HOW TO FIGHT ISLAMOPHOBIA?
At present, there are too many of us ordinary Muslims sitting in silence, unsure how or unable to take action. In other words, instead of over- coming irrational Islamophobia, our inaction is helping legitimize it further.
Much of life isn’t full of heroics. We are often cowed by fear, by apathy, by the idea that nothing can ever change, that the bad people are in charge, that to intervene is to risk harm or to make any situation worse. (Source: In dark times, this image has a glorious message – resistance is not futile, Suzanne Moore, 10 April 2017, The Guardian)
By not challenging the status quo, more and more right-wing, anti- Muslim rhetoric will only continue to be espoused and it is the silent majority of ordinary Muslims that have got to lose the most – as well as our children and those after that.
Unless we (every single ordinary Muslims, young and old, male and female) pushback by firmly occupying the narrative space that thrives on misinformation and hypocrisy, terror groups and deranged individuals with Muslim names let alone Islamophobes will continue to occupy this expansive space.
WHY SUPPORT THE FIGHT AGAINST ISLAMOPHOBIA?
We as parents can try as hard as we want but inevitably our children will come across the ocean of biased media reports in print, online and on TV (and inevitably on their phones and other devices) on Islam and ordinary Muslims focusing on how Islam is vilified as a violent religion (when more Muslims have been killed by the West than the other way around) as well as unbridled Islamophobia that is being filtered through trolling blog posts, memes, videos and comment pages on social media against ordinary Muslims.
Bombarded almost daily with visual images and auditory remarks against ordinary Muslims and Islam, compounded with micro-aggressions and experiencing intense racism from all sides, your impressionable child will soon enough arrive at the dangerous crossroads self-questioning:
Why people see them differently, simply because your child is a Muslim?; & Why are they expected to apologise, condemn or distance themselves for the actions of people they have nothing to do with?
While there is always an explanation for almost any subject at hand, the complex grey subject matter of Western foreign policy, blanket dictatorship support of the West, blowbacks and revenge driven terrorism makes it hard to explain to young minds, who see life as mostly black and white and have a limited understanding of grey.
Muslims from all walks of life, age and race must therefore unite and rise to the challenge by undertaking tasks that changes hearts – running blood drives, cleaning up neighborhoods, tutoring people, serving meals to the homeless, volunteering in local communities – which will no doubt help keep our voices loud enough to be noticed so that we can watch our united efforts snowball since Islamophobia is something we just can’t press release our way out of, other than to do something long-lasting and meaningful.
Let’s therefore get off our armchairs and resolve to do something (anything at all) more than what we are doing now.
WHAT HAPPENS IF WE DO NOT FIGHT AGAINST ISLAMOPHOBIA TODAY?
If we, the moderate Muslims, do not reach out to our youth, we are going to run one of the two risks. Either those youth will be . . . assimilated in the big society where they will not be able to identify with Islam anymore. The other risk is radicalisation. (Source: Imam Al-Qazwini plans new mosque to educate about Islam (as quoted) Al-Qazwini, Former Shia Imam for Islamic Center of America in Dearborn, 22 September 2015, Detroit Free Press)
Although we Muslims prefer not to talk about this publicly, the former group grows tad-bit bigger every time an individual with a Muslim name commits an act of terror, to the detriment of the victims first and foremost and in a small virus like way, the diverse Muslim community they falsely claim to be fighting on behalf of.
The onus however is not on Muslim leaders and parents alone. Instead, every self-professed ordinary Muslim (young and old, male and female) however devout or non-practicing have the collective responsibility of learning about the central role of compassion and patience in Islam and coherently presenting facts to friends in their circle however “politically or socially” inconvenient it may sound at the time.
Traditionally finger-pointing “the Mullahs” at social gatherings is as easy as it is wrong and unfair. Instead, try “How much have I done for young and old Muslims in my own community who feel disadvantaged?”.
HOW BEST TO WIN THE BATTLE AGAINST ISLAMOPHOBIA?
The much-abused free speech tool is often used by certain Islamophobes to provoke an angry response from ordinary Muslims in the West but Muslim liberals, incoming immigrants and asylum seekers need to understand the hypocritical and incendiary right-wing polemics are here to stay and can only be overcome if we undertake two diametrically opposite actions, both at the same time.
While we should be enraged by the deliberate muddying of facts and rampant dog whistling – at the risk of sounding simplistic – the only way for the anti-Muhammad cartoons for example, to go away is for Muslims to start ignoring them altogether, however difficult it feels since the first rule of eliminating a virus often times require you first isolate it. Besides we have no one else to blame but ourselves for getting offended (click) and thus, fuelling their rise (bait).
On the other hand and the only other way we can persevere deeply insensitive and disrespectful statements by hate-inciting individuals meticulously identified by the Center for American Progress among others, is to collectively write Open-Ed columns and at the very least, Letters to the Editors (extracting quotes and citing direct sources from this book) whenever the press apologises for publishing insensitive statements about certain minorities but not others or when a media baron like Rupert Murdoch apologises like he did in November 2012 for certain statements or in January 2013 for an offensive cartoon that were seen as anti-Semitic but at other times would curiously argue the merits of free speech.
Threatening or killing cartoonists, mass-media manufactured court jesters, editors and politicians will not help the cause of overcoming Islamophobia but to repeatedly highlight the hypocrisies of the much beloved but shaky freedom of expression in the West certainly will. This is the key.
Unless ordinary Muslims stop making excuses and collectively start speaking up (each and every Muslim out there) rather than hopelessly relegate the task to the Muslim next door, xenophobic notions about ordinary Muslims and Islam will continue to proliferate.
WHAT CAN ORDINARY PARENTS DO BEFORE THE DANGEROUS SENSE OF BITTERNESS, DISILLUSIONMENT, INFERIORITY COMPLEX AND LACK OF SELF-CONFIDENCE AMONG OUR TEENAGE CHILDREN, IRREVERSIBLY SETS IN?
We Muslim men can wallow in self-righteous indignation on our sofas all day and harp about the barbarism of Western-led wars on Muslim lands and the double standards in the West when it comes to Muslims at family get-togethers, but unless we actually do something about educating and defending our youth and teenagers from this culture of misinformation, the cycle of mistrust and violence will never end. Muslims do not have the luxury of sitting back or shoving their heads in the sand hoping all the negativity will just go away.
It won’t and you already know it. You just need to say it out-loud more often and actually do something about this. Instead, chin up, standout, demand and effect change. Change that only begins if you and your spouse are well informed about facts so that my children, your children and our nephews and nieces can grow up without fear.
Find an anti-Islamophobia cause (e.g., simply handing out informational leaflets about misunderstood aspects of Islam OR all out civil rights activism, etc.,) that fits with your schedule and ability and become an active part of it, whatever come may.
FOR STARTERS, WHAT SHOULD MUSLIM PARENTS DO?
We need to equip ourselves and our young millennial teenage children with knowledge about our most eminent scientists, philosophers and mathematicians to inspire our next generation of Muslim youth and children to propel forward.
For a period spanning more than half a millennium, the international language of science was Arabic. And yet, all of these great achievements have been largely forgotten. In Baghdad, for example, we find the very first book on algebra. Called Kitab al-Jabr (from which we derive the word “algebra”), it was written by the 9th century Persian mathematician, Al-Khwarizmi, and signified a significant paradigm shift from the work of the Ancient Greeks. Also in the 9th century, the Abbasid caliph Al-Ma’mun created a new academy in Baghdad, called the House of Wisdom, and built observatories there and in Damascus. He sponsored science projects that made vast improvements in the fields of astronomy and geography, and which the Muslim, Christian and Jewish scholars of the Baghdad academy had translated into Arabic. The Cordoban (Spain) physician Al-Zahrawi invented more than 200 surgical instruments – many of which, like forceps and the surgical syringe, are still in use today. Advances in medicine and anatomy also saw Arabic texts replace the works of Galen and Hippocrates in the libraries of medieval Europe while the philosophers Ibn Sina and Ibn Rushd influenced later European scholars, such as Roger Bacon and St Thomas Aquinas. Then there was the birth of industrial chemistry, with sophisticated scientific methods replacing the haphazard practice of alchemy, and advances in fields such as optics that would not be matched until Newton. But many Muslims appear to have forgotten the wonderful contributions made by their ancestors. (Source: Does the Muslim world need a scientific renaissance? By Jim al-Khalili, 20 October 2015, Aljazeera.com)
Our teenage children and youth should also be encouraged to read important books like “Lost History” or “A World Without Islam”, which focuses on the role of Islam during the age of the Islamic renaissance. For example – in Muslim Cordoba (Spain), scribes produced 60,000 books a year, while the largest library elsewhere in Europe staggered with no more than 600 at the time:
“Muslim Cordoba had running water and streetlights when Paris was a sewer. Navigation, mathematics, optics philosophy and chemistry had all flourished in the Muslim world and made their way slowly into medieval Europe . . . which had come in part because Muslims translated and studied Greek science and philosophy, then innovated beyond what they found there . . . (Source: Noah Feldman, Author, After Jihad, Page 40)
This of course happened at a time when the sprawling and increasingly diverse Muslim community was united in the goal of learning and the only intra-battle taking place among each other was who had the best center of learning, regardless of system or sect of belief, Shia or Sunni or any up to 72 sects reportedly within Islam as of 2016, a large proportion of whom the majority Sunnis consider heretics today.
WHAT ELSE SHOULD OUR CHILDREN BE ENCOURAGED TO LEARN AND READ?
Muslim children also ought to be taught about the incredible moral qualities of Saladin, at a time when barbarism was the norm and yet, how well he behaved with the Jews let alone his most ardent enemy, the Christians. The unprecedented triumph of Muslim armies, the glories of the Abbasid, Andalusian or Mughal empires, the scientific advances of the Islamic Middle Ages, the contribution of Islam to the arts and sciences of Western Europe from the time of the Crusades (Source: Page 37, New Jerusalems, Daniel Easterman) are all the more important subjects worth covering today.
This, after our English-speaking mid-to-late teenage children have been asked to read the third most important book in this world after the Qur’an and Hadiths, that is, the biography of Muhammad (PBUH) penned by authors such as Karen Armstrong or Tariq Ramadan, which uniquely does not only focus on detailing the footsteps of Muhammad (PBUH) but also includes unrivalled in-depth reflection on what every trial, tribulation and controversy meant and it’s amazing applicability to current day events. This is an absolute must-read, however religious or non-religious a Muslim teenager may be.
HOW TO TALK ABOUT MUHAMMAD (PBUH) TO CHILDREN?
In terms of areas worth touching on, the best possible starting point might be lessons from the life of Muhammad (PBUH) and in particular, his insistence of setting a good example of being patient, and how he is and remains our absolute role model. How the original Islamophobes of the day, who were very wealthy and powerful used to worship false gods, then known as Lat and Uzza at the time of Muhammad (PBUH) and were threatened by the idea that people all over the Arabian peninsula would start worshipping the one God and stop supporting festivals and pilgrimages that their businesses and their allies depended on.
Our children should also be taught what our true identity is: “Islam is a compassionate, flexible, peace-loving yet pacifist religion, based on the life and actions of Muhammad (PBUH) focused on redistribution of wealth to the poor and needy and social justice for all, Muslims and non-Muslims alike”. The life of our last messenger, Muhammad (PBUH) has been thoroughly profiled by Muslims and non-Muslims alike, providing plenty of anecdotal evidence in favour of this fact. Areas that are widely misunderstood or seemingly controversial at first glance should also never be sidestepped.
Instead, it is upon us parents and every individual ordinary Muslims to leave no stone unturned by learning about the life of Muhammad (PBUH). Only then do the next generation stand a chance.
HOW BEST TO TALK TO CHILDREN ABOUT ISLAM?
Set some random time aside on a regular basis and talk about what it is to be Muslim, by prompting them to ask questions instead of us, parents going on a monologue about the glorious history of Islam and why we will persevere. The most tempting option for most parents is to immediately focus on individuals with Muslim names who commit acts of terror in the name of Islam, by saying “that’s not who we are”. Instead, we should focus on clarifying and reinforcing “who we are as ordinary Muslims”. This way when an act of terror occurs, the action undertaken by the deranged individual or group appears foreign and unrecognisable to the child like the terror of drone strikes in some parts of the world appears a distant idea to most children living in Western countries today.
HOW TO EXPLAIN TO YOUNG CHILDREN THERE ARE BAD MUSLIMS OUT THERE TODAY?
We as parents ought to try and explain matter-of-factly how “there are some bad people out there who want to kill and cause harm to every- one, Muslims and non-Muslims” alike. If relevant (depending on their age), add “and they sometimes call themselves Muslims or Christians but they can’t be as they are not behaving like what Muhammad (PBUH) or Jesus (PBUH) would have if he was alive today”, with plenty of historical biographies by award-winning Muslim and non- Muslim authors to back up your easily substantiated claim.
If necessary in the case where your children are ten years old or more and at the risk of oversimplifying complex foreign policy, religion and terrorism issues, explain how “920 years ago, people who called themselves Christians launched the Crusades and killed between 1-3 million people but again, this has nothing to do with the teachings of Jesus (PBUH) but some very misguided people who thought they were defending their religion, Christianity when God-Allah does not need people to defend his religion”.
To balance your statement (especially if your children are teenagers), it may be worth to immediately add in an equally calm tone: “There are also times when people who do not follow any religion can sometimes be just as evil.
Just over forty years ago in the mid-to-late seventies, around 2 million people were killed in Cambodia by the atheist military. The US and UK government have also bombed many cities including Iraq and Afghanistan killing millions of innocent people. China as the world’s largest atheist country is responsible for the death of millions over the years.
The point is and however overly simplistic this may sound, “violence is bad and people who kill are wrong but no religion preaches violence. People or individuals make choices whether they want to be good or bad”.