Artists by Michael Hamilton Morgan or A World without Islam by Graham E Fuller or What Islam did for us Understanding Islam’s Contribution to Western Civilization by Tim Wallace-Murphy or 1001 Inventions the Enduring Legacy of Muslim Civilization by Salim TS Al Hassani* or 1001 Inventions & Awesome facts from Muslim Civilization (National Geographic) or The Genius of Islam: How Muslims made the Modern World by Bryn Barnand
To understand THE CRUSADES AND THE RELATIONSHIP OF CHRISTIANS WITH REST OF THE WORLD, read: The Cross and the Crescent: The Dramatic Story of the earliest encounters between Christians and Muslims by Richard Fletcher or The Crusades Islam and Christianity in the Struggle for World supremacy by Geoffrey Hindley
To understand HOW SUNNIS AND SHIAS CAME ABOUT, read: After the Prophet: The Epic Story of the Shia Sunni split by Lesley Hazleton
To understand THE REPEATED LIES TOLD BY WESTERN GOVERNMENTS ON IRAQ, read: Tell me Lies: Propaganda and Media Distortion in the attack on Iraq by Noam Chomsky, Robert Fisk, Edward Herman, John Pilger, etcetera, (Edited by David Miller) or War on Iraq by Scott Ritter & William Rivers Pitt
To understand TERRORISM, read: The Great War for Civilisation: The Conquest of the Middle East by Robert Fisk or The Age of the Warrior: Selected Writings by Robert Fisk or Conversation with Tariq Ali: Speaking of Empire and Resistance by Tariq Ali* and David Barsamian or Dining with Terrorists: Meeting with the world’s most wanted Militants by Phil Rees or Hegemony or Survival: America’s Quest for Global Dominance by Noam Chomsky or Terror in the Name of God: Why Religious Militants Kill by Jessica Stern or The Clash of Fundamentalism: Crusades, Jihads and Modernity by Tariq Ali* or Good Muslim, Bad Muslim: America, The Cold War and the Roots of Terror by Mahmood Mamdani*
To understand HOW THE MASS MEDIA MISREPRESENTS ISLAM, BACKED WITH DOCUMENTED PROOF, read: Who Speaks for Islam: What a Billion Muslims really think (based on Gallup’s world Poll) by John Esposito & Dalia Mogahed* or Guardians of Power: The Myth of the Liberal Media by David Edwards and David Cromwell or Covering Islam: How the Media and the Experts determine how we see the rest of the world by Edward W Said.
However, if you only have time for four books, here is a list of the absolute top four books, written by a former CIA officer, a former nun, a historian and an award-winning war correspondent – presented in the order of sequence:
A World without Islam by Graham E Fuller
Muhammad A biography of the Prophet by Karen Armstrong
Lost History the enduring legacy of Muslim scientists, thinkers and artists by Michael Hamilton Morgan
The Great War for Civilisation: The Conquest of the Middle East by Robert Fisk
Fighting ignorance is indeed the best way to address discriminatory attacks but not only ignorance in the West when it comes to Islam but ignorance among religious demagogues and right-wing Muslims in Muslim-majority countries like Pakistan, (Aceh) Indonesia, Saudi Arabia, Nigeria, Somalia and a dozen-odd countries, that champion anti-Western sentiments (for varying reasons) and unjustifiably perverting religion to suit their twisted political needs.
Something needs to be done by the ordinary Muslims populace in these countries to disentangle the religious legitimacy, those in power falsely claim, from within their tight-fisted grip. This includes the conservative masses (read “Muslim mobs”) who are easily swayed as well as those right-wing, technologically savvy Muslim influence peddlers behind virulent social media campaigns in Pakistan and elsewhere targeting social activists or anyone that raise questions against those in power.
While we Muslims living in the West often complain of systematic discrimination across all strata of the society, which is an undeniable fact but we need to introspectively acknowledge how religious minorities including followers of various sects within Islam in a number of Muslim-majority countries suffer discrimination and persecution today and find ways to help these minorities too.
For example, in late May 2016, an elderly Christian woman was stripped naked and paraded through streets by a 300-strong mob of Muslim men in rural Egypt, according to media reports at the time. They also burned down seven homes belonging to Orthodox Coptic families, over rumours of an affair between a local Christian man and a Muslim woman. Worse still, the woman was reported to be the mother of the man involved in the rumoured a air. After a meeting with church leaders, the senior cleric Anba Makarios from the Diocese of Minya and Abu Qirqas said the response if it had been a Muslim man having an a air with a Christian woman “would not have been anything like what happened”. Christians only make up around 10 per cent of Egypt’s population, the majority being Muslim and have long complained about discrimination and victimisation when involved in disputes with Muslims. (Source: Muslim mob strips, beats & drags elderly woman through streets, torches Christian homes in Egypt, 26 May, 2016, Russian TV)
Of course, Muslims aren’t alone in their sectarianism against religious sects: Christians have a long, inglorious history in this regard. The centuries old Hindu caste system in India also leads to appalling treatment of lower-caste ‘Dalits’. (Source: After Asad Shah’s ‘religiously prejudiced’ death, we know inter-Muslim hatred is a problem in Britain by Sunny Hundal, 27 March 201, The Independent)
Nonetheless, simply re-ratifying a previously ratified 57-Muslim declaration denouncing Muslim oppression of religious minorities, like the toothless Marrakech Declaration is next to useless, unless clear goals are set and agreed upon, legislation passed and most importantly, equitably enforced with vigour and determination.
This is especially the case if we Muslims ever want to be taken seriously ourselves unlike the smirking no, laughing stock we have become today.
While we Muslims have been screaming to deaf years for seven decades for the recognition of the plight of millions displaced and persecuted Palestinians and thousands killed, how many Muslim- majority countries recognise the persecution of religious minorities in certain Muslim countries?
How many Friday sermons have been set-aside around the world condemning the killings in places like Yemen (the Arab world’s poorest country bombed by Arab world’s wealthiest) versus the oft-repeated (and rightly so) sermons and calls for donation and help for the victims of violence and families of over 400,000 innocent lives perished in Syria and Libya by people and groups that call themselves fellow Muslims?
To effect change, Muslims in the Middle East: “need to encourage the next batch of young Arab leaders to act more vigorously than the previous generation of the Arab spring. They need help to turn their slogans into solid political programmes by forming political parties to rally wider support among the masses in the Middle East”. (Source: Arabs in the eye of history by Marwan Bishara, 19 January 2016, Aljazeera.com).
Of course, I realise this is a gross over-simplification of the mountainous challenges involved but we need to steadily built upon this idea and snowball the Arab Spring 2.0, 3.0, etc., into reality.
Closer to home, we ordinary Muslims need to turn inwards and take up the double-edged battle against terror and disaffection by focusing on the next generation of youth and teenagers living in our midst.
From Allan Hennessy, who grew up as a neighbour next to Emwazi ISIS’s “Jihadi John” and went to the same mosque in London as he did but who went on to read law at Cambridge and became a journalist to Mourad Laachraoui, the younger brother of one of the Brussels suicide bombers who represented Belgium at the 2016 Olympic Games in Brazil and has won several medals for the country already, these are two of many examples of how Muslim youth disaffected with a system, rose through the ranks and chose to excel rather than stagnate.
Two such individuals among millions who represent hope and change and who could have just as easily played the blame game, exacerbating an already volatile situation but instead chose to make a difference by propelling themselves forward and upwards.
Therefore, in the end, avowals and activism by itself will proof to be ineffective. Marches and protests, by itself won’t work. Online interviews and face-to-face interviews will be dismissed as white noise. Writing articles by itself will not have the required reach but if everything is pulled together in a coherent, organised fashion, sequenced one after another, we can impact change.
Robert Swan, a polar explorer, environmentalist and the first man ever to walk unsupported to both the North and South Poles once said: “The greatest threat to our planet is the belief that someone else will save it”. Paraphrasing his quote, it may be worth asking the same question: as to who is going to do it?
Political leaders, Muslim philanthropists, community leaders who have collectively failed us so far – or ordinary Muslims, the world over, ourselves? Lest we forget, chaos-loving Trump won in November 2016 not because most white Americans voted for him. No, he won because not enough Americans voted for “status quo” Clinton on the day it mattered most.
To this end and to ensure we are not constantly entangled playing snakes and ladders, making gains and then sliding back down again, we will continue to seek funding for Ordinary Muslim Productions, an action-based advocacy group that produces research to counter misinformation promoted by regional and global media outlets, policy makers, bloggers, op-ed columnists, television talking-heads and so-called global think-tanks.
Muslims the world over need to start working together in ways that may seem hard to imagine right now. It’s true that, right now, we don’t have the institutions, the leaders, the visions, to make this happen. But we will have them. We need to have them. This fight is existential.
Unless we, the current and next generation of young Muslims collectively work together in developing and counteracting every attempt to smear Islam or Muslims for actions well beyond our control with an honest, swift and fair response, we will continue to be on the receiving end of this intimidation campaign.
The ultimate objective over time therefore, is to have purposeless individuals, groups and organisations with agendas rooted in Islamophobia confronted, exposed and discredited until the current culture of witch-hunting against Islam and ordinary Muslims comes to an end.
The key however is not only to target Islamophobes but also “lone- wolves” and terrorist groups who call themselves Muslims and yet carry out anti-Islamic acts that are in direct contradiction to the teachings of the Qur’an and Muhammad (PBUH) and thus, Islam and mankind. For this latter group of anti-Muslim anarchists, we ordinary Muslims need to work feverishly hard to highlight, discredit and undermine all twisted ideologies propagated by these groups or individuals by untangling their misinterpretation of the Qur’an and Hadiths (narrated sayings and actions of Muhammad – PBUH), the second most revered texts in Islam after the Holy Qur’an – with what it actually says.
Sadly, they have enough cash to crush more compassionate and intelligent alternatives. As a result, there are hundreds of millions of Muslims who go unrepresented, who have almost no institutions that can realize our different hopes and dreams. Aid our co-religionists. Advance our concerns. Defend our various causes. Provide quality education. We are underperforming on almost every level – regionally and globally – and that’s the terrible, tragic reality. How else is it that a small band of vile extremists have come to dominate the conversation about Islam, except that we have let this happen to us? Let’s take a long, hard, awkward look in the mirror. (Source: How Muslims can fight extremism, By Haroon Moghul, June 13, 2016, CNN)
What we need is a vast, unequivocal worldwide opposition – a united coalition of ordinary Muslims to rise up to reclaim the fair and just narrative about Islam. Imagine tens of millions of us. It can be done.
There is indeed an urgent need to reinvigorate self-confidence in our Muslim millennial teenagers and youth today with the ultimate goal of helping raise the self-esteem of the next generation of young Muslims around the world. Given how long this individually empowering initiative is likely to take, it is important we start now (stop turning the other cheek, roll up our sleeves and get to work) – not tomorrow, next week or next month, or after the next act of terrorism appears in the newspaper headlines.
Unless we amplify the ongoing contribution of Islam and Muslims to mankind today, the microphone will be left to right-wing politicians, terrorists and “lone-wolves” living on the fringe with the loudest, most disturbing views and voices.
To sum up, we need to develop an informed, not reactive response and by reframing our united individual voices from across the world, Ordinary Muslim Productions will hopefully go on to become one such key platform.
Such actionable, focused global initiatives need to be transparently funded by ordinary Muslims and Muslim philanthropists everywhere with the ultimate goal of reengineering the revival of self-confidence among ordinary Muslim youth and teenagers that is, the Islamic population of tomorrow, or else this spiral of madness which has no sensible origin – will see no end.