Clergy Corner

Understanding and Countering Islamophobia

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Today, our men and women, young, middle-aged, and elderly, are proud of their Islamic identity. They feel proud to practice Islam and to defend it. They know that the accusations against Islam are rumors and falsehoods that will not stand the test of time and reality. It will not be long before people discover the truth after the dust of wars and political conflicts settle, and people can distinguish the truth from the falsehood.Islamophobia is a term that describes the warped feelings some people have and their resulting behavior toward Islam and Muslims.

It is well known that phobias are a group of psychological disorders that afflict a person with extreme and irrational fear from a particular thing or situation. These fears cannot be justified logically, thus making it all the more difficult to ease such fear by reason, logical arguments or proofs. For example, some people who suffer from Achluophobia (Fear of darkness) cannot be persuaded logically that there is nothing to fear about darkness.

 It should be apparent that when dealing with an Islamophobe, all the logical arguments, interpretations, and explanations used by defenders of Islamic culture, politics, and civilization are made in vain. Even when Muslims have legitimate rights being trampled upon, an Islamophobe is not going to see that.

In the final analysis, what rules the Islamophobe’s day are the strong feelings and attitudes that were nurtured and cultivated by hostile misinformation and/ or disinformation and propaganda. How do we deal with this illness? First we have to understand the sickness for there to be a cure.

Who promotes Islamophobia?

An important question to ask is: “Why Islam, in particular, is being targeted?” The answer lies in the following question: “Who benefits by attacking Islam?” Obviously, there are certain groups, entities, and countries that benefit from attacking Islam and promoting hate and hostility towards its adherents.

Those who have something to gain by promoting hate of Islam are, among others, a) secular fundamentalists, b) Zionists, and c) Christian fundamentalists.

The secularists don’t want to see any religion become popular as is the case with Islam. The Zionist political lobbying groups aim at denying Palestinians both their legitimate rights as well their land, and many anti-Arab and anti-Muslim movies are even being made in Israel. And last but not least are the Christian fundamentalist groups which are under the Zionist movement and want to see the region ruled by the Jews before the end of the world.

These groups basically manipulate religious complexities and old stereotypes to create hatred for Palestinians and other Arabs–whose majority is Muslim—and deny them any room for sympathy from the broader public

Why Islam is being targeted

Islam is being targeted for many other reasons. First, we can safely say that Islam stands at the world stage as the main ideological challenge to other world ideologies and intellectual currents, especially the ones with neo-colonial intent.

Islam, with its strong intellectual, political, moral, and theological components, is regarded as a threat by the neo-colonial forces of our times. These forces find that in promoting conflicts, civil strife and wars, they have effective tools to achieve their strategy of “divide and conquer”.

Some religious groups are also resorting to distortions and defamation campaigns because they find people’s interest in Islam – the fastest growing religion in the world today – threatening. They like to keep their followers in line and discourage them from even thinking of converting.

Unfortunately, the polemical anti-Islam campaigns are made easier by the conduct of some ignorant and extreme elements in our own Muslim world. This is especially true of those who interpret Islam through their narrow loyalties and political frustrations. They have grievances and anger with Western governments and corporations due to their policies in the Islamic world. These elements are also disturbed by their own oppressive governments. Due in part to these ingredients as well as others, the extreme elements develop an intolerant outlook that is at odds with the true spirit of Islam. The faith of Islam views all humanity as one, depending upon God. It cares about the suffering of all people. The true spirit of Islam is openness and fairness towards all. It seeks to spread virtue, love and tolerance among all.

Countering Islamophobia

The critical question is: how do we counter this new form of racism that is gaining momentum day after day? Do we act like an ostrich that buries its head in the sand, to avoid facing painful realities and leave our fate in the hands of destiny?

Instead, I think we as Muslim should study the situation we are going through carefully and benefit from the past experiences of other religious and ethnic minorities in the U.S. that have met similar challenges. They have largely succeeded in defeating prejudice and defamation campaigns in the media and have become fully integrated in society. We should develop our own agenda for action and take lessons from history to defend our rights.

Failure to take action and surrender to a perceived fate is not consistent with the characteristics of a vibrant Islamic community that takes guidance from Islamic teachings of wisdom, patience, and persistence.

Duties of Islamic Scholars and Institutions

At the most basic level, Islamic scholars and institutions should help guide our young people to get higher education that focus on needed specializations. They should help them critically examine their thinking and perceptions about what to study in a university. They should especially offer scholarships for those specializations that are critically needed in shaping public attitudes and defend the image of Islam and Muslims especially in the fields of mass communications, journalism, communication technologies, and the humanities.

A better approach might be the establishment of offices for special counseling and college admission assistance in areas that have high concentration of Islamic populations. These offices should help the students build realistic expectations about areas of study, employment opportunities, and the rewards and challenges of certain professions and specializations.

Many of our youth choose their studies with very little information and counseling and end up dissatisfied with their choice or college experience or become overwhelmed with the challenges of university and the demands of life. Worse yet, those who graduate from college sometimes might not even find employment.

Here are a few practical ideas that we could work on:

  • Our institutions should support community-owned media businesses that offer journalistic, educational, and cultural products. They should also encourage all community members and Muslims to support such businesses morally and financially.
  • Our scholars, educated members of the community, and our institutions should encourage community development efforts. A well-developed community is a successful one. A strong and prosperous community is the best protection against abuse and malice. It can fend off defamation and smear campaigns.
  • It is necessary for our Islamic institutions to open up to American civil society groups and American cultural and religious institutions. Bridges and communication channels should be built to work with other faiths and groups in cooperation for the common good. Collaboration in charity work and other humanitarian relief efforts will help break the isolation of Islamic communities as well as generate goodwill. If we truly want other people to form a fair perception about our Islam and us and dispel the horrible stereotypes about us that the media is attempting to impose on the public opinion, then we should break out of our isolation. Isolation and non-participation cannot protect us. That is exactly what our enemies want for us; they want to isolate people from us and isolate us from people.
  • Islamic scholars should contribute to the general debates about society problems and issues at large, such as education, health issues, abortions, and similar cultural matters. There is an Islamic perspective on all of these issues including social and legal issues. It is inevitable that Islamic rhetoric has to be modernized, and it is an imperative that our scholars everywhere step out of their historical, cultural, and ethnic enclaves and face modernity and its challenges.

 Muslims should not lose hope

The United States of America is the land of opportunity, and we have many opportunities here. But the material opportunity is not the greatest among them. The greatest opportunity bestowed by God on us here is the freedom to worship according to Islam.

Today, our men and women, young, middle-aged, and elderly, are proud of their Islamic identity. They feel proud to practice Islam and to defend it. They know that the accusations against Islam are rumors and falsehoods that will not stand the test of time and reality. It will not be long before people discover the truth after the dust of wars and political conflicts settle, and people can distinguish the truth from the falsehood. It is God’s promise in the Qur’an that what benefits people will prevail at the end and stays on Earth:

“[Whenever] He sends down water from the sky, and [once-dry] river-beds are running high according to their measure, the stream carries scum on its surface; and, likewise, from that [metal] which they smelt in the fire in order to make ornaments or utensils, [there rises] scum. In this way does God set forth the parable of truth and falsehood: for, as far as the scum is concerned, it passes away as [does all] dross; but that which is of benefit to man abides on earth. In this way does God set forth the parables.” (Qur’an 13:17)

If we were true believers, we would not move backward in defeat. On the contrary, we should join hands and move forward. Yes, there are great pressures on us at the moment, but we have a great example in the life of our Prophet (peace be upon him and his progeny). He suffered persecution, pressures, false rumors, and falsehoods about his character and about his revealed religion. A vicious hate campaign was conducted against him. He and his companions were even made to live in abject poverty in a kind of internment camp in total isolation from the rest of society until the infidels of Quraish thought that they have broken the back of his movement.

Yet he and his faithful rebounded quickly. A true faithful cannot be uprooted. Events can put pressure on him or her, but at the end he or she rebounds, like a grain plant that bends once and rebounds again, as the Prophet said. A true faithful is, as the Quran puts it, “Like a goodly tree, whose root is firmly fixed, and its branches (reach) to the heavens – of its Lord. It brings forth its fruit at all times, by the leave of its Lord.” (14:24-25)

This article originally appeared in a previous issue of Islamic Insights.

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