By Wasim Iqbal, New Age Islam
30 July, 2015
Not long after it was announced that the former Indian President APJ Abdul Kalam had died, large posters bearing his picture and grieving his demise sprouted up all across the town that I am presently visiting. Many of these were in slums and lower-middle class localities. People had probably pooled in money to have these pictures put up as a mark of respect and love for the departed soul. Clearly, Abdul Kalam was a ‘People’s President’, who struck a deep chord even with the poor, from whose ranks he had himself emerged. He was definitely one of the most widely-respected leaders that India has ever had.
The late Indian President had a very obviously ‘Muslim’ name, but that did not prevent vast numbers of Indians, irrespective of caste, class and religious background, from adoring him. Clearly, then (unlike what some Muslims imagine), being ‘Muslim’ is in itself by no way a permanent and impassable barrier for Muslims to win the love, respect and hearts of people from other faith backgrounds.
Today, there is much talk and concern—especially, but not only, in Muslim circles—about anti-Muslim prejudice and negative views about Islam that in recent years have skyrocketed across the globe. Many Muslims who are deeply concerned about this issue insist that it needs to be tackled urgently. They propose a range of measures to deal with it, including launching efforts to educate people of other faiths about Islam so as to address their concerns and misconceptions about the faith; appealing to states to penalize hate speech against Muslims; calling for governments to expand existing anti-discrimination laws to include ‘Islamophobia’ under their ambit, and so on.
Yet, even as such Muslims continue to press with such demands, anti-Muslim sentiments continue to mount. It is not at all difficult to see why. ‘Anti-Muslimism’ and ‘Islamophobia’ have much to do with the views, attitudes and behaviour of significant numbers of Muslims themselves, who are themselves a major cause for ‘anti-Muslimism’ and ‘Islamophobia’ across the world today. This is something that those Muslims who readily accuse the rest of the world as being inherently and congenitally ‘Islamophobic’ do not seem to, or choose not to, recognize.
The horrific barbarities that continue to be committed by a host of self-styled ‘Islamic’ groups in different countries are, in fact, at the very root of anti-Muslim and anti-Islamic sentiments that are now widespread among non-Muslims. Whether it is the persecution of non-Muslim minorities and the pervasive gender injustice in many Muslim-majority societies or the violent political culture and brutally authoritarian political system in almost every Muslim-majority country, the deadly terrorist attacks by self-proclaimed ‘Islamic Mujahideen’ that have taken an enormous toll of precious lives or the ongoing sectarian strife and wars in large parts of the ‘Muslim world’—all of these (and many more such) crimes against God and humanity, committed by such Muslims and generally in the name of Islam, are the fundamental cause of widespread negative views among non-Muslims about Islam and the people who claim to follow it. And as these barbarities committed by these self-styled champions of Islam continue to mount, ‘anti-Muslimism’ and ‘Islamophobia’ continue to escalate.
Given this fact, no amount of laws against hate speech and no amount of literature or speeches that aim to educate non-Muslims about Islam —measures that many Muslims typically call for—can do anything substantial to address ‘anti-Muslimism’ and ‘Islamophobia’, which, thanks principally to the actions of some Muslims themselves in the name of Islam, have now become a deeply-rooted and pervasive phenomenon at the global level. This is because these sorts of suggested measures are based on a very partial diagnosis of ‘anti-Muslimism’ and ‘Islamophobia’. They reflect an erroneous perception of ‘anti-Muslimism’ and ‘Islamophobia’ as being simply a result of misunderstandings about Islam among people of other faiths.
These explanations conveniently and very completely absolve Muslims of their share of the blame for ‘anti-Muslimism’ and ‘Islamophobia’. It is as if the long list of horrors that continue to be committed in the name of Islam by many of its self-styled champions makes no difference at all to how others perceive Islam and those who claim to be its followers. Denial of this fact—of the key role of criminals claiming to be champions of Islam in fomenting ‘anti-Muslimism’ and ‘Islamophobia’ through the horrors that they continue to commit in the name of Islam—can only make ‘anti-Muslimism’ and ‘Islamophobia’ get much worse than it already is.
Rather than seeking to counter ‘anti-Muslimism’ and ‘Islamophobia’ simply by appealing to people of other faiths to change their views about Islam, it is Muslims themselves who need to change their own behaviour with, and attitudes towards, others. This is the only way that others might begin to change their views about Islam and their behaviour with Muslims. As the Quran (13:11) beautifully puts it, “God does not change the condition of a people's lot, unless they change what is in their hearts.”
It is a basic and unalterable universal law that you get what you give. If you hate others, you will receive hate from them in return. If you look down on others, they will look down on you. If you do not help others, others will not help you. If you do not reach out to others, others will not reach out to you. Today, if many Muslims feel that others treat them with scorn and suspicion, they must recognize that it is largely because they have treated others in precisely the same way. And they must also understand that if they wish others to change the way they think about Muslims, they must first change the way they think of others and treat them.
“Whatever misfortune befalls you is of your own doing”, the Quran (42:30) says. In the light of this Quranic verse, Muslims must wake up to their own role in promoting ‘Anti-Muslimism’ and ‘Islamophobia’. That is the only way to come out of the morass in which they find themselves.
If Muslims want others to care for them, they must care for them first, and on a unilateral basis, if need be.
If Muslims want others to know that Islam is a religion of compassion, they need to be exemplify compassion in their own views, attitudes and behavior—including in their understanding of Islam and in the way they deal among themselves and with people of other faiths.
If Muslims want others to understand that Islam stands for peace, they need to live in peace with themselves and with others. They must insist that Islam is not at all what groups like the ISIS, Boko Haram, the Taliban, Al-Qaeda, the Lashkar-e Tayyiba, and other such terrorist outfits make it out to be.
If Muslims want others to know that Islam stands for justice and that it is opposed to injustice, they must act justly with others—including with women and with people of other faiths. They need to highlight that Islam does not sanction misogyny, sectarian hate, terrorism and animosity towards people of other faiths that radical Islamists and a not inconsiderable number of Muslim clerics insist it does.
Muslims need to go back to the religion of mercy, kindness and compassion that the Prophet Muhammad was commissioned by God to teach. This is what God wants of them. It is only then that other people will begin to love and respect them.
In the Quran (21:107) God, says this about the Prophet Muhammad:
“And We have not sent you but as a mercy to the worlds.”
Following the merciful Prophet, Muslims must be merciful, too. This mercy needs to be reflected in their understanding of Islam and in their behaviour—including in their dealings with people of other faiths.
Muslims must make it clear, through the way they understand and seek to live out Islam, that this religion of mercy has no place whatsoever for bomb-blasts, for massacring innocent people, for oppressing women, for hating and terrorizing people of other faiths, and so on—all the many horrific crimes that numerous self-styled defenders of Islam continue to commit in the name of Islam, thereby becoming the principal agent for widespread ‘anti-Muslimism’ and ‘Islamophobia’ across the world.
Inspired by the right understanding of Islam, Muslims need to proactively reach out to people of other faiths, through love, compassion, concern, care, genuine well-wishing and the spirit of service, as Islam teaches them to. And then they will find that just as a man from a poverty-stricken Muslim family was able to become the President of India and win the hearts of millions of his countrymen from religious communities other than the one he was born into, they, too, can earn the regard, goodwill and love of people of others if they spread goodness and love and prove to be an asset to them. And they can also then discover that this is the only way to address ‘Islamophobia’ and ‘anti-Muslimism’ and to help others develop a positive and respectful image of Islam and of those who claim to follow it.