March 11, 2015
In the summer before I started 8th grade, there was a conflict in the Middle East. Tension was rising as people in the Gaza Strip were trying to save themselves from Israeli rocket attacks. They were aimed at Hamas, a Palestinian organization that had been firing missiles at Israel. I had heard a lot about the issue from my parents and from the news, and it troubled me that so many innocent lives were being lost and the two sides couldn’t resolve their differences with peace.
One day, I was forced to accompany my mother on a trip to a department store. My mom was visibly frustrated when I refused to step out of the car, so she and my sister left me to wait. A few minutes later, my mom came back and convinced me to accompany her since she was going to take a while, as usual.
I absolutely resented that store, but I had no choice. In the store, I walked around aimlessly. After requesting my mother about 10 times to leave, I had finally given up. Suddenly, I heard something familiar. Was it really my favorite band as background music in this store? Suppressing my inner fangirl, I continued to roam around the store, now slightly at ease.
After a few minutes, I walked up to my mom, hoping we could finally leave. Around the same time, I saw two guys approaching us. They were young, probably in their early 20’s. One of them was pointing his phone at us, probably making a video. As his companion laughed mockingly in the background, the guy with the cell phone started yelling out a string of curses at us in a very thick accent:
“Kill Palestine! Go to hell! F*** you! You deserve to die!”
Is that really what he was saying? I froze in place, silently watching them and noticed the piercings in their ears. What was wrong with these guys? They probably just wanted a reaction from us. They wanted us to lash out at them, so they could post it everywhere and there would be more “proof” that Muslims are vicious terrorists. We just stood there quietly, watching them. If I wasn’t so shocked, and I had the courage, I might have started yelling back at him. My mom called over a store worker and said that he was harassing us, and the guys walked away.
I was dryly laughing at this point, but my younger sister started crying. Annoyed with her helplessness, I told her to toughen up. The store lady said she couldn’t really do anything except kick the guys out of the store. She went up to them and started talking to them. All I learned was that these two men were very persistent. The guy took out his phone again and started making another video. He started screaming the same curses that he had before. He was not a very creative guy, I guess. I found the situation hilarious, so I started laughing again. At this point, the manager of the store came over and tried to get the idiots out of the store. After screaming a few more profanities at us, they finally left the store.
Later, I told my mom that she should have called the police, but she told me that this was nothing compared to what was happening on the other side of the world. This was the first time I had been directly ‘targeted’ because of my religion. The guys were ignorant for thinking that since my mom was wearing a hijab we were from Palestine. I had been laughing before, but it actually saddened me that those men really wanted people to die. I knew that people could be a bit cruel, but I had not actually experienced it with my own eyes, a cruelty directed toward me, until that moment.
A few days after the incident, I had an unusual dream. I was in a school of some sort, which I could tell by the chalkboards on the wall. The walls were cracked and the floors needed a really good cleaning. The weirdest part, however, was the fact that there were people screaming. The ground was shaking and pieces of the ceiling were falling down on us. The only people I saw were women and children. Most of them (not including babies and children) had scarves on their heads. All I saw was chaos. I noticed a woman in the corner and her head bowed down, reading a book and rocking back and forth on the floor. I went closer to see what she was reading, and saw that it was the Holy Qur’an, or the Holy Book of Islam. That was all I saw before I woke up.
I feel this dream was a sign that I needed to do something. And I wanted to. I felt an urge to help the innocent people being slain in the Middle East and anywhere else in the world where there was discord. But I’m just a kid. What on earth could I do that could possibly help? So I did the only thing I could do that I thought could help, if only a little: I prayed. I may never know if my prayers were ever heard, but I keep good faith and tell myself they were.
In early February 2015, three young Muslims from Chapel Hill, North Carolina were shot and killed by a 46-year-old man. The victims were two sisters, Yusor Mohammad Abu-Salha, age 21, Razan Mohammad Abu-Salha, age 19, and the husband of Yusor, Deah Shaddy Barakat, age 23. I was not shocked at all. I was hurt, of course, but not surprised. I guess I had become numb to the whole aspect of “Islamophobia”. I had already seen so much hate for Islam and so much hate from so-called Muslims that I was just in a sort of daze. I had become a part of daily life, unfortunately. Of course, I was angry. I was furious, but what could I do? Nothing.
Yusor Mohammad Abu-Salha once said on a StoryCorps podcast, “Growing up in America has been such a blessing. Although in some ways I do stand out, such as the hijab I wear on my head, the head covering, there’s still so many ways I feel so embedded in the fabric that is our culture.” Hearing the delight in her voice, the pride and gratitude she had towards her country, made my heart ache. The irony. I feel just like she did, however. America is the only country where everyone can be free to practice what they want. However, nothing can be perfect, right? There will always be people that love to hate.
Religion has always been a huge aspect of my life. Through it, I find a sort of peace that I cannot find elsewhere. Reading the Holy Qur’an helps me understand life in a whole different way. I can search for answers and find them there.
Of course, when I hear news about extremist groups, such as ISIS, everywhere, it almost embarrasses me. Those terrorists’ actions make me feel like I have to apologize for them, even though I know that they truly have nothing to do with the true message of Islam, which is peace and love. Islam has become so terribly misrepresented and misinterpreted, which is a shame. If only its name hadn’t been used in such horrific ways, by suicide bombers and terrorists, then the world would know what the actual meaning of Islam is.
I have a four-year-old brother named Muhammad. He was named after the Holy Prophet of Islam himself. Of course, my brother doesn’t know who that is yet. But when he is older, I hope he feels lucky to have such a meaningful name. He should feel pride for his religion and his identity, and not be ashamed of who he is. My brother attends preschool at a Jewish temple, which seems pretty unusual, but I think it is a good experience for him to learn about other religions, even at such a young age. Every Friday, he comes home singing Shabbat songs. During the holiday season, he brought a drawing of blue, glittery menorah home, along with a dreidel and chocolate coins. This exposure could make Muhammad more accepting of other people when he gets older, even if he doesn’t have clear memories when he grows up.
Indian poet Rabindranath Tagore once said, “Faith is the bird that feels the light when the dawn is still dark.” This quote reminds me of the first line of the United States national anthem, which goes, “Oh, say! Can you see by the dawn's early light.”
In a way, faith is hope; a hope that light will come before you see it yourself. A country always has hope. The United States started out as 13 little colonies being ruled by some Brits, but they rose up and defeated them. That took a lot of hope and trust, just like in our national anthem. Just like the patriots during the civil war, and any other person who has some sort of faith in them, religious or not, the bird knows that the dawn is there, and that it is coming with light.
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When I joined the University of Texas at Arlington in 1981, the latest wave of hostility was pointed toward all foreign students who were lumped together as Iranians. This was, of course, the post Iranian-Revolution era. I was a Muslim student from Bangladesh and it didn’t matter whether one was from Iran, Pakistan, India, or even China.
To the Texans, we were all Iranians and definitely supporters of Khomeini. The snack shop at the Student Union, called “Sweet Stop” was nicknamed “Camel Stop.” But apart from a few confrontations, in general, things were relatively peaceful on campus and in fact it seemed to be so throughout the country. In the 80’s, when Texas was not as diverse and people were not exposed to many cultures, there was still as sense of tolerance that exuded from most people.
But the news on Thursday about freshman Texas Representative Molly White’s anti-Muslim comment is upsetting to say the least. Referring to the Texas Muslim Capitol Day, Rep. White wrote on her Facebook page that though she won’t be in Austin, she left instructions for her staff to ask the Muslim representatives to “renounce Islamic terrorist groups and publicly announce allegiance to America and our laws.”
She also boasted about placing an Israeli flag on her receptionist’s desk. It was unclear if she also wanted Muslims to swear allegiance to the flag of Israel or if she thought the flag of Israel was more important than our own star and stripes? In any event, her statement on Facebook generated a slew of comments and I must say I was pleasantly surprised that most of these were criticisms of White’s anti-Muslim post.
The rally at the Texas Capitol sponsored by the Muslim advocacy group, Council on American-Islamic Relations, was a gathering organized as an opportunity for the Muslims to learn about the democratic political process and how to be advocates for various issues that are important to the community. Rep. White had also posted another anti-Muslim comment, in which she wrote, “Remember, in the Koran, it is ok to lie for the purpose of advancing Islam. Texans must never allow fringe groups of people to come here so that they can advance their own culture instead of becoming an American and assimilating into the American way of life."
I don’t know which Qur’an White was reading because her claim that Islam supports fabrication of truth is in itself a lie because Qur’an surely does not advocate lying in any shape or form for any reason whatsoever (2:42). Moreover, the Muslims who were at the rally have already assimilated into the American society which is why they want to be part of the political process in the first place. Perhaps White has forgotten that she and many others are transplants from foreign nations and cultures. In her opinion what is the “American way of life”? Can one not be an American and hold on to their cultural or religious heritage?
Muslims are here to stay in America whether anyone likes it or not. Angry protesters may still keep shouting, “Go back home and take Obama with you” but the reality is Muslims in America are integrated and a fast growing active community. In fact, after the Charlie Hebdo incident, President Obama, at a White House press conference with British Prime Minister, David Cameron said, "Our biggest advantage... is that our Muslim populations feel themselves to be Americans and there is this incredible process of immigration and assimilation that is part of our tradition."
Ms. White needs to engage in introspection about her own biases and prejudices and see if she is fit to represent her constituents. By making discriminatory remarks, she is violating the conduct or the standard to which the elected officials should be held. If she wishes to continue in her office she would be better off not alienating those members of her constituency whose support she needs.
Shahina Bashir is the chairperson of the Ahmadi Muslim Women Writer's Guild, USA. She is a free lance writer for the Examiner.com. Her letters have been published in several newspapers including Washington Post, NY Times, and LA Times. Follow her on Twitter @shabashir
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October 13, 2014
Dear Bill (I hope you don’t mind if I call you Bill because it’s the nicest word I can use to describe you at this point):
We get it. You are an aggressive atheist. You abhor religions. For you it is fashionable to be controversial. Being edgy is part of your job description. Congratulations, you are now so edgy that Bill O’Reilly of Fox News agrees with your views. Bill the Liberal and Bill the Conservative have now found common ground – Islamophobic Bigotry.
Let me ask you, Bill, are you back-paddling out of the muddy creek you created on your HBO Show Real Time With Bill Maher last weekend with your recent remarks: “We’re liberals! We’re liberals? We’re not crazy tea-baggers, y’know.” Your definition of a liberal and the responsibility of being one, is as ludicrous as ISIS’s distorted execution of Islam. You said: "Liberals need to stand up for liberal principles… these are liberal principles that liberals applaud for [pointing to his audience], but then when you say in the Muslim world this is what’s lacking, then they get upset."
When did principles “like freedom of speech, freedom to practice any religion…” become principles defended only by liberals? Your guest on the show Sam Harris added, “Liberals have really failed on the topic of theocracy…” Theocracy failed by liberals? Pandering much? These “principles” you throw around are U.S. constitutional rights championed by all liberals, non-liberals and anyone in between. Why must a liberal have a duty to “criticize” bad ideas where “Islam is the mother lode of bad ideas” according to Harris? Feel free to stereotype almost 1.6 billion people worldwide because this is your God-given liberal duty? Really?
Since you have been pushing the envelope of bigotry, increasingly so in the past few years, I am glad Ben Affleck called you on it, if only to open a door for fair discussion. Go ahead and instigate debate on the general uselessness of religions. You may think Muslims can’t take a joke or two. “We” can. What upsets “them” is the persistent spin of Islamic views and utter lack of knowledge of the diverse 1.6 billion people so conveniently generalized and stereotyped.
Bill, can I ask you a simple question: what does the “Muslim World” look like to you? What is the color, race, age, or gender of the 1.6 billion people you casually label as “they”? Can’t answer this question? Don’t worry, there is no easy answer because we are not as homogeneous as you would make everyone believe “us” to be.
It seems that sometimes you are so in love with your own views that you argue to spread bigotry and not to understand the multitudes of varied Muslims who universally champion human rights and all the “liberal principles” you mentioned. What would you accomplish by asking liberals to criticize 1.6 billion people? Present the caricature of Islam and Muslims as one homogeneous evil and intolerant group of 1.6 billion people?
Stop propagating hate by equating a small subset of 1.6 billion people to the whole of 1.6 billion people. This concept is not rocket science. But let me simplify it even further. Would you say: All creatures of the sea are sharks? No, you wouldn’t because it is false and presents an incomplete picture of all the creatures of the sea. You are being immensely unintelligent when you lump together what you perceive to be “us”. I suggest you do your research, use your writers to provide credible, fair and historically correct information.
Now, Bill, you said: “the only religion that acts like the mafia, that will fucking kill you if you say the wrong thing”. Do you even realize how unintellectual this statement is? A religion in itself can’t act like a mafia only individual elements can. And no, I will not “fucking kill you” (as you hypothesized) because I think you said a “wrong thing”. But I will not laugh either because Islamophobic bigotry is not funny.
Let’s address the white elephant in the room you so enjoy to beat to death. Yes, Muslims face an array of issues based on their region of residence and geo-economical factors. Yes, a radical element has taken a very sadistic turn, and unfortunately shaped up to be ISIS or the Taliban or the numerous other fundamental groups and regimes, the majority of Muslims also abhor and stand up against. Thank you for highlighting ad nauseum the horrors of the “Muslim World” but for the sake of variety let’s also talk about the majority of the 1.6 billion Muslims who are peaceful and tolerant. For example, talk about the fact that five out of the last twelve Nobel Prize winners have been Muslims, out of which 3 were Muslim women. Focus on these Nobel Prize winners who do not represent the horrendous minority segment you love to highlight to spread Islamophobic bigotry.
Can you please stop making each and every Muslim accountable for the actions of the small unrepresentative minority. Stop stereotyping. And stop spinning what a Muslim may or may not believe. Understand, for example, I as a female Muslim, have not been brainwashed and I definitely don’t need to be rescued by a “liberal” like yourself.
And please, do not act like I don’t exist. Muslim women exist and excel in many shapes and forms all over the world. We do have grievances and issues just as women of any faith or set of beliefs, in any part of the world. But the issues we face are as diverse as the colors we are. In veils, in scarfs or in skirts (depending on which premium cable and satellite television you follow) we have arrived. And we are here to stay. So might as well acknowledge and embrace our diversity.
In closing Bill, I request you to invite scholars to engage in a calm conversation about Islam to present real and representative views from all sides, and most importantly without the predisposed Islamophobic bigotry.
What do you say, Bill?
Faryal Malik is an Intellectual Property attorney by profession and an avid backpacker by passion. She aspires to be kind, humble and generous to attain peace in the journey of life. She tweets @desinewyorkers
October 11, 2014
I can see where a man like Bill Maher is coming from when it comes to Islam. As he would have it, Islam is a violent religion that runs counter to all that we as Americans hold dear – freedom, justice, democracy. Of course, he is not alone in this assessment. Indeed, such a view is a majority opinion among non-Muslim Americans.
It’s an opinion that, as a child of 9/11, I grew up believing too.
But then I grew up.
My understanding of what Islam is and who Muslims are changed from being obscured by the gore of terrorism to one more rooted in reality. The slime of stereotype applied by those who touch topics in the most superficial of ways was replaced by revelations of actual experience. I took Arabic in college, took courses on the Middle East and Islam, and even studied abroad in Egypt. Then I lived in Pakistan. I worked in Islamabad which, translated, means the “Abode of Islam.”
Now, let me get something straight. I’m a Christian American, which are two things we’ve been taught that people like those Muslims in Pakistan just don’t like. In our current understanding of Islam, I’d fall into the category of the kuffar, or “the unbelievers.” As such, to all those who view Islam as evil, I should be put to death by all able-bodied Muslims. Anywhere. So how is it that a young kid like me could possibly survive even a day in the very den of this vile religion?
My answer: putting faith in people. This faith was backed by an effort to understand their state, their position, and their history so as to more aptly engage in what many would see to be a hostile environment. I did not go to Pakistan as some imperialistic, ignorant American. I went to learn and to represent my country by representing myself as best I could. That required me to live as a regular citizen. No bodyguards, no compound, no gun.
But in an effort to break my own stereotypes of this place and this religion, I had to work to show Pakistanis a different side of America than what they may be used to. Think about it: if you were a Muslim in Pakistan, what would you think when you think about America? Apple pies and the Fourth of July? Hardly. You’d think of soldiers, drones, ignorance, and probably a Big Mac. I worked hard to share a different side of the States, which I believe enabled me to see a different side of Pakistan and Islam than what I previously accepted as fact. As a result, I had an incredibly positive time in this “ally from hell” of ours. My experiences may well go beyond anything that those hung up on this hatred of Islam could comprehend.
Truly, my experience there was an introduction to an Islam that I never knew. It’s an Islam that, unfortunately, so many at home in the States seem too stubborn to ever want to know. But I have a few questions for these folks that might shed some light on the Islam that they never knew existed.
To those who believe that Islam is the antithesis of Christianity, I ask if you’ve ever heard the solemnity of the call to prayer. I wonder if you wish peace upon others (a common greeting among Muslims the world over) more than once a week in church. I yearn to know if you disown Terry Jones (the man who burned the Quran a few years ago) to the same extent that you ask Muslims the world over to speak against the self-proclaimed Muslims that all Islamist terrorists are.
To those who see Islam as anti-democratic, how is that we allow ourselves to define Islam by a few unelected individuals who no more represent someone’s faith than Donald Trump represents America? If we believe in democracy at home, surely we must apply it to our portrayal of others.
To those who see Islam as anything but tolerant, how is that we tolerate ourselves so carelessly referring to a “Muslim world,” as if all Muslims existed on another planet? Such convenient phrasing serves to externalize over a billion people in the one world in which we all live. When we use such intergalactic references, we’re not talking about Muslims anymore – we’re talking about Martians. We need to bring this conversation back to earth – this earth.
Islamophobia is real, it is a problem, and it’s a really big problem. The fact that Islam is the fastest growing religion in the world should not be a concern to us; rather, it should serve as a reminder of the importance to understand it better. This necessary understanding need not involve going to Pakistan, but it absolutely requires another proud American trait of ours: courage.
We would do better to muster the mental courage to think beyond what the pundits and the pols might say about a certain place or a certain religion. When we assume this courage and are no longer beholden to stereotype, we can make our own determination of the world. We can change what we think we knew about Islam by allowing ourselves to seeing the reality so readily available to us.
David Peduto is a student of Islam, the Middle East, and Arabic. He lives in Boston where, when he's not working for a Big Data company, he enjoys paddle boarding on the Charles River and performing improv comedy.