By Muhammad Yunus, New Age Islam
(Co-author (Jointly with AshfaqueUllah Syed), Essential Message of Islam, Amana Publications, USA, 2009.)
15 July 2017
- A Rejoinder to Zainab Arain’s article ‘The Four Main Sources of Islamophobia in America’ published on March 30, 2017.
Zainab Arain’s article attempts to identify the factors contributing to Islamophobia. It is a fairly accurate assessment of the extraneous factors that have led to the escalation of this menace in recent years, but falls short of tracing its history dating from early 90’s and does not recommend any way forward to diffuse this ever growing menace. She rightly identifies American media’s double standard of reporting as the number 1 cause of this menace; and substantiates her claims with 2011-15 statistics showing 449% higher level of reporting of terrorist attacks committed by Muslim terror outfits as compared to other groups. But this data is merely the tips of an iceberg. Islamophobia has been gaining momentums since the early 90’s. It is important that we begin our exercise from this timeline to comprehend the colossal role of American media in creating a vicious perception of Islam and Muslims that has given rise to the other complementary sources of Islamophobia - namely US foreign policy, US political rhetoric and Islamophobic network as listed in the featured article. This brings us to the Edward Said’s following remark, appearing in his 1997 publication, ‘Covering Islam’: “No one in the American media has held forth for so long (at least two decades) in accents of such racial hatred and contempt against a given culture and people as he (Martin Peretz, the owner of the journal, ‘The New Republic’) has said about Islam and the Arab world. There is a great deal in what he has said over the years that go well beyond the rational defence (of Israel) and his columns of unadulterated, irrational and vulgar defamations are truly unsurpassed anywhere.”
The anti-Islamic legacy of the media has, over time, created a perception among American people, media, politicians and Islam sceptical groups that Islam is an evil or fake religion and Muslims are no good people and a threat to Western civilization. This perception peaked with 9/11 attacks and though subsided in later years, gained fresh impetus with the emergence of ISIS and found its public expression in the recent anti-Sharia Law marches across America (June 2017).Zainab’s article has simply blamed Islamophobia for this perception and made no attempt to probe its civilisational roots – apart from the Media’s machination.
The concluding subheading of the article regarding countering Islamophobia begins with a call “to support organizations that conduct research, engage in advocacy, and use legal methods to counter institutional Islamophobia.” This, though very pertinent, is by itself no solution to this ever growing menace. One may even argue that it throws the debate into an academiccum statistics quagmire where it can only sink indefinitely without bringing any remission of this metastasizing malaise.
The organizations cited - the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), the Georgetown Bridge Initiative, the Southern Poverty Law Centre have been active over the last 2-3 decades. Year by year during this period, Islamophobia has been growing to new heights – especially after each major terror attack in the Western world. As noted in the opening paragraph of the Zainab’s referenced article, “since the year (2017) began, Muslims in the United States have been beaten up, spit on, harassed, and threatened; their places of worship have been burnt to the ground and vandalized.”
Hence, one wonders if the research-advocacy-legal approach of American/ Muslim organizations is going to achieve anything substantive in diffusing Islamophobia, and unless the civilisational causes of Islamophobia are identified and addressed, it may assume a lethal dimension and help realize Donald Trump’s campaign agenda of “total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States.” 
The root of the problem lies in contradictory perceptions. Though seldom probed by American Muslims, they must introspect and look at themselves in the mirror of those who fear and hate them. Any honest introspection will reveal the following dichotomy in the perception of religious, cultural and civilisational notions that have contributed to Islamophobia, in addition to the double standard of media and other three complementary factors as noted by Zainab Arain.
i) Dichotomy in Perception of Sharia Law of Islam.
In the perception of many Americans who are, if anything, more afraid of Islam today than before, the Sharia Law is inhuman and a threat to American civilization and must be banned. The perception, based on Islamophobic literature is reinforced by ISIS’s justification of its horrendous crimes by the Sharia Law of Islam. The American Muslims on the other hand glorify Sharia Law of Islam as a treasure-chest of noble rulings, without realizing that in the hands of the terror outfits and their ideologues of this era it has lost all its nobility and became an evil institution that is justifiably dreaded and abhorred by the lay Americans. Hence there is a dichotomy of perception between the Islam sceptical Americans and Sharia Law admiring Muslims about the very notion of Sharia Law of Islam, and unless this is corrected Americans will remain scared of Sharia Law of Islam and abhor Muslims who identify themselves with it -until eternity. The article referenced below  attempts to correct this misperception and needs to be communicated through anti-ISIS rallies in American cities with sizeable Muslim populations.
ii) The Double Entente in Islamic Narratives
Not covered, or even touched in the passing in Zainab Arain’s article is the double entente (double meaning) in popular Islamic religious narratives propagated by Wahhabi-Salafi ideologues, extremists and hatemongering Ulema. Such narratives claim that all the noble Ahkamat (commandments) of the Qur’an such as relating to liberty, equity, good deeds, justice, charity, generosity, mercy, compassion, forgiveness etc. are applicable exclusively for the Muslims and are forbidden to the non-Muslims, who are to be treated with contempt and scorn and hated as enemy of God (Kuffar).It is also said that Muslims must not engage the Kafirs in employment, or must not work for Kafirs, or must not live in the land of the Kafirs for a long period of time. Some have gone as far as to say that Muslims must not participate in the recreational and artistic activities of the Kafirs and not celebrate their birthdays including that of their Prophets. Others claim that the key humanistic, altruistic and pluralistic verses of the Qur’an are abrogated and only those relating to the five pillars of faith and jihad are eternally valid.
Hence, this dichotomy in the preaching of the Qur’anic message must be corrected or else some Imams and Ulema, however few in number, will propagate the poisonous version of Islam– that is no Islam at all, as they are doing this very day in many mosques around the world. And as bad news hits the media and gets extensive coverage, their venom will continue spread through the Internet and feed Islamophobia.
iii) Creating a Civilization within a Civilization in the False Name of ‘Islamisation’
Complete omission of the political events of the post war era will leave a big gap in this exercise. Hence, there is a need to summarily reminisce on the events fresh in memory.
Continued occupation of Palestine ensured by America’s carte blanche military support and vetoes, coupled with humiliating defeat of Arab armies in a series of Arab-Israel wars through the 50’s to early 80’s (1948–49, 1956, 1967, 1973, and 1982 to be more precise) created strong anti-American sentiments in the Muslim world. This, with rising Oil revenue in the wake of energy crisis of the 70’s triggered a cultural shift across the Muslim world in the form of visible display of Islamic symbols or so-called ‘Islamisation’ (an euphemism for ‘Arabisation’). By the 90’s, the Muslims began to adopt Arabic symbols, clichés and customs such as using the Arabic word for God (Allah), getting their girls to wear a ‘Hijab’ or face veil, using Arabic expressions to punctuate their conversations in various native tongues and so forth. A host of Muslim organizations spawned major American cities that saw construction of new mosques with imperial facades, Islamic centres or acquisition of and remodelling of existing properties (notably idle Churches). The leaders of these organizations and their mostly hired mosque imams enthusiastically and arrogantly campaigned to creating a distinct religion based identity of American Muslims. They also openly claimed spiritual purity of their faith, embarked on a conversion drive supported by overseas Dawa (proselytisation) teams and boasted on each case of conversions, tacitly proclaiming the superiority of their faith.
In their euphoria to reconstruct an Islamic civilization, the American Muslims failed to realize that their sudden visibility, religious symbolism, proselytisation and vocal aspirations to form a parallel Islamic civilization sent waves of fear in the hearts of the common Americans - a fear of cultural invasion. This only reinforced the misperceptions about Islam and created an unhealthy divide between the American Muslims and the mainstream Christian society.
The Muslims’ ill-conceived bid at superficial “Islamisation,” while living in a predominantly Christian country which gave them citizenship, full civil liberties, and more rights and prospects than their own Islamic homelands is yet another contributory factor to Islamophobia, that the America Muslim leadership fail to realize, probably to this day.
Some five years ago (Feb 2012), this writer had tabled a 12 point agenda to diffuse Islamophobia in America by removing misperceptions. This is equally valid this day and can be regarded as a way forward to diffuse Islamophobia in America. The points are bulletined below and elaborated in the article referenced below :
1. The mosque and community discourses in English must use the English verbal symbol God for the ‘the One God’ and not the Arabic word, Allah. Any insistence to fix an Arabic name for God reduces Islam to an exclusive Arabic religion and feeds the growing anti-Islamic propaganda and Islamophobia. According to the Qur’an God is remembered in all places of worship - churches, synagogues, monasteries and mosques (22:40) in the native languages of the worshippers. So the English speaking Muslim should call Allah God as much as the Arab Christians call Him Allah.
2. The Qur’anic verses on religious plurality (2:62, 2:136, 5:69..) that project the God as the Lord of all humanity including Christians and Jews should be inscribed in bold or gold on mosque façades in large letters, to show the affinity of Islam with Judeo-Christian heritage of America.
3. Muslim youngsters to be groomed to excel in conduct and behaviour to uphold the heritage of their Prophet (33:21) and cultivate an urge for excellence in all lawful pursuits (2:148, 5:48, 49:3) for removing negative stereotypes.
4. Muslims youngsters must participate in diverse cultural activities - games, sports, athletics, swimming, song, dance and music – keeping within bounds of modesty and morality, to help inter-faith interaction as commanded by the Qur’an (49:13).
5. Muslim women in America/the Western world may actively consider giving up the head-ear-chin wraparounds they wear as it gives a false signal of an exaggerated presence amounting to cultural aggression, singles out the veil/Hijab-wearing Muslim women as the ‘others’, gives a false notion of regimentation of Muslim women from different cultures, and hinders their participation in outdoor games, sports, swimming and athletics. Since full veil or covering of head, ear and chin and gender segregation are not any Qur’anic requirement and come in the way of social interaction of Muslim women with the mainstream society as required by their faith, American Muslim women may give up this borrowed fashion that came from Christianity .
6. Muslims must translate their devotion to the great Prophets Jesus Christ and Moses by celebrating the Christmas/ Yom Kippur for example, in all Islamic centers and mosques in a befitting manner, inviting sympathetic priests and rabbis - and there must be plenty of them - to grace the occasions.
7. Islamic centres should be laid out as architecturally compatible functional buildings that will combine its dual role as house of prayer (mosque) and centre for community service (free health clinic, food bank, free IT training etc. in present day context) as required by their faith and practiced in early Islam.
8. The gender segregation in mosques in the Western world, where there is no gender segregation in public place is meaningless, and undermines Islam’s image as a universal gender-just faith. In the same spirit, Muslim women, whom the Qur’an projects as co-guardians of men (9:71) should not be barred from leading a congregation prayer as traditionally imposed.
9. A professional mosque imam, if engaged, should have the following credentials to effectively play his community and inter-faith role as a witness to humanity (2:143, 22:78) and to defend the faith and the Prophet in the media.
• Adequate universal education, IT skill and command in English written communication.
• Well read on the clear Ahkamat (commandments) of the Qur’an that he may convey to the community as part of Friday pre-prayer address (Khutba).
• Well read on the noble personal qualities of the Prophet, drawn on historically authentic sources consistent with the Qur’anic allusions.
• Have a basic idea of American history and law and achievements of its iconic figures for Allah of the Muslims is Rab Il Alamin – Lord of all humanity, and His bounties are not limited to the people of Arabia alone.
• Clearly understand the dichotomy between Islamic theological disciplines (Classical Islamic Sharia, Hadith and the Sira of the Prophet), and the Qur’an
10. Muslim leaders, spokesmen, Ulema and imams must be respectful to all faiths and faith-communities, quote only what is the best in the Qur’an as it enjoins (39:18, 39:55), must not make any statement that purports to undermine other faiths, promote hatred, feed religious bigotry radicalization, gender and racial discrimination, cultural alienation and other vices with which Islam and Muslims are brush-stroked today.
11. The Muslims must stop debating whose religion is the most perfect and instead preach the fellow Muslims to excel in goodness and lawful pursuits and to cultivate other universal virtues (justice, forgiveness, tolerance, good neighbourly relations etc.) as their faith (the Qur’an) enjoins.
12. The Muslims must shun any proselytizing as today it is far more important for the Muslims to gain the respect and admiration of the people of other faiths, that in its early centuries brought converts, rather than soliciting others who despise and trivialize them to join their faith, which in their eyes is an outdated religion if not a militant cult.
Finally, to wrap up this essay, the author will remind American Muslim intellectuals and leaders of the following universal pronouncements of the Qur’an - no matter they believe in its divinity or dismiss it as an antiquated book:
“Indeed the worst kind of all living creatures in God’s sight are the deaf and dumb, who do not use reason” (8:22).
“… God does not change the condition of a people, unless they change themselves…” (13:11), also 8:53.
– A 12 Point Agenda For Serious Consideration By The Board Of All Mosques And Islamic Centres And The Whole Spectrum Of Muslim Community Leaders In America.
 Karen Armstrong, Islam, A short history, New York 2002, p. 16.
Muhammad Yunus, a Chemical Engineering graduate from Indian Institute of Technology, and a retired corporate executive has been engaged in an in-depth study of the Qur’an since early 90’s, focusing on its core message. He has co-authored the referred exegetic work, which received the approval of al-Azhar al-Sharif, Cairo in 2002, and following restructuring and refinement was endorsed and authenticated by Dr. KhaledAbou El Fadl of UCLA, and published by Amana Publications, Maryland, USA, 2009.
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