By Maulana Wahiduddin Khan for New Age Islam
Q: In recent years, there’s been an escalation of anti-Muslim sentiments in many countries. In parts of the West, for instance, there have been cases of Muslims being turned away from restaurants, of Muslims being physically and verbally abused, of Muslims being asked to get off a plane because someone else wrongly suspected and accused them of being terrorists, of Muslim women being dismissed from workplaces because they insist on wearing the Hijab, of local non-Muslims protesting against plans for building mosques, and so on. The latest such development is in France, with the ban on what are called Burkinis in many French cities.
What do you think are the reasons for these growing anti-Muslim sentiments?
A: The answer to this question can be found by studying a verse in the Quran. In this verse, the Quran says: “And beware of an affliction that will not smite exclusively those among you who have done wrong.” (8:25)
If we study this Quranic verse and objectively apply it to the present situation of Muslims, we realize that what is happening in the world today is not due to “anti-Muslim sentiment”. Rather it is a reaction to Muslims’ own negative activities.
Muslims say that instances of terrorism are perpetrated only by some Muslims, and not the whole Muslim community. This claim of Muslims could be right, but another serious aspect of this matter is that Muslims to this day have not unequivocally disowned Muslim terrorism. I don’t know of a single person in the entire Muslim world who openly condemns Muslims’ negative activities. If any person does speak on this topic, he would speak with twists. For example, some would say, ‘It is true that Muslims are involved in terrorist activities, but this action of theirs is a reaction: they are reacting to others’ discriminatory behaviour towards them.’ This kind of condemnation is certainly not condemnation. Rather, it is akin to indirectly justifying the violent actions of Muslims.
Objective analysis tells us that such instances that you cite are certainly not discrimination. Rather, they are a result of Muslims’ own doubtful behaviour. Muslims are themselves responsible for this discrimination. According to a hadith, the Prophet said: “Save yourself from being regarded as objectionable.” Because Muslims do no outrightly disown the actions of those Muslims who are engaged in wrong actions, others in the community will also face ‘discrimination’. If Muslims were to clearly condemn the actions of those who are doing wrong, then only those specific persons who are guilty of the wrong would face the above kind response, which is termed ‘discrimination’ or ‘anti-Muslim sentiment’.
Q: Some Muslims may respond to displays of anti-Muslim sentiment by protesting against them and denouncing what they say is discrimination against them. They might, for instance, campaign for a boycott of a restaurant where Muslims have been turned out from. Or, they may demand that an airline company whose employees had made a Muslim passenger disembark from a plane, wrongly suspecting him to be a terrorist, should issue an apology. Or, they may insist that countries pass stricter laws to counter anti-Muslim discrimination.
What do you think of this approach to countering or overcoming anti-Muslim sentiments?
A: These cases are due to the law of nature. The solution to them is not that countries pass anti-Muslim discrimination laws. There are only two options before Muslims. First, they should declare that they are not a single community. Rather, the case of every individual Muslim is separate and distinct. Thus, if anything happens with a Muslim, Muslims as a whole should not make it their own case but should look at it only as the case of a particular person. However, if Muslims cannot take this option and do consider themselves as a single community or ummah, they should condemn, in clear terms, those among them who engage in negative activities. If they do not condemn these persons, then the rest of the world would surely infer from the wrong actions of these particular Muslims that the entire Muslim community is responsible, because Muslims themselves say that all Muslims are members of a single ummah or community.
Such instances of discrimination as you have cited in your question happen on a regular basis with secular persons, but the rest of the secular world does not look at it as a matter of the “secular community”. In the secular world, each person is looked upon as distinct. There is no “secular Ummah”. So, when such cases happen with secular persons, the sentiments of secular people do not get hurt, because secular people do not regard themselves as a single community. They regard this as a problem pertaining to those specific individuals. But when such cases happen with Muslims, the sentiments of the entire Muslim community get hurt. What happens with one Muslim affects the whole of the Muslim community. This is why when one Muslim performs a wrong action, the world begins to doubt other Muslims too. In order to avoid this, either Muslims should very strongly condemn those individual Muslims among them who are doing wrong, or, if not this, they should abandon the concept of the Ummah: that is, every Muslim’s case is his own and what he does has nothing to do with other Muslims.
Q: How effective do you think this approach that many Muslims advocate—of protesting against what is termed ‘Islamophobia’—might be in changing the hearts and minds people who may have negative views of Muslims?
A: This approach of Muslims cannot change others’ views about Muslims. The only way to change this situation is that Muslims should reform themselves. Demanding others to change cannot at all be of any use in this regard.
Q: If you don’t think this approach is effective in this regard, what alternate approach do you think Muslims should adopt to help others change their opinions about Muslims and Islam?
A: The starting-point in this matter is that all those who are representatives of Muslims should openly disown Muslims’ terrorist activities. They should prevent Muslims from engaging in terrorism, and if this is not possible for them, then they should clearly condemn these actions by Muslims.
Q: Complaining against and denouncing anti-Muslim sentiments represents one approach that seeks to improve relations between Muslims and others. It is a negative approach, in that it is against something. But there is a very different approach to the issue—a positive approach based on seeking to improve others’ perceptions of Muslims and Islam by doing good to others, serving them and being kind and helpful to them, even in the face of discrimination from them. This is a constructive approach, in contrast to the first one. It is about doing something positive, instead of denouncing something negative.
Which of these two approaches would you suggest Muslims should adopt and why?
A: The only way to change the perception of people about Islam and Muslims is for the representatives of Muslims to condemn the wrong actions of Muslims. For example, all Ulema should collectively issue a fatwa unconditionally denouncing the negative activities of Muslims.