By Dr. Aslam Abdullah, Muslim Media News Service (MMNS)
Islam bashing, Islamophobia and hatred for Islam are together a deliberate campaign led by some journalists, religious fanatics and both liberal and conservative commentators. They want to label Islam as a barbaric religion promoting violence and hatred against non-Muslims.
Ironically, the campaign is centered in a country where Muslims have been the most peaceful citizens for the last several centuries despite the fact that they were subject to all sorts of persecution. African Muslim slaves were forced to convert to Christianity and many of them were killed for refusing to succumb to the wishes of their masters. Yet, none of the descendants of those persecuted Muslims ever indulged in reciprocating the acts of barbarism their forefathers underwent.
Since September 11, the peaceful community of Muslim Americans has been subject to all kinds of accusations and persecution. According to an estimate, more than 70,000 Muslim households have been visited by the FBI and other law enforcement agencies since September 11, more than one million have been subject to profiling, and more than 30,000 have been detained under some pretext. In the media, some 80,000 articles and programs have been presented against Islam.
Islam bashers, on average, spend approximately 6 hours daily on radio or television attacking Islam. Moreover, more than a million Muslim men, women, children or those who look like Muslims (esp. Sikhs or Hispanics) have been subject to verbal and in some cases physical abuse in the last six years. The burning or bombing of mosques and attacks on Muslim homes are an ongoing part of this persecution.
This is happening despite the fact that since September 11, Muslims have organized more than 3,000 interfaith forums denouncing terrorism and loudly condemning groups such as al Qaeda. In fact, during the last 66 months, in more than 2,000 places of worship where Friday prayers are held regularly, Muslim religious scholars and leaders have spoken against violence and terrorism at least 10 times a year, on average.
In other words, every year, Muslim leaders in more than 2,000 places of worship have spoken at least 20,000 times in a year on issues such as appreciating the founding principals of America, and against terrorism and violence against Americans.
Yet the Islamophobes are not willing to see any of these positive things. Instead they use any incident anywhere in the world to denounce Islam and to question the patriotism and loyalty of American Muslims.
Who is leading this crusade? What is their agenda? How should Muslims respond to it?
Those who are leading the Islamophobic campaign comprise three main groups, ultra conservative religious leaders, ultra-liberals, and those who read every word of the Old Testament about Jerusalem and other holy sites as literal instructions for the present day.
Ultra-conservative religious groups include right wing evangelists who view all religions other than their particular brand(s) of Christianity as inherently evil. They view everyone who is not like them as a pagan and consigned to hellfire, and they deem it necessary to denounce all other religions, not only Islam.
They are, also, heavenly financed by successful like-minded businessmen, including some in the oil and diamond industries.
Liberals view Islam and in fact every religion as an impediment to the modern capitalist market economy. They view religion and its institutions as traditions of the past that have no relevance in our modern world. They denounce Islam, ultimately, because of the unbending strong faith and adherence of Muslims to Godâ€™s enunciated words and principles, for the very reason that Muslims are not subject to the manipulation that so easily sways non-Muslims.
The third anti-Muslim group consists of those who believe narrow-mindedly that what was compiled by scholars under the instructions of King James in the form of the Old and New Testaments are Godâ€™s own words that must be implemented literally.
Therefore, they view the holy land between the Nile and Euphrates as belonging to those who were once chosen by God. They believe that those who speak against Jewish Zionism are cursed by God, and they believe that the mission of all those who believe in the Old Testament is to ensure that the holy land is restored to the Jews so that Godâ€™s will is done. They see Islam as a competitor in this land grab movement, and therefore denounce it for rejecting the claim of Jews as the chosen people–they view the Palestinians as children of Satan, speed bumps for Godâ€™s plan in the Middle East.
If one looks at the background of all those who are in the forefront of this Islamophobic campaign, one can categorize them in one of the three camps. Their agenda is simple. To influence public opinion and increase the number of those who think like them. Obviously, they believe that at present they donâ€™t have a majority behind them. Hence, they spend more than six hours a day in preaching the doctrine of hatred against Islam.
How should Muslims respond to the campaign?
One simple way is to expose those who are making this propaganda and counter them loudly. This is somewhat defensive, and actually does not serve any purpose. In this shouting match, the truth will only be covered by confusion. At present, almost every Muslim organization is involved in this approach.
â€œLet us get even with those Islamiphobes. Let us show them our real worth and lets us prove to them that we will not sit quiet in the wake of this nonsense.â€ This is what most Muslim groups and leaders have been heard saying in the United States.
In fact, based on this approach, many organizations have developed a strategy to match venom with venom. How effective is this?
This is subject to discussion.Ironically, much of what these Islamiphobes are saying is based on what they have heard some individual Muslim saying or on what they have taken out of context from some Islamic book. For instance, they routinely attack the Qur`an, on the basis of ayahs that they say justify mistreatment of women.
Many of these people referred to the recently concluded case in Germany where a judge acquitted a Muslim man of beating his wife because, according to him, â€œthe religious text of Muslims allows men to beat their wives.â€
The majority of Muslims, however, would not accept this interpretation of the Qur`an. the majority would describe such a practice as loathsome, and the majority of them would view this sort of ruling as contrary to the spirit of Islam.
However, this perspective of the majority has not been made public. It is not known to many, including Muslims.
Thus, the practice of confronting Islamophobia without first addressing issues raised by them might backfire and cause more damage to Islam in the long run.
Muslims must develop a sound strategy to deal with this and other cases of anti-Islamic bias.
First, before we begin, let us recognize that no matter what Muslims do or say, there will always be some elements who will set themselves against Islam–this has been predicted by God in the Qur`an.
Evil people and influences will also try to pull Muslims from the right path and to create doubts in the minds of neutrals about the validity of the Divine message. So as Muslims, we must be prepared to face opposition regardless of what we say and do.
Rather than responding to those who attack Islam, Muslim organizations should develop a grass roots effort to communicate with average people in schools, places of work and places of worship, the very places where rumor and innuendo about Islam foment into suspicion when we Muslims are not available to bring the light of day.
Thirdly, Muslims must engage in social welfare programs that present an image different than what many Americans have become used to by watching television, an image where Muslims are seen as angry rioters, intent on destroying everything because of wrongs done to them.
Perhaps the best investment at this time is to engage in projects and programs that are people oriented and that project the humanitarian face of Islam.