Reflections on Islamophobia
by Amenah Arther
I remember feeling embarrassed to wear long sleeve shirts and pants. I remember feeling scared to speak out against the invasion in Iraq. I remember the girl who told me to “go back home” after I had expressed my thoughts about the war. I remember the boy who told me “not to bring back a bomb” from Saudi Arabia, after I had announced to the class in a jubilant mood that I was going to make the pilgrimage to Mecca. I remember my teacher who stood there silently in front of the class and then asked me the next day if I was okay. I remember when my social studies teacher brought up the idea of putting Muslims in concentration camps like they had done to the Japanese in World War II. And I remember the girl sitting next to me who said she would hide me if they were to carry out such a plan. I remember a friend who told me he overheard some guys whispering the word “terrorist” as I planned to run for student government. And I remember that he had stayed silent as they spoke their remarks.
I remembered those moments as I stood outside in the pouring rain, anxiously waiting to hear of what was going on inside the already packed town hall meeting. I never did get a firsthand account of what happened, but I got the watered down version of the meeting later that night on the news.
There was a woman standing across the street holding up a sign that said “Jesus is my savior. I will not submit.” (And I remember thinking to myself, “Dude, nobody’s asking you to submit.”). And there was a man raving “Go home” to the crowd of Muslims standing outside, hoping for media attention as the cameramen walked nearby. But of course, they didn’t put him on camera. What was most amusing about that night was the sight of some of the supporters of the masjid, who actually stepped to the side when the cameramen approached them. They feared that their statements would be misconstrued, or cropped to alter their meanings.
After that meeting, I kept reading articles on the news about this masjid, as well as the Cordoba project in the city. I read the hate infused remarks that followed, like “Islamophobia” is a made-up term for a nonexistent problem. The fact is that America is all about assimilation, and Muslims just don’t assimilate well. That may not be a politically correct thing to say, but it’s true” or “As long as your Jihadist want to plant bombs and blow us up there is no way I can feel safe around any Muslim. I will always have ONE EYE on you and my right hand on my Gluck 9M with 14 rounds at the ready. It’s not hatred Mr. Lebinz, its distrust on your people. And yes, we do look at all Muslims with distrust and as potential terrorists!” or “Do yourself a favor and pay for a Gallup poll. Ask the American people how many of us think of Islam as a religion, a people whose doctrine is to DESTROY anything non-Muslim, to export as many of their people to the West in order to disrupt our way of life, to kill us wherever they can until Islam is the only thing in this world? 98% of all Americans will answer YES!!! The other 2% are people like you.”
Very encouraging comments I must say. After seeing these remarks (which follow after almost any article dealing with the Middle East or Muslims), I looked internally and questioned my heart about the appropriate emotion to feel at the moment. Sadness, anger? No, anger would be against the Prophetic way. Hopeful? For a future in which bigotry is eradicated? Well, maybe that sounds a bit too optimistic.
I don’t like to argue with those who continue to diminish the existence of this issue. It’s real, and I feel it, I’ve felt it, and I will continue to feel the pain of prejudice until people respect my religion, my way of life. It’s unnecessary for me to defend Islam against the ignorance which unfortunately prevails in our society. I do not expect every member of the Christian faith to speak out against those who bomb abortion clinics, or every white person to defend their whiteness when another member of the KKK kills an innocent colored person. So, why do I have to, instead of merely educating others about Islam, have to defend its principles of peace and acceptance? Why do I have to act in an apologetic manner, when I, along with about a billion Muslims are unassociated with these heinous acts?
My identity has been hijacked. Some tell me, “Well, Amenah I’ve always seen you as a strong person. Of course these comments never bothered you.” Well, in a sense they don’t, but in a sense, they do. It bothers me that people continue to have this evil perception of me, and of Muslims in general. It bothers me that they have no knowledge about Islam and that they base their feelings off of the propaganda spewed in the media. Someone needs to hand them an “information literacy for dummies” manual, if that even exists. In the end I pity the people who have such unfounded anger in their hearts. If only there was an over the counter medication, a one-time dosage type of thing, to eradicate the root of bigotry in their hearts. The love pill: Plant the seeds of peace in your heart. Ah. Pfizer would go crazy.
Turbulent times such as these remind me of my Interfaith-y friends. Especially Nipun, but really all of them, Lauren, AnuP, AnuG and Caroline.
And they remind me to think of the Sunnah and of the kindness of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him).
Hadith: On the authority of Abu Huraira who said: The Messenger of Allah (SAW) said: Each person’s every joint must do a charity every day the sun comes up: to act justly between two people is a charity; to help a man with his mount, lifting him onto it or hoisting up his belongings onto it is a charity; a good word is a charity; every step you take to perform prayers is a charity; and removing a harmful thing from the road is a charity.
And [thus, O Prophet,] We have sent thee as [an evidence of Our] grace towards all the worlds. (21:07).