By Nabil Ahmed
Just when we thought Muslims had passed the days of negative, terrorism-attached attention, it feels as though they never left. Repeated cases of child grooming by “Muslims”, then the Boston Marathon bombing, and now the attempted beheading of a British soldier on the outskirts of London, means that all sorts of heinous attacks are associated with Islam.
The responses of many Muslim community leaders have been admirable – and it must be noted that British Muslims have been receiving some positive support from various sections of society. But we seem to cross this hurdle every few years – and it is not going away. Now we have racist groups emerging, underpinned by a hatred for Islam.
This is why in my view the perception of Muslims remains negative:
- Muslims tend to be obsessive in analysis of how bad the media is, on why people did what they did, and so on. Muslims seem to be active on Twitter and Facebook – in condemnation for example – which is noted. But how useful is any of this? By the time we respond the damage is already done and all we’re doing is just nursing a wound.
- Through good intentions we think we are doing good, but in reality, we are following ‘what we think is right’ rather than taking an approach that is rooted in the Qur’an and the way of the Prophet .
- It is especially important in this day and age of distraction, where media saturation plays such a large role in our lives, to remember the examples of the ultimate pioneers of change – the Prophets. These were the people whom Allah appointed as His Messengers on the earth. Allah did not give us the Qur’an and send the Prophets just for fiqh, or for inspiration. It is primarily their guidance that we must follow if we want to be successful.
- Let us not forget that the Prophet Muhammad went through much worse than we will ever see – for example when, at Ta’if, he had stones hurled at him as that community rejected him and made this d’ua that changed the world:
“O Allah! Unto You do I complain of my weakness, of my helplessness and of my lowliness before men. O most Merciful of the merciful. O Lord of the weak and my Lord too. Into whose hands have you entrusted me? Unto some far off stranger who receives me with hostility? Or unto a foe whom you have empowered against me? I care not, so long as You are not angry with me. But Your favoring help, that were for me the broader way and the wider scope. I take refuge in the light of Your countenance whereby all darknesses are illuminated and all things of this world and the next are rightly ordered, lest You make descend Your anger upon me or lest Your wrath beset me. Yet it is Yours to reproach until You are well pleased. There is no power and no might except through Thee.”[divider]
The real approach that we need is not a perception-improvement strategy, but a life and hereafter strategy. Here are 5 proposals:
1. Put what we see in the media in context.
Don’t let your feeling of success be defined by what the media or politicians choose to portray – remember that success is defined by Allah alone. Do not let the idea that just because a Muslim did something horrendous make you feel guilty.
Do not let the news cycles define your self-image. Be aware of the public mood, but define your life by the real actions that you can do that will positively impact the community.
2. If your neighbors have never been given a good impression of Islam, that is your fault.
Be a dutiful neighbor so much so that they would miss you once you’ve died.
The Prophet said,
“Jibril kept advising me concerning the neighbor to the point that I thought that he would inherit from his neighbor” (Bukhari, Muslim).
The Prophet was known to spend quality time with people, young and old, Muslim as well as Jewish people and others.
Share your cooking with a few of your neighbours (make it healthy). Invite them for tea, get to know them and give the opportunity to question you about Islam. Host gatherings – for example this Ramadan hold a street iftar and invite them over. Offer help to those that need it. Feed the Homeless in your city.
3. The BBC, or any Muslim organization, will not actually change anybody’s destiny, but Allah will.
So remember Who to direct your complaint to and remember Who to rely upon.
After the incident at Taif, the Prophet said: “O Allah! Unto You do I complain of my weakness, of my helplessness and of my lowliness before men…There is no power and no might except through Thee”.
“The Qur’an (27:62) says: “Is He [not best] who responds to the desperate one when he calls upon Him and removes evil and makes you inheritors of the earth?”
Make sincere d’ua after every prayer and pray Qiyaam-ul-layl (even once a week to start with, and keep it simple in the summer with 8-rakah after Isha before sleeping).
4. Have beautiful patience (sabrun jamil) like Yaqub [as] and Muhammad .
Muslims’ words and actions are under the spotlight. This is the time to shine, not be angry or complain to people. If you work with other people, or you work in politics, in a hospital, in a school, a University, then you have an incredible reach for your da’wah.
Keep smiling. If people talk about Islam, present it in an admirable way. Pick issues carefully – amongst Muslims and none, this is not the time to divide Muslims further, or antagonize those who aren’t Muslim who innocently may be scared. Remember, most of our communication (arguably over 75%) is non-verbal. And stay out of useless protests.
5. Be humble. Learn Islam from those that know it and then connect it with your actions.
We generally lack an understanding in the deen. That means knowledge, our character, our hearts. Do we spend more time on Facebook than we do learning the lessons of the Qur’an?
Take some time out for studying at a local class, or even travel to spend time with scholars for 1 day a month. You will find the answers to our everyday challenges mapped out verse by verse in the Qur’an, and this will refuel you to deal with the challenges of the dunya.
None of this is particularly glamorous. But the way of Islam is to free ourselves from doing what we think is right, and making ourselves slaves of The Creator. Let us not be reactionary but refocus ourselves on the true long-term goal.
In my own experience, some of my closest friends are those who when they first met me thought I “was a terrorist” just because of what they had read in tabloids. Nobody had spent quality one-to-one time with them to show them otherwise. If we follow Islam properly, at least our hearts can rest in the pleasure of following the command of Allah – and if He wills it, then we hope He can raise us up to living with wisdom, foresight and patience in the way of the Prophets.
Nabil Ahmed is a British-based community activist, working in international development. He has held posts in the National Union of Students, was formerly president of FOSIS and has been published in the Guardian, AJE, New Statesman and Suhaibwebb.com.
5 Quick Things Americans Can Do For Uyghurs Today
“I may die, but let it be known that my nation will continue their struggle so long the world continues to exist.” Kazakh leader Uthman Batur. He said these words as Chinese authorities executed him for resisting the communist occupation. Currently, China has, one million Uyghurs (Uighurs), Kazakhs, and other Muslim minorities held in concentration camps in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR) (East Turkistan) in northwestern China.
Their struggle surpasses the 10 or so years since we have become aware of it. Just like the Rohingya genocide, we waited till the last minute. We are always late and say, “Never Again.” It happens again and again.
In my lifetime, there have been horrendous genocides that could have been prevented to stopped. As a child, I remember Rwanda in the headlines, then a year later Bosnian genocide. Then we hear these demonic stories after the fact. I remember stories from survivors from Bosnia, and thinking to myself, “How are you here and functioning?”
Let us not be fooled to why this is happening now. It is related to economic advantages. The Chinese government’s present signature foreign policy initiative is the “Belt and Road Initiative” (BRI) that seeks to connect the PRC economically to the rest of the Eurasian continent through massive infrastructure projects that will stimulate international trade. The western and south-western components of the BRI require the XUAR to serve as a transportation and commercial hub to trade routes and pipelines that will join China with Central and South Asia, the Middle East, and the entirety of Europe. As a result, the XUAR has become an important strategic region for the Chinese, and the state views its indigenous populations as an obstacle to developing its vision for this future critical center of international commercial networks.1
The expansion of their trade route also ties in Iran hence the sanctions placed, but that’s a different report for a different time. China, of course, has defended their actions by claiming its an anti-terrorism plan. Getting reliable information is hard. China has made it a point to make things difficult for reporters. Yanan Wang, a China-based journalist from the Associated Press, has reported extensively on and from Xinjiang.
In a ceremony at Asia Society on Tuesday commemorating AP’s 2019 Osborn Elliott Award for Excellence in Journalism on Asia, Wang described the subtle ways government minders worked to thwart her reporting: “(Both of the times we went there we arrived at the airport, we had a welcoming committee from the local authorities. They’re always very polite and professional. They say that “you’ve arrived in Xinjiang and we’re here to assist you in your reporting. Tell us what you’re working on so we can help you.” They offer us drives in their car and plenty of hospitality.
Basically, from the moment we arrive, we’re followed by at least one car. There are a bunch of interesting scenarios that we came across. You can see that the local handlers are trying hard to be professional. They are members of the propaganda department, so they’re PR professionals. They don’t want to make it appear like it’s so stifling. At one point, we were taking photos, and someone suddenly appeared on the scene to say he was a “concerned citizen.” He said he’d seen us taking photos and that it was an infringement of his privacy rights. He had this long monologue about privacy rights and about how it wasn’t right for us to take photos of him without his knowledge. We asked him, “Well, where are you in these photos?” and he’d go through all of them. He said we had to delete all of them. He’d say, “This is my brother,” or “This is my place of work, you have to delete it.”
They had all of these interesting tactics to work around the idea that they were trying to obstruct our reporting and make it appear that someone who claims to be a concerned citizen.)”2
On top of that, locals that talk to journalist are punished, sometimes go missing.
I decided to do something this time around; I got in touch with an Uyghur community near my residence to see how an individual could help. It started at a Turkic restaurant, and from there, I have been involved in whatever capacity I am able. Through this effort, I got in touch with a Turkic professor in Turkey who has students stranded as they are cut off from contacting family back in Xinjiang. He helps them out financially; my family and friends help with what they can.
As Muslims in the West, there is no doubt we should act. Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessings be upon him, said “Whosoever of you sees an evil, let him change it with his hand; and if he is not able to do so, then [let him change it] with his tongue; and if he is not able to do so, then with his heart, and that is the weakest of faith” (Muslim).
How Can You Help Uyghurs
Here are a few things you can do to help:
1. Ask Congress to pass To pass S.178 & H.R.649 Uyghur Human Rights Policy Act of 2019. Urge your senator and representative to support this cause. It has been introduced. This bill can help the Uyghur community to be treated like Tibetans (another region oppressed by China).
2. Stay informed. The mainstream media is not the place to get accurate information on the situation. Be skeptical of where the data is coming from, stick to reliable sources that are verified. As mentioned above, journalists find it difficult to report.
4. Boycott or reduce buying Made in China products
5. Follow these links for updated information: facebook.com/Uyghur-Human-Rights-Project-227634297289994/ and facebook.com/ChinaMuslims
This crisis is an ethnic cleansing for profit. These are dark days as we value profit over people.
1.Statement by Concerned Scholars on mass detentions | MCLC …. https://u.osu.edu/mclc/2018/11/27/statement-by-concerned-scholars-on-mass-detention s/
2.Why It’s So Difficult for Journalists To Report From …. https://asiasociety.org/blog/asia/why-its-so-difficult-journalists-report-xinjiang
Retire Aladdin To The Ends Of The Earth
By Jinan Shbat
I grew up in an upper-middle-class suburb in Ohio, where I never felt different than the kids in my neighborhood. Sure, my siblings and I had odd-sounding names, and we spoke a second language. But to our neighbors and classmates, we were white, like them. However, that perception changed when I was 11-years-old, when a Disney cartoon movie named “Aladdin,” was released based off of a character created by a French orientalist at the height of Orientalism. At first, my siblings and I were excited because we thought Disney had made a movie that represented us. However, shortly after the movie came out, the questions began.
Are you from Agrabah?
Do you have a magic carpet? Are you going to be married off to someone your parents choose? Do you have outfits like Jasmine?” My head was swarming with all these questions, and I admit, I was intimidated. A little scared, too. I didn’t know how to answer them, and so I just shook my head and walked away.
My parents thought they were doing us a favor by buying the movie and have us watch it anytime other kids came over to play. This just created a larger divide between us, and soon my siblings and I were the “other.” It made me hyper-aware of my brown skin, my visiting foreign grandparents, and my weird-sounding name that no one could ever pronounce correctly. As I grew up, the movie and its racist, Orientalist tropes followed and haunted me. Anytime anyone found out I was Arab, they would ask, “oh, like Aladdin?” I didn’t know how to answer that. Was Aladdin Arab? South Asian, Persian? These were all different ethnicities, yet the movie seemed to be an amalgamation of them all, set in a fiction land I could not identify.
Why is Disney’s Aladdin Harmful?
It may not seem like a big deal to be misidentified in this way, but it is. And these stereotypes that have been present in Hollywood for decades are a huge disservice to our communities- all our communities- because when you misidentify a person’s culture, you are saying that all people of color are interchangeable— which is dehumanizing.
With the new release of the live action version, “Aladdin” is reinforcing the trauma and obstacles we have had to fight for the last 30+ years. The addition of a diversity consulting firm made Disney look good; it showed good faith on their part to receive feedback on the script to try and improve it.
However, issues remain with the original story itself, and no amount of consulting will change that.
Although the Aladdin remake was marked by controversy over Disney “brown-facing” its white cast, and despite original Aladdin’s racist history, last weekend Disney’s live-action version soared to $207.1 million globally. Money experts tell us that the remake success comes from the “power of nostalgia”- that is, the film’s ability to connect with feel-good memories.
The original production is the second highest grossing film project in Disney history. Last weekend, millions flocked to the remake in record numbers, despite critics’ negative and mixed reviews.
The accompanying Aladdin Jr. play is also a major concern, sales of which will skyrocket because of the film. Disney only recently removed the word ‘barbaric’ in its description of Arabs in the opening song. Many more problems abound, but Disney promises through its licensing company, Music Theatre International, to keep the concepts explored in the original production intact.
A Whole New World Needs Less Anti-Muslim Bigotry
From my perspective, as an organizer that fights a huge Islamophobia network in my daily work, it would be a disservice to my work and our community to sit by and allow racist, Islamophobic, orientalist tropes to make their way into our theaters, homes, and schools. What exactly is not a big deal in this movie? The depiction of Arabs and South Asians as one demographic, the storyline of forced marriage, power struggles, a black man playing a genie literally bound by chains to a lamp?
Hollywood’s history of Islamophobia needs to be rectified. There is a plethora of writers, actors and creative minds with alternative positive portrayals of Muslims, Arabs and South Asians. Our consumer appetite must shift to embrace authentic stories and images about people like me.
Aladdin is beyond repair; in its original form, it is problematic. No number of meetings with executives will fix the problems that are still prevalent. It should be retired, indefinitely, and put on the shelf with all the other racist caricatures from Hollywood history.
It’s our duty to speak out- and if you don’t believe we should, then you can choose to stay silent. I cannot.
Jinan Shbat is an organizer in Washington DC.
Faith Community Stands With Peace And Justice Leader Imam Omar Suleiman During Right Wing Attacks
In a follow up to the right-wing media platforms attack on Imam Omar Suleiman – calling him anti-semitic, a common tactic used to discredit both Muslim activists, as well as criticism of Israel policies, Faith Forward Dallas issued a statement.
Faith Forward Dallas at Thanksgiving Square – Faith Leaders United for Peace and Justice is a Texas-based interfaith organization that has worked on many initiatives with Imam Omar Suleiman.
The statement reads:
“Imam Omar Suleiman a spiritual and moral voice for peace with justice!!!!!
Time after time in our city, in the United States and around the world, Imam Omar Suleiman has been a spiritual and moral voice for peace with justice. When others seek to divide, he calls for unity. Faith Forward Dallas at Thanks-Giving Square works to unite faith leaders for justice and compassion. Imam Suleiman has been a trusted leader among us. In the wake of his beautiful prayer to open the House of Representatives on May 9, he has received threats of violence and words of vilification when instead he should have our praise and prayers. We call upon people of good will everywhere to tone down the rhetoric, to replace hate with love, and to build bridges toward the common good.
Faith Forward Dallas at Thanks-Giving Square”
Commenters on the Faith Forward Dallas statement have left comments of support.
The group has invited locals and other leaders to endorse and share the statement. “Endorsed! I love and fully you Imam Omar Suleiman!” wrote Karen Weldes Fry, Spiritual Director at Center of Spiritual Learning in Dallas (CSLDallas), commenting on the statement.
Some commentators do not understand the manufactured controversy. Heather Mustain writes, “What people are writing is so vile. They obviously didn’t even listen to his prayer!” Imam Omar Suleiman delivered the opening prayer in the US House of Representatives on May, 9th, 2019 at the invitation of Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson (D) of Dallas, TX.
“I’m grateful for the faith leaders with whom I’ve built relationships with and served with for years that have shown full support throughout this process. Together we’ve stood with one another in solidarity in the face of bigotry, and in the support of others in any form of pain. We will not let these dark forces divide us,” said Imam Omar Suleiman in response to the outpouring of love from the people he has worked with on the ground, building on peace, love, and justice.