The Duke Chronicle

Posted by The Duke Chronicle on September 24, 2014 in News Clips

It’s happened again. The world has been plagued with another outbreak. No, not Ebola. Well, yeah, Ebola. But there’s another disease that has poisoned our discussions—ISIS.

A group commits fanaticism thousands of miles away and similar to many Arabs, Muslims and other beings resembling ‘other’ in this country, I suddenly find myself in the position of defense. It doesn’t matter that I don’t know a single individual who identifies with this group. I’m expected to change my conversations to resemble the rhetoric of a feeble body. A weak body. A scared body. An apologetic body. This country teaches you to have thick skin.

But my body is not a canvas on which society can paint an imposed identity. Muslim, Arab and terrorism have become conflated. The three are not synonymous—not even close. Arab is an ethnic identity and culture, not a religion, and I fear and condemn terrorism just as much as you do, if not actually more.

Now that I’ve established these facts, please:

Don’t turn to me for apologies for every terrorist attack. I don’t know these people, and I don’t identify with them in any way.

And don’t turn to me for a lengthy explanation of what’s going on in the Middle East. I’m not studying political science.

Don’t get me wrong. I’d be glad to offer a personal perspective and informed opinion. I, like most Muslim Americans, am eager to engage in dialogue. That is one way to understand Islamic practice and interpretation, but it’s not the only way—and learning from sensationalized media is definitely never the way. My concern is that there is a difference between honest inquiries into understanding and accusatory inquiries.

It’s on all of us to educate ourselves and those in our lives about what’s really going on with ISIS, and understanding its history is a good place to start.

One notion to understand is that ISIS is not only un-Islamic, it’s anti-Islamic. ISIS, IS, ISIL, Da’esh, or whatever you want to call them is a terrorist group active in Iraq and Syria that declared itself as a caliphate of the region, with Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi as the self-proclaimed “caliph.” A caliphate is a dear term for Muslims because it describes a state that was motivated by Prophet Muhammad’s (peace be upon him) teachings and rule in Arabia.

Prophet Mohammad—peace be upon him—created the Constitution of Medina to govern the people of the land and he designed what many argue to be the world's oldest constitution to echo the message of equality of humanity presented in the Quran: “Oh You who have attained to faith! Be ever steadfast in your devotion to God, bearing witness to the truth in all equity; and never let hatred of anyone lead you into the sin of deviating from justice. Be just: this is closest to being God-conscious. And remain conscious of God: verily, God is aware of all that you do.” (5:8)

In his final sermon, Prophet Muhammad—peace be upon him—highlighted that no one has superiority over others. He ensured all Jews, Christians and non-believers were afforded equal political and cultural rights. It is clear that ISIS is antithetical to the constitution that Prophet Muhammad—peace be upon him—established and antithetical to core principles in the Quran. They threaten and kill anyone who does not follow Sunni Islam, including Shi’ite Muslims. There is not a single country or religious leader that supports ISIS, their goals or principles. Again, ISIS is not only un-Islamic. They are anti-Islam.

Second, other violent groups exist in the name of religion, even toppling ISIS. The Ku Klux Klan, which reached over 4 million members, attempted to “purify” America by killing black people. They publicly killed blacks through lynchings and open fires. Their logo was the cross and their rituals always included bibles. Like ISIS, they used religion as a justification for their killings. Army of God, a Christian anti-abortion organization in the United States, is responsible for a number or terrorist attacks across the country, including killing abortion providers. Buddhist monks encourage the ethnic-cleansing of Rohingya Muslims in Burma/Myanmar and 300,000 Tamils are persecuted in Sri Lanka. The Lord’s Resistance Army in South Sudan and Uganda is an extremist Christian army responsible for over 100,000 deaths. And let’s not forget the deaths in Palestine by supporters of Zionism. Thirst for power will lead groups of any people to do things otherwise unimaginable—history teaches this to us.

There’s no denying the violence by Islamic terrorist groups. But if we’re going to have this conversation, we should also discuss the deaths Christianity, Buddhism, Judaism and basically every other religion claims. But we don’t. Why? Because we know that these deaths are not representative of the peace, love and humility that these religions address.

Which brings me to my last point. Muslims, stop apologizing. The Muslim community is quick to condemn and apologize for attacks that have nothing to do with Islam. Islam isn’t only about being reactive. Muslims shouldn’t be either. Rather, Muslims need to be more proactive and vocal about Islam’s beauty, eloquence and teachings. The American Arab Institute released the latest poll numbers on Muslims in America. Favorable attitudes for Muslims and Arabs have declined to 27 percent. Too much attention is paid to attacks that bear no resemblance to us. Not enough people in America are well-informed on what Islam is actually about. Muslims in America must remember that we’re Americans, too, and our identity is constructed by how we actively change the narrative. We have a responsibility to take hold over our own narrative.

And we all can start by stepping out of the passenger seat to change the direction of the narrative. Let’s all be active players in educating ourselves and educating others. Read. Share. Discuss. Muslims constitute about 2 percent of the American population, so we cannot do this alone. Start by boycotting or responding to Pamela Geller’s anti-Islamic ad campaign that will be placed in MTA’s 100 bus stations and two subway stations in Manhattan. Or fight back against Representative Steve King’s suggestion that the U.S. government should spy on mosques, Arabs and Muslims around the country.

I can’t answer all of your Middle East questions and I won’t apologize for every horrific act that claims an association, albeit false, with my beautiful experience with Islam. I will, however, continue shaping my life by the foundations my religion has given me—equality, truth, humility and peace. Pluralism is possible if we do our part to fairly contribute to it.

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