By Nikos Barbaressos
26 November 2016
The election of Donald Trump has brought fear to Muslims and other minority groups, and rightfully so. After all, it was the new President-elect of the United States who used the rhetoric of fear and hatred in order to gain momentum which eventually got him where he is today. Initially I felt horrified myself; I felt scared not so much for myself but for all Muslims in the US and especially the hijabi women whose faith is more visible than the rest of us and are bound to face more danger than the rest. A couple of days later and after coming to terms with this new reality, I admitted to myself that Islamophobia, fear, and racism are not new to this country. These sentiments have always been there but were suppressed. With the election of Donald Trump, the silent majority, as they are called, no longer have to suppress their feelings and are now able to act upon them as they please. Having said that, it’s time that we Muslims took some serious steps in combating Islamophobia, but how do we do it?
“Muslims need to condemn every terrorist attack that happens.”
Anyone with a good moral compass would condemn any terror attack against innocent people, Muslim or non–Muslim. Every time, after any terror attack, we Muslims are asked to apologize for it. Why should we apologize? I, and 99% of the Muslim population, do not accept what ISIS and other terror groups do in the name of our religion and we are equally horrified and saddened. At the same time, we have nothing to apologize for, the same way we do not expect anyone else to apologize for the actions committed by a group he or she affiliates with. With this, I know that for many Americans, Islam is still a relatively new subject and I can see why many people are scared of Islam and Muslims; they are scared because they do not know what Islam is aside from what Hollywood, the media and so called “experts” tell them it is. So instead of apologizing every time a tragic attack takes place, we as Muslims need to do a better job in making these fears go away. But how can we do this?
Become an Active Member in Your Local Community
We need to be more open with our communities and be engaged with them, and actively partake in social activism. I am aware of these kind of things happening already, but we need more of it and more regularly, not just when something tragic takes place or an event which can have further implications, such as the election of Donald Trump. Following the victory of Donald Trump, I have seen pictures of flowers, cookies and warm hearted letters from non-Muslims sent to our local mosques; today during Jummah prayers, non-Muslims were standing outside mosques all around the United States in solidarity with us and showing us that we are not alone. As much as it was a beautiful thing to witness, it made me think; would we do something like this for another group?
A lot of us tend to be enclosed in our own bubbles and do not reach out to our wider communities. It’s time we started to be more engaged with our local communities at every level, whether it is to show support, partake in an event, or just to spread some love. We need to open our mosques to our communities; we could organize dinners, or a ‘meet your local Muslim’ event. Many Americans have never been to a Masjid before, therefore it should be our duty to invite them and show them there is nothing to be afraid of and also take away some of the misconceptions.
Get An Islamic Education
Several universities offer degrees in Islamic Studies but most of these programs consist of a few Muslims scholars and the rest are non-Muslim. By no means am I saying that non-Muslims scholars are not doing a good job teaching about Islam, most of them do a wonderful job, however, it is crucial to have Muslim scholars in secular academia teaching our traditions and faith to all of our youth and to do so in an “I want to educate you” tone, rather than a “I want to convert you” one. We have so many great scholars and teachers of Islam but they should also take part in not just educating Muslims, but non-Muslims as well within public education.
Discuss Social Injustice
I know our Imams, and especially where I come from in Dallas, are involved with the community. Imams like Omar Suleiman always talk about racial issues and social inequality and are at the forefront of any social cause. We need more of this and not just the interfaith type, but also for any social cause, and even that of the LGBT community. I know most Muslims do not agree with their lifestyle choice, but the same way we want our rights to be respected and for others to support us, we must want the same for all minority communities and we need to fight for their rights as well.
Get Rid Of the Aggressive Dawah
Part of our religion is giving Dawah to non–Muslims and I am all for it, however, what I do not agree with is the “in your face” aggressive Dawah which has become popular in the UK and in the US. It does nothing but alienate people and it reiterates the belief that we Muslims want everyone to convert to Islam. Our Dawah needs to be done in an eloquent fashion and without the goal to convert, but just open people’s minds and hearts. It is also imperative to remember that our manners, behaviour, speech, and character are a form of Dawah as well. With that said, we can be giving Dawah every single moment of our lives without actually saying anything about our religion.
We Need To Come Together As One
One of the major ideas that attracted me to Islam prior to me converting was the notion of the Ummah, of one nation. It doesn’t matter if someone is an Arab, Desi, African, African-American, Slavic or anything else; at the end of the day, we are all brothers and sisters in Islam. Unfortunately this is not the case; there is so much racism within the Ummah and the words of the Prophet (peace be upon him) are no longer practiced. At one point he said:
“Oh people! Your God is one and your forefather (Adam) is one. An Arab is not better than a non-Arab and a non-Arab is not better than an Arab, and a red (i.e. white tinged with red) person is not better than a black person and a black person is not better than a red person, except in piety.”
In addition to racism in the Ummah, there is also the sect division. I personally follow the Sunni tradition, but I will not look down on someone who is Shia, Ismaili, Ahmadi, or anything else. Yes, I may not agree with some of their theology, practices or interpretation of Islam but it does not mean that I would look down upon them. We Muslim-Americans have a distinct identity and whilst we do face discrimination, we are allowed to practice our faith, build our mosques and to create our own identity away from the Middle East, or Pakistan or any other country.
While we keep creating our identity in the United States, we must not let our divisions and ethnicity separate us. To an Islamophobe, we are all Muslim; we are not Arab, Desi, African, White, Sunni, Shia, Ahmadi, Ismaili or whatever other denomination you may be. If they see us as one, we too need to see ourselves as one, and while we may not agree with one another, we can still accept and treat each other with the same respect I believe the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) would have shown.
I am not saying that taking these steps will eradicate Islamophobia, however, these are the first steps to combat it and to start changing our narrative and do away with the Islam depicted in Hollywood, the media, and by the so called “experts” who make a living out of spreading Islamophobia. We cannot just stay idle and let others do the talking for us, we too need to do our part to remove the fear of the unknown from people’s minds.
We need to show that we are as much part of the United States of America as anyone else.