Friends, this week I received an email from the Council on American-Islamic Relations, notifying me of the shameful protests that took place in Orange County, California last month. Richard Adams of the The Guardian called the protests "the ugly face of Islamophobia" quite generously, if you ask me. Where has this hate come from? There is no suggestion in these protests that people want to sit down and clarify misconceptions. The protesters show no interest in learning about the 'other' in order to dispel myths that spur on their hatred. On the contrary, the politicians who spoke at the event blatantly oppose diversity and equality. Republican Ed Royce argues in his speech that "multiculturalism" is a threat to society. Is the hate speech saturating these protests terrifyingly reminiscent of the Nazi Regime, of the Ku Klux Klan? Note that the Muslims attending the fundraiser behave non-violently towards the protesters, despite the offensive blasphemy of the Prophet Muhammad ( صـلى الله علـيه و سـلم ).
Today Kim posted a link to Filmaker Usama Alshaibi's account of what he calls an "Anti-Arab attack." Reading his story, I encountered a "new" hateful American vocabulary word: "sand-nigger." I am sickened to even post it, but I feel that the term must be closely scrutinized, and considered a warning sign that every conscientious global citizen must act quickly to put out this fire of hatred against Muslims before it spreads any further.
I was originally inspired to write this blog after receiving a completely misguided email from my American Aunt entitled "FWD: Muslim Belief." The email is written for an evangelical Christian audience, and begins with the warning that "The Muslim religion is the fastest growing religion per capita in the United States, especially in the minority races," three exclamation points following. I must clarify for those of you who are not threatened by this statement, that it is meant to conjure fear in the reader - fear of Muslim people, fear of Islam, fear of the unknown. The email continues to claim that all Muslims have been commanded to kill 'infidel' non-Muslims, and describes one Imam of being shamed like "a little boy who had just been caught with his hand in the cookie jar" when he was 'cornered' into admitting this belief to a Christian man.
I don't have to tell you that misunderstanding and misconceptions about Islam are running rampant in the US and abroad. We all have stories about our families, our friends, our neighbours, and even ourselves making inaccurate judgments about Islam and Muslim people. I remember years ago when I was a young Christian growing up in Full-Gospel Church of God, and my teachers gave me a blue two-pocket folder with fluorescent orange papers inside. The pages described all of the 'false' world religions, including Islam. I remember when missionaries came to the church and told us how distant Muslims feel from God. One evangelist told us that to Muslims, God is a heartless observer, hovering over the world with something comparable to a club in his hand, just waiting to punish anyone who makes a mistake.
This was long before 9/11. So why didn't anyone tell me at that point how Muslims open every prayer?
Several weeks ago in my job interview with the Islamic Human Rights Commission, I was asked what connection I see between Islam and Human Rights. This was the last question of the interview. I definitely had not consciously prepared for this one at all, although some of you may think it would be an obvious one for them to ask. Several years ago, I doubt that I would have answered the way that I did. It wasn't just to get the job that I told the interviews that Islam mandates human rights. A deep value for human life is embedded in the Islamic faith. I referenced a passage from the Quranic equivalent to the Biblical account of Adam and Eve's sons, Cain and Abel. Al-Maidah 32
whoever kills a soul unless for a soul228 or for corruption [done] in the land229 – it is as if he had slain mankind entirely. And whoever saves one230 – it is as if he had saved mankind entirely.
228 in legal retribution for murder
229 that requiring the death penalty
230 or refrains from killing
Sometimes I don't know what topic to address first. I am so eager to learn about Islam, and I feel overwhelmed by how much more there is to learn. I've hardly begun reading Hadiths of the Prophet ( صـلى الله علـيه و سـلم ), as I'm now focusing on the Quran. Regardless of whether or not I consider Islam a religion worthy of conversion, how essential it is in our day and age to be educated with the faith and people of Islam. For political reasons, in order to pursue a peaceful future, and to dismantle the hatred that is rising up against Muslims, I must be well-informed about their beliefs and the process behind them. When horrid displays of ignorance about Islam arise, such as the protests in Orange County, my drive to become as informed about Islam as possible grows stronger. I do hope that I can articulate some of my learnings through my posts here, and I ask for your patience as they unfold.