After my column “The American Muslim community matters” was published last week, a bigoted comment was posted online, accusing this columnist of, among other things, being a “savage.” The column detailed the failings of media in reporting on the Muslim community in the wake of three Muslim students that were killed in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. The comment reflects what seems to be a widely held belief that an entire community is to be held responsible for the actions of a select few.
The commenter stated that “when you savages,” speaking of Muslims, “learn to play nice, then the media will stop reporting on you.” As much as I welcome criticism from all viewpoints, it is my duty not only as a writer, but also as a member of the Muslim community to combat the misconceptions held by this bigot and other Islamophobes.
The commenter pulled a quote from my article: “As citizens we need to take back control over what we want covered in our media.” He assumed that when I referred to citizens that I meant Muslims need to take control over the media. This is a misunderstanding. When I wrote citizens, I meant all American citizens, regardless of faith or ethnicity. We all watch the news on a daily basis and we all have the right to be represented in the press equally.
He went on to make a list of the crimes all Muslims should stop committing in order to stop getting an unfair representation from the media. He argued, “stop killing us over cartoons,” referring to the horrific Charlie Hebdo shootings.
I want to clarify any confusion regarding the depiction of anything holy in Islam. The illustrations of not only Prophet Mohammed, but of all figures mentioned in Islam including Jesus and Moses are condemned. The reason why depicting anything mentioned in the Qur’an is prohibited is to prevent the worship of idols. No being is to be prayed to other than God or Allah in Islam. Often times when symbols, pictures, or statues are created, followers will begin to pray to the objects rather than the higher power. The only Islamic art that is seen as acceptable in Islamic communities is the Arabic calligraphy itself, which often times are verses from the Qur’an.
I am in no way saying that the murder of our fellow journalists is justified, but there is a reason why Muslims felt insulted by the cartoons, the same way any Christian, Jew or Sikh would feel ashamed to see a perverted version of their religious leaders. This whole perception that Islam is a very vengeful and violent religion is misguided. The eye for an eye theory is not Islamic (in fact, such punishment has its origins in ancient Greece). Communities that follow such practices certainly need to reevaluate, but it is a cultural issue specific to those communities, not a problem with Islam.
Another suggestion the commenter provided was that Muslims should “stop strapping bombs on themselves and blowing us up,” or to “stop beheading us.” I too wish terrorists would stop strapping bombs on themselves and blowing themselves and innocent civilians up. I too grieve for the families who have to watch in horror when mainstream media outlets highlight their evening broadcasts with their loved ones at the mercy of black-cloaked terrorists. However, notice I said terrorists, and not Muslims.
To generalize all 1.6 billion Muslims based off of the actions of the small percentage that makes up terrorist organizations like al-Qaida and ISIS is absurd. Also, suggesting that Western nations are the only ones who suffer at the hands of these monstrous organizations is wrong. In December, over 140 students and faculty members lost their lives in Peshawar, Pakistan at the hands of the Pakistani Taliban. They were Muslims. Twenty-one Egyptians were murdered execution style according to a video released by ISIS on Sunday night. They were Christians.
These terrorists know no boundaries and are blinded by their personal agendas. They cower behind the excuse that Islam allows them to commit such atrocities in hopes to reach the highest levels of Jannah, or Heaven. These are warlords who took advantage of the suffering populations within the Middle East and Southwest Asia and exerted their power through empty promises of wealth and safety. So trust me when I say, I truly do wish terrorists would stop strapping bombs to themselves or executing citizens, but I can assure you that that’s not an everyday hobby of an everyday Muslim.
In a defiant, all-caps offer of advice, the commenter simply suggested, “STOP KILLING US.”
Once again, the entire Muslim community cannot apologize on the behalf of some misguided individuals. Unfortunately, when Muslims are mentioned in the news it is to highlight some sort of calamity that has happened in an Islamic region or population, and more often to indict an entire community for misdeeds performed by a small group of radicals. This is what was addressed in the previous article.
If the only image that is painted of Muslims is negative and violent, then viewers will have an incomplete — and incorrect — view of an entire community of people. However, by using our individual skill sets and our faith, Muslims have stepped out of their comfort zones and opened up their doors to encourage those who are curious to come seek information about our practices.
Buzzfeed shared an article showing Muslims taking a pledge to practice Lent, a Christian practice of avoiding vices, to promote interfaith solidarity. Right here on campus the VCU Muslim Student Association holds Qur’an classes that welcome anyone who is interested in learning about the faith and the Holy Book to come study with fellow Muslims.
But the best way for anyone who is curious about Islam to see the true nature of our faith is to come and witness Friday prayer. We gather to collectively hear a sermon, often times about issues that any individual regardless of what background could be facing. Then we stand together, shoulder to shoulder, and pray. For a moment, all is calm. All the tribulations we face are forgotten, and silent prayers waft through the room.
That sense of community and devotion is what Islam is all about, and I promise if any of you choose to wander in one day, you too will be awed.
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