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Why We Love Islamophobia

Why We Love Islamophobia

I was sitting in my office completing some work when one of my eleventh grade students rushed in. Her face beamed as she glanced at the iPod in her hand. “Do you have a minute?” she asked.

“Sure,” I said.

“Look.” Smiling broadly, she hurried to the side of my desk and turned her iPod to an angle that allowed me to see the screen more clearly. “I just saw the coolest da'wah video.”

“Really? māshā'Allāh,” I put down the notebook that was in my hand, my curiosity piqued.

Music played in the background, and the question was asked, “If you could tell non-Muslims one thing, what would it be?”

The clips that followed were of individual Muslims telling a bit about themselves:

I cheated my way through school.

My son thinks he was named after one of the prophets, but I really named him after a high school crush…

Clip after clip showed Muslims revealing things about themselves that they imagined would make them appear “cool” to non-Muslims, even things that were inappropriate or sinful…all in the name of da'wah—teaching non-Muslims about Islam.

My heart fell.

I tried to maintain my smile, but when the video ended and my student asked me what I thought, I decided to politely tell her the truth…

 

Don't You Think We're Soooo Cool?

I don't remember the video verbatim, so I'm sure I might have mixed up a word or two in my recollection. But I remember its message quite vividly: Hey, non-Muslims! We're pathetic just like you.

If I were non-Muslim, I would be offended. I can't imagine being attracted to a religion whose adherents thought stupidity was impressive—and imagined that I'd be impressed.

My parents accepted Islam the year I was born, so I have siblings, cousins, aunts, and uncles who are non-Muslim Americans, and I can't think of a single one of them (or any one of the dozens of non-Muslims I met in school and university) who would be even remotely moved by such a video, let alone impressed by it. These people are intelligent, critical thinkers who, like Muslims, want to live upstanding lives even as they inevitably fall short at times.

No, they don't want a religion that asks for impeccable piety, but they surely don't want one that scoffs at it either.

But even if they did, our job is to covey the truth of Islam, not to ensure non-Muslims think we're “cool”.

Islamophobia, an Excuse to Sin

“What will non-Muslims think of us if we walk around in burqas and don't even listen to music?”

It's a question we've likely all heard…or asked at one point or another. If it isn't burqas and the no-music lifestyle we're afraid will “scare them away”, it's praying in public, not getting drunk, and even having a “Muslim-sounding name”.

If I do that, then what will they think of us?

It's become sort of cliché to ask Muslims to worry about how Allāh will see us, as it often falls on deaf ears…probably because it isn't “cool” to think about dying and meeting the Creator.

It is well-known that those who are most successful in teaching about Islam—to Muslims and non-Muslims—are those who do what's “un-cool” (often referred to as “the right thing”), yet there exists a growing movement amongst Muslims to publicize and condone wrong in the name of making Islam look  “cool”.

Muslims who don't pray, who drink alcohol, who have boyfriends or girlfriends, who “go clubbing”, who shun hijab, and who even commit adultery are standing in front of microphones and television cameras talking about their sins. Yet, the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) said:

“All of my Ummah will be fine except for those who commit sin openly, an example of which is a man who does something at night, and when morning comes and Allāh has concealed his sin, he says, 'O So-and-so, I did such and such yesterday.' His Lord had covered his sin all night, but he has uncovered what Allāh had concealed.”[1]

Often when those who publicize sin are asked why they're uncovering their faults, they give an excuse similar to the message in the video: It makes Muslims look “normal”. It makes Muslims “more approachable.” [Or their favorite…] It will get rid of stereotypes about Islam.

But my hunch is that this is just the cover story.

Beneath this façade, I believe, is just the natural human tendency toward self-justification—that mental space we rush to when our ailing soul cries out for spiritual purification and we respond by gagging it…so we can continue the sin—because we want to.

But thank God for Islamophobia. Because it does make self-justification that much more justified.

Islamophobia Keeps Us Safe

Any Muslim with even a rudimentary knowledge of Islam knows that there is only one group of people responsible for the humiliated state of Muslims today: the Muslims themselves.

Yet continuously, Muslim groups, websites, and even social gatherings bemoan the “West” giving a “bad image” of Islam. And yes, it's true; the West does do a pretty good job of painting Muslims in a bad light. But what of the bad light we're painting of ourselves?

It's a really comfortable space for us when we can sit back and cry over what others are doing to us. But it takes a bit of backbone to confront what we're doing to ourselves.

Masājid and Muslim schools the world over are filled with nationalism, racism, and materialism—from the imām to the congregation. Yet, try to address these problems on any practical level, and you'll likely find yourself ridiculed or ostracized from the community.

Like the Muslim who doesn't pray or cover and brags about it on television, we're quite content with our institutionalized discrimination. If someone calls our bluff, we accuse them of complaining too much, being a trouble-maker, or “playing the race card.” Yet we go home each night and discuss with our spouses, families, and friends our annoyance with Arabs, Pakistanis, Indians, Americans, and “Blacks.”

And when we face each other the next day, we put on fake smiles and discuss the “safe topic”—Islamophobia. Because somehow this “irrational fear of Islam” makes us feel safe.

And we love it.

 

Umm Zakiyyah is the internationally acclaimed author of the If I Should Speak trilogy and the novels Realities of Submission and Hearts We Lost.  She is now writing juvenile fiction stories under the name Ruby Moore. To learn more about the author, visit themuslimauthor.com or join her Facebook page.

WRITTEN FOR MUSLIMMATTERS.ORG

Copyright © 2012 by Al-Walaa Publications.  All Rights Reserved.


[1]  A hadith collected by Bukhāri

allah bukhari imam masajid mashaallah

About Umm Zakiyyah

14 comments

  1. Thank you to Um Zakariya for your very interesting insights, I share many of your frustrations when I see Islam reduced to a cultural phenomena. It’s difficult to address this issue now because in this heated atmosphere of accusations and storms in teacups. Any criticism, no matter how genuine or considerate, brings about great anger from its subjects. It’s unfortunate.

    I would however also like to point out that even though I believe Muslims are responsible for many of the problems they are going through. I don’t think we should overlook the biased way we are treated by the media, or the dirty way Muslims are used as a political scapegoat by many politicians and political parties. We can’t ignore the fact that there are certain individuals who have benefited monetarily from attacking Islam and claiming to “see” the great muzlamic conspiracies. .

    Many times ordinary people who commit any crime, from crashing a car to stealing a wallet to shooting someone, are named specifically as Muslims, and the crime is given an Islamic dimension. In many cases the culprit’s cultural, educational, ethnic backgrounds are not considered at all, or considered only through an Islamic prism. This is only done with Muslims, not with any other religious groups or ethnic groups.

    Thank you again for writing this article.

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  2. happy to read this article. May Allah Bless !

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  3. Jazakillah khair for addressing this. It’s easy to play victim and complain about outside factors but we need to first look at ourselves in the mirror, see how we can change the better.

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  4. Jazakillah khair for addressing this.

    Yeah, it’s easy complain. We, Muslim need to seriously look at ourselves in the mirror, see how we can change for the better.

    I remember a Non Muslim journalist who worked with the media for decades advise the majority Muslim audience at a media workshop, that if you want the media off your back then simply don’t give them the news, the opportunity to turn your shortcomings into a front page article.

    For example, a while back admist the burqah issue worldwide, a news channel interviewed people on the streets here in Australia about their views on the Burqah and many of them didn’t have a problem with it, except for a Muslim girl (which the reporter had to even emphasise) who spoke against it. Maybe in an attempt to be ‘cool’ like you mentioned, I don’t know.

    But one thing is for sure. Get our acts together first before the starting the blame game.

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  5. Nothing but a clean and clear mirror. The best part in the article is “No, they don’t want a religion that asks for impeccable piety, but they surely don’t want one that scoffs at it either.
    But even if they did, our job is to covey the truth of Islam, not to ensure non-Muslims think we’re “cool”.”

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  6. I know which video you are referring to and these were my very thoughts when I saw it as well. Thanks for writing this piece!

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  7. I think I know the video you are talking about. On the other hand, I took the video as a personally uplifting statement. I suppose, since it was made with the intention of da’wah, it is an improper message, but as a message to Muslims specifically, I enjoyed it.

    I am not the perfect Muslimah. In fact, I know my faults intimately, and fall into them often. The video (if we’re talking about the same one, the one with people who write messages on white poster board [and in one case, a dollar bill]) tells me that there are other Muslims out there who commit sins and yet we still work for Allah’s pleasure. We work to overcome these sins, to better ourselves, to become good representatives of Islam, no matter our past and our sins.

    I suppose, as a teenager, I take a different message away. I looked at it as something that showed Islam isn’t this faceless mass of people who judge and condemn and are holier than thou, but Islam is the classmate next to you that made mistakes, the woman who felt urges but didn’t act on them, etc. I have been told (often) that I am too naive and not everything is as innocent as I perceive, and I share your views to an extent. I intensely dislike the fact that the media will pick up the Muslims who speak out against hijab (which I wear) or the gender roles in Islam (which I support) and don’t look at things from a bigger perspective. Perhaps I’ve been too ‘western-ized’, but while I admit there are problems with said video, I still enjoyed the idea that not all Muslims were paragons of virtue, as they make themselves out to be (and use that to stand on when judge me when I do wrong).

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  8. Interestingly enough, I don’t think that video was ever meant to be for dawah. It’s meant for inter-faith dialogue, and it’s a wonderful tool there. We play it in my university.

    I think it was a very black and white way of looking at the video, and unfortunate how Muslims react so black and white to things. Besides the mistakes that a few Muslims mentioned, many Muslims in the video mentioned how much they love to do sujud, how one is proud that he hasn’t had relations yet (isn’t that the opposite of “cool” in this society?), how one hopes the poor and oppressed will remember her when she’s gone, how much one loves to believe in God, etc.

    The video isn’t about saying Muslims are all flawed, but talking about reality. So often Muslims are all painted to be the same, but the video tells that we are as diverse as any other group. It is about humanizing Muslims, not telling what Islam is. I think it’s funny when we pretend Muslims aren’t like that in real life, as diverse as most groups.

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    • Thank you! That’s exactly what I was thinking while I read this article. The video is called “2007 One Nation Contest Winner: A Land Called Paradise” for anyone who would like to see it for themselves. It’s on YouTube. Yes, there are a few silly or problematic things mentioned, but most of them are wonderful statements that do make our community more accessible and human. Why did you only mention the few negative ones? What about the message against drinking alcohol, the one about caring for your parents, the young man who said Islam kept him from committing suicide? The man whose t-shirt says “I love Jesus” or the messages promoting environmental responsibility?

      Our community is far from perfect. While I do not think we should not celebrate faults, showing a few small faults among positive messages may help to humanize us to others or to give hope to Muslims who are struggling that their faults do not make them hopeless but that they can change and improve.

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  9. First I do enjoy your work. Second what follows will not be so nice. I understand your sentiment and while we may statistically be the largest group of worshippers among the faiths it doesn’t mean that all muslims are going to be pious and upright and while we are prohibited from bragging about sins we still commit them. The Prophet (sallalahu alayhi wa sallam) gave glad tidings to the strangers. Face the truth you can’t be strange if everyone worships as well as so-and-so. People who worship Allah are not pariahs but neither are the people who choose not to worship Allah. Everyone will have their share of good and evil, of blessing and negligence. Non practising muslims complain about judgmental and practising ones who look down on the ones who don’t wear hijab or don’t have a beard or miss a prayer. While it is not a true stereotype, you just fell into it and I also fail to see the dawah value of this article. Which is why I’m advising you since I do enjoy your other contributions mashaAllah. May Allah guide me and guide you to the truth. As to the people on youtube bragging about sins, may Allah guide them and convert their sins (and youtube videos) to good deeds. Ameen.

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  10. Barak Allahu Feek.

    Definitely the best article I have read from you.

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  11. I agree that Muslims have a tendency to complain a lot but never do anything about it but I want to point out that the image that the non Muslim public has about Muslims is not an image created by the general Muslim population, it is an image that is painted by extremists and politicians. I also want to point out, and correct me if i am wrong, that it is mostly Muslims who are reading articles on MuslimMatters so by writing this article you are, in a sense, partaking in the pointless complaining that you are condemning in this article.

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  12. The fact of the matter is, so called Muslim people worry about the quantity rather than quality. What we have in our society is the quantity; Islamophobia makes or breaks them.

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  13. I see both sides. But I think what Umm Zakkiyah is saying is that as Muslims, of course we make mistakes, but it is actually haram to publicize your sins. Not to say that we should all pretend that we are perfect Muslims, but we shouldn’t talk about our sins and deficiencies as if they are an everyday thing.

    Also, maybe this ties in a little with what she is saying, I don’t know. But I have been noticing an upsurge in Muslim Americans celebrating Christmas. They have Christmas trees, exchange gifts and say things like, “I believe in Jesus also”

    It looks to me like they are trying too hard to be accepted. Allah knows best.

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