Imam Khalil Akbar, Masjid Ash-Shaheed
Islamophobia was defined by the British Runnymede as: “The view that Islam has no values in common with other cultures; is inferior to the West; is a violent political ideology rather than a religion; that its criticisms of the West have no substance; and that discriminatory practices against Muslims are justified.”
For the overwhelming majority of the more than 1 billion Muslims, including this Muslim, the above description of Islam is utterly false, offensive and contrary to what Islam is and has proven to be throughout its history. If any scholarly person would care to do an objective, unbiased study on Islam and Muslims from authentic sources, including those of non- Muslims, they would meet with some incidences of violence in Islamic history, but this would pale in comparison with the overall picture of tolerance, peace and forbearance of Islam.
Islam can no more be charged with the extreme behavior of some of its adherents than other religions can be charged with the extreme behavior of their adherents. I am confident that if the tenets of all faiths were measured by the action of some of their so-called faithful that they would appear to be as exotic as this thing that is defined as Islamophobia.
Let us consider a few of the non-Muslim writers who cared to undertake an objective study of Islam:
Thomas Carlyle (1890) in “Heroes and Hero Worship” and “Hero in History” states, “The lies (Western slander) which well-meaning zeal has heaped round this man (the Propet Muhammed) is disgraceful to ourselves only.”
De Lacy O'Leary (1923) in “Islam at the Crossroads,” London, states: “ History makes it clear, however, that the legend of fanatical Muslims sweeping through the world and forcing Islam at the point of the sword upon the conquered races is one of the more fanatically absurd myths that historians have ever repeated.”
Mahatma Gandhi, (1924) in a statement published in “Young India” said, “I wanted to know the best of life one who holds today an undisputed sway over the hearts of millions of Mankind…. I became more than ever convinced that it was not the sword that won a place for Islam in those days in the scheme of life. It was the rigid simplicity, the utter self-effacement of the Prophet, the scrupulous regard for pledges, his intense devotion to his friends and followers, his intrepidity, his fearlessness, his absolute trust in God and in his own mission. These and not the sword carried everything before them and surmounted every obstacle. When I closed the second volume (of the Prophet's biography) I was sorry there was not more for me to read of that great life.”
What is the Image of Islam & Muslims?
According to polls …
57% of Americans believe Muslims should undergo more intensive security checks at airports.
52% believe Muslims are not respectful of women (Gallo).
44% believe Muslims are too extreme in their religious beliefs.
40% believe Muslims are not respectful of other religions.
39% believe Muslims should be required to carry a special ID.
34% believe Muslims are sympathetic to al Qaida.
33% believe the religion- Islam – stokes violence.
27% believe Muslims should be required to register their location with the federal government.
28% believe mosques should be monitored by law enforcement agencies
22% believ Muslims should be profiled as potential threats.
Additionally… 46% of those Americans polled have a negative view of Islam, and
40% indicated that they would be less likely to patronize Muslim-owned businesses.
Where does this image come from?
The actions of some Muslims
Some extremists take elements of the sacred scriptures out of context. They act as individuals and when they can't come together as part of a political structure or consultative process, you find these dissident factions creating their own rules, contrary to the spirit of the Qur'an- which demands that those in authority must consult together regarding society's affairs. In fact there is a whole chapter in the Qur'an called Consultation.
Communal well being is central to human life, so there is a concept in Islam called Istihsan, which means “to look for the common good.” Even though the Qur'an may lay down a rule, scholars are supposed to consider the circumstances prevalent at the time. For instance, a person who steals bread during a famine is not treated as a thief. As a Muslim, I have a duty to speak out against the reprehensible acts in the name of Islam such as suicide bombings, the indiscriminate killing of innocent people. This terrorism has nothing to do with the beliefs either of Islam or of most Muslims. The Qur'an specifically declares: “If anyone murders an (innocent) person, it will be as if he has murdered the whole of humanity. And if anyone saves a person it will be as if he has saved the whole of humanity.”
Another reason for this image is not differentiating between Islam and Muslims. To say the least it is amazing that Muslims are projected as being monolithic as if all 1.25 billion think and believe alike. Whenever some terrorist act is committed by some person who claims to be an adherent to Islam, he or she is labeled “An Islamic Terrorist.” On the other hand when some person who claims to be Christian or Jewish commits a crime or even a terrorist act, the media does not label them a Christian or Jewish Terrorist.
People who should know better
This may sound crazy but some very influential people in the government, military, and political life have made statements that helped create the climate of Islamophobia. We will offer a few from the list.
South Carolina Board of Education member, Dr. Henry Jordan
“Screw the Buddhists and kill the Muslims.” “… the religion is a ‘cult' that worships Lucifer.””
North Carolina State Legislator, Sam Ellis: “I don't want the students in the university system to be required to study this evil,” referring to a college assignment to read the Qur'an
Representative Peter King (R-NY):
“No American Muslim leaders are cooperating in the war on terror.”
“80-85% of mosques in this country are controlled by Islamic fundamentalists.”
Representative Saxby Chambliss (R-GA): “Arrest every Muslim that comes across the state line.”
A number of media pundits, celebrities and personalities have made statements that helped create Islamophobia. Space and time will not allow us to name and quote them.
But saddest of all, religious leaders and representatives of some faith communities have helped to create this fear.
Disparaging signs in front of churches announcing that the Qur'an should be flushed or statements that Muslims are worse than Nazis, Islam is a violent religion, Islam is essentially a Christian Heresy, and Muhammed was a Terrorist, have contributed to this climate.
What can be done to dispel Islamophobia?
Educate: The name of Islam is given in the Qur'an and comes from the word salaam – (peace). The Qur'an presents a belief in the universal existence of God, one God for –all. It does not discriminate against peoples; it says we may be from different tribes, but we are all human and the best of people are the most God-Conscious.
The Qur'an is full of stories and lessons from the history of humanity as a whole. The Gospels and the Torah are referred to; Jesus and Abraham are mentioned. In fact there is more mention of the Prophet Moses than any other. It acknowledges that other cultures can live together in peace.
It states, “Let there be no compulsion in religion” meaning that people should not be compelled to change their faith. Elsewhere it states, “To you, your religion; to me, mine.”
Finally moderation is a part of faith; those who say that fanaticism is part and parcel of Islam should learn a bit more about it.
The Prophet said “Ruined are those who insist on hardship in faith,” and “A believer remains within the scope of his religion as long as he doesn't kill another person illegally.” Such knowledge and words of guidance are desperately needed at this time to separate fact from falsehood, and to recognize the Prophet Mohammed's own definition of that which makes a person representative, or otherwise, of the faith he lived and the one we try to teach.
In closing, I will read from the Qur'an, Chapter 2 (Al-Baqarah or the Cow) Verse 62 and Chapter 5 (Al-Ma'idah or The Repast) Verse 48.
2: 62… Those who believe (in the Qur'an) and those who follow the Jewish Scriptures, and the Christians, and the Sabians, any who believe in G'd and the last day, and work righteousness shall have their reward from their Lord; on them shall be no fear nor shall they grieve.
5:48… To each among you we have given a Law and Open Way (Torah, Gospel, Qur'an). If G'd had so willed, He would have made you one community, but his plan is to test you in what He has given you: so strive as if in a race toward all that is good. The goal of you all is to G'd; it is He that will show you the truth of the matters in which you dispute.
Rabbi Judith Schindler, Temple Beth El
Confronting anti-Semitism and Islamophobia
Rev. Dr. H. Stephen Shoemaker