Fear and contempt of Islam – really!
by Aziz Huq
Jeff Siddiqui’s article entitled: “Institutionalized contempt for Islam; How do we tackle it?” inspired me to the computer keyboard and write the following, a recollection of recent events with my comments.
Recently two things happened on the same day which I almost forgot but this article made me realize that may be those events need to be highlighted for our good and that for the community at large.
Towards the early part of October as I was getting ready to start my daily work at office, I got a call from the seventh grade social studies teacher of the local public school. She requested me to give a presentation on Islam. The process had started earlier. One of her students was a Muslim who had suggested my name after she expressed an interest to invite someone to come to the school.
“We are all very excited that you would be coming and we are looking forward to learning more about Islam. We have already invited members of other faiths and that has enhanced the students’ understanding of other peoples faith”. She had a very kind voice and expressed genuine interest in learning about Islam.
She suggested that I bring some things like a copy of the Quran, a prayer rug, kufi or anything to make the presentation instructive. She was very positive when I asked her if a power point presentation would be appropriate. One thing she wanted to ensure from me was that I do not preach. I assured her that my role was to inform them about Islamic culture, history, geography and narrate my positive experience as a practicing Muslim in America.
The time and date was set to be the morning of the next Friday and she assured me that no further confirmation was necessary since this schedule was final. But hours later on the same morning she called me back and informed me that she had spoken to the school principal about my scheduled talk, who suggested that it was necessary to write to the parents and make sure that no body had any objection. So she gave me a new schedule. The new date would have been Friday, October 31st. I quietly told her that it was alright.
Two weeks passed by and I called her on Thursday, 30th October afternoon. She was as nice as before but informed me that the process of getting the responses back from the parents was not yet complete. But she assured me that she would surely call me before “Thanksgiving Day”. I never got a call back and to the best of my knowledge the letter to the parents never went out. A friend of mine suggested that I fight for my right and equal opportunity. I declined to do that because I believe that this was not my right but an opportunity to do good which never came to pass.
On the same Friday 31st I left work earlier to go to the Jumuah prayer and on my way I stopped at the city hospital to visit a co-worker of mine suffering from acute cancer. I had previously cleared this from the family if it was alright to visit him at this stage of his sickness. I was assured that his family appreciated greatly that I was visiting him in the hospital. He is a white, Christian man who worked in the same company as me before he was attacked with this deadly disease.
As I walked into the cancer ward of the hospital I was grateful to Allah for giving me the opportunity to do some thing good while missing out on some other thing.
He was extremely sick but was very happy to see me. As I entered I saw that another man was sitting by his bed side who got up and asked me if he needed to go out. I asked him to stay but what drew my interest was that the gentleman, who was introduced to me as a friend from the church, kept staring at me without a blink. I felt so awkward; so much so that I asked him if he was surprised to see me. He was honest enough to tell me that he was. He kept looking strangely at me while I talked with the sick man I came to see. I was there for close to an hour while initially he mentioned that he might doze off during our conversation but he never did and was all these time very calm and happy. Realizing the strange and blank look at the other visitor I started discussion with him: where he lived, worked (found out that he was a doctor), family and things like that. I saw that as he talked, gradually color and expression and life came back to his face.
I may be wrong in my judgment about his expression. He might have other reasons, thoughts or worries in his mind but that beautiful morning in the hospital I thought that my color of the skin with beard (even though short and well trimmed) and my name must have been the root of his discomfort.
I mention these two incidents: The first one for a missed opportunity to build bridges with the local community by sharing my personal experience as a practicing Muslim in this country and the second for the success in doing good to a fellow human being while hopefully dispelling some fear of the unknown Muslim living in this society.
Now the reason for writing this article.
I was touched by Jeff Siddiqui’s article and his expression of frustration.
When I look around the American Muslim community, I find them going around as if nothing has happened or happening or going to happen. They are busy working, studying, shopping and partying. Islamic centers are either run by busy professionals who are eager to win election but not to serve and in many cases the scholars have knowledge but no wisdom or motivation to work hard. Then I see a small minority of concerned Muslims trying hard to convince others that Islam is a religion of peace and that the Muslims must not be discriminated against. There are some who aspire to follow the Jewish model of socio-political activism. But is there an Islamic model?
So what should we do?
In the last three days I have come across over the same number of articles where the writers have expressed their frustration over our inability to change the factors that are responsible for causing damage to Islam which includes Muslims themselves and others.
Frustration leads to despair, anger, helplessness, inaction and eventually to misguidance. While Sabr and Salat leads to peace of mind, action, love, motivation to do good to others.
I have curved out a course of action for myself. I will seek to do good to others which is greatly stressed in Islam (1). Muslims are asked to repel evil with good deeds (2). I also strongly believe that afflictions happen to man by the leave of Allah and it is He Who removes all problems (3). In the meantime we need to keep doing good to all, have patience. Allah promises that He is with those who are patient and prays regularly (Sabr and Salat). “O you who believe! Seek help with Sabr and Salat (patient perseverance and prayer) for Allah is with those who patiently persevere” (4). As for me, I will keep doing good, forgive, forget and overlook others’ faults, have patience and seek Allah’s forgiveness.
When Allah is with some one he/she is in peace of mind and tranquility and will be able to control fear, anger and desire. Even in these days of uncertainty I saw a person took the Shahada yesterday at our Mosque after Jumah. Think tanks, government policy and the media will continue to malign Islam but if we do our part, many of us, then with time and patience people will come to Islam. To understand Islam correctly one has to be part of the faith based community.
What we Muslims need to do is to come out of the cocoon of our ethno-religious comfort zones, mix with the broader community keeping our Iman and heritage intact. I feel that this task will be easier for those who have a strong intellectual and spiritual foundation of the teaching of the Quran and the Sunnah and are serious about practicing the teachings.
Let us not waste our time worrying about the future but get busy doing good deeds which need to in the form of feeding the hungry, comforting the sick, forgiving other’s faults and cruelty like the way the Prophet (S) did to his bitter enemies, interacting with members of other communities, looking after the interest of the neighbors, loving the old, poor and children amongst us and building good work ethics. Let us get up early in the morning for Salat-al-Tahjjud asking for Allah’s forgiveness for our shortcomings.
References from the Quran
2:110, 148, 197, 215; 3:104; 22:77; 23:61; 27:89; 28:84; 38:32; 45:15; 99:7
23:96; 41:33,34; 27:11
6:17; 7:188; 8:30; 10:107; 21:35; 22:11