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Blessings of Hifz: A Mother’s Story

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By Umm Sarah

This article was originally posted here.

When my older brother finished memorizing the Qur’an and started leading taraweeh back in the late 90s, it wasn’t all that common for children born in the US to have completed hifz, especially without going overseas. An LA Times reporter interviewed my family for a story on his accomplishment. She asked me, then 11 years old, if I was also planning to memorize the Qur’an like my brother. I told her I wasn’t sure yet and then she asked me, “Do you feel that boys are encouraged to memorize the Qur’an more than girls?”

“No,” I replied. I didn’t want the story to take an “Islam’s treatment of women” turn, especially by someone who wasn’t aware of the whole picture. But my answer was only half true.

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I had started memorizing the Qur’an with my older brother, but then paused after memorizing only two of the thirty juz. He was more dedicated and continued. But it would be exaggerating to say the issue was only about dedication. Although my parents encouraged all of us children to memorize and study the Qur’an, the general belief then was that memorizing the Qur’an was not a thing girls needed to do. Most of the few schools for memorization that existed then only catered to boys. “A girl can’t lead taraweeh,” I would often hear people saying. “How will she keep the Qur’an memorized afterwards? Especially since she won’t be able to read during times of the month. So what’s the use of doing hifz anyway?” There was no need to burden a girl with this responsibility of reviewing the Qur’an for the rest of her life. Especially when she couldn’t use it to benefit the community by leading taraweeh prayers or the like.

Despite this, I started memorizing again at home.  This was an unconventional way to memorize, as children usually go to special schools for memorization and follow a rigid routine to complete this. I took it one surah at a time, with no clear end goal in mind. I wasn’t sure whether I was going to complete memorizing the entire Qur’an or stop before that. I had pauses here and there, but eventually, by the grace of Allah, I finished in 2004.

I loved having the relationship with the Qur’an that memorizing the Qur’an gave me, but there were no practical benefits or uses of my hifz in sight then. By the next year both my older and younger brother were leading taraweeh at the masjid and everyone in the community appreciated the fact that they had memorized the Qur’an. As for me, most people didn’t even know I had memorized the Qur’an and even if they did, it made no difference.

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The first time I found myself really appreciating my hifz was when I went to Pakistan to study Islamic sciences. That is also the first time I learned that it’s not an uncommon thing at all for a girl to have memorized the Qur’an. About one third of my classmates were hafizas and I was fortunate to be among them. There were many advantages of having memorized the Qur’an while studying Arabic and Islam. While other students had to struggle to remember ayahs that teachers quoted for daleels (proofs of rulings), look up the proper wording of ayahs, etc. hafizas had a headstart. The Qur’an, the base of all Islamic knowledge, was in our hearts. Just a simple reference to an ayah was all we would need to understand and remember an issue. Often, teachers would ask us to help quote an ayah they couldn’t recall. The subjects of Arabic and tafseer, especially, became easy. Needless to say, having memorized the Qur’an helped me in my studies. When I returned and started teaching classes, the benefits of hifz were obvious in everything. I could quote ayahs easily without having to look them up, something that was especially useful in Tafseer.

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But, ironically, I only truly started appreciating what a great, great blessing hifz is after becoming a mother. And I say ironically because most people thought the “burden” of hifz would be most difficult to carry then. Instead, only after motherhood I realized the great value of this treasure. And as the blessings of hifz come to color every day in mine and my daughters’ lives, my appreciation for hifz grows more and more.

With Ramadan being in the summer now and taraweeh starting after 10 PM and ending near midnight, attending taraweeh at the masjid is not an easy thing for mothers of young children. Last year, I also realized that I would not be able to attend taraweeh at the masjid. But unlike most other mothers I knew, I had a better option. And that was to complete the Qur’an in taraweeh by myself.

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This had always been a dream of mine ever since I completed my hifz, and something that many hafizas actually do every year. But for me, it remained a goal that I never actively worked towards. Most years, I was too tempted to pray in the masjid with the community than stay at home and pray by myself, even though it would give me the much needed opportunity to review my hifz.

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But last Ramadan, when my second daughter was just two months old and my first one not yet two, I decided that this would be the year that I would finally attempt to accomplish this dream. I would spend as much as time as I could during the day in between nursing and changing diapers and chasing after a two year old reviewing the part for the night, and reading it to my husband. At night when everyone else left for taraweeh, the best part of my day would start. The girls would sleep; I would pray. If they were feeling fussy or woke up, I could adjust. I’d take a break between rakahs or perhaps start praying later. Sometimes, they’d just play or watch as I prayed. I didn’t have to worry about missing rakahs, or about my fussy baby bothering others.  And at the end of the month I had accomplished my goal. I had recited the entire Qur’an by heart in prayer. It was the most empowering and fulfilling experience in my life, not to mention how it helped me strengthen my relationship with the Qur’an, or how it saved my Ramadan at a time when motherhood chores were too taxing for me to use my time the way I would have liked to in Ramadan.

Often, people use motherhood and the responsibility of looking after kids as an excuse for girls NOT to do hifz. How will she be able to review the Qur’an and keep it memorized with all those other responsibilities? But this experience led me to feel that motherhood should be counted among one of the many reasons for a girl to DO hifz.  True, it is a bit more challenging to keep reviewing the Qur’an during this busy period of life. But having an excuse to review the Qur’an is a good thing. I would hear fellow moms complaining about their lack of ability to attend taraweeh, about missing out on the recitation of the Qur’an. And I felt incredibly blessed to not have to worry about this at all, to have had my own awesome solution.

This isn’t the only way hifz has benefited me as a mother. Being a hafiza means the Qur’an is your constant companion. I can’t express how soothing it is to know I have this familiar, reliable friend I can always turn to as I navigate the ups and downs of motherhood.  Being a hafiza also means I am able to give my daughters a lot more exposure to the Qur’an. As they accompany me when I go to the masjid to teach Qur’an, or when I’m just reading Qur’an myself, I feel blessed that I am able to put them in such an environment and pass on the Qur’an to them directly without having to depend on others. It’s too early to see much result but I wouldn’t be exaggerating if I said my nearly three year old daughter is more familiar with juz amma than most of my much older students. A lot of this is because of the blessings of hifz. And I pray to Allah that He increases their love for the Qur’an as they grow older.

As far as not being able to read Qur’an during certain times, something that people often bring up when explaining why they don’t encourage their daughters to memorize, that’s not really as big an issue as it seems. Sure, it might make hifz a bit more challenging. But the break from Qur’an often provides a chance to recharge interest and return with even more excitement and motivation, something that (to-be) huffaz are often in need of.

I share this to show that memorizing the Quran is a means of great blessings and goodness for everyone, male or female, mother or not. Not everyone needs to use this blessing in the same way. There are different ways huffaz can benefit their community. For me, to read Qur’an to my daughters is much more fulfilling and beneficial in the long run than leading thousands of people in prayer or being on stage and reading for an audience.

It is heartening to see more and more girls memorizing the entire Qur’an. We have come a long way from the time that families would train their sons to be huffaz while leaving their daughters struggling with basic Qur’an reading, let alone memorization. For any parents that might be wondering whether they should encourage their daughters to memorize the Qur’an, I guarantee you that this is the most valuable gift you can give any child. And for any girl who might have been having doubts about whether doing hifz is really worth it, I assure you it is worth it. And the older you grow and the more entangled you get in life’s challenges, whatever you may be facing, hifz is the anchor that will keep bringing you back to the Qur’an and ensure that the Qur’an remain your lifelong companion.

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26 Comments

26 Comments

  1. Avatar

    Wajahat

    June 26, 2015 at 8:35 AM

    Agreed. This article of yours is actually an enthusiasm in itself to memorize the Qur’an

  2. Avatar

    Waleed

    June 26, 2015 at 8:46 AM

    An Awesome article. A real inspiration.

  3. Avatar

    Mahamoud Haji

    June 26, 2015 at 11:02 AM

    The other great benefit is a mother who has memorized Qur’aan will actively encourage her children to do the same!

  4. Avatar

    Manna

    June 26, 2015 at 11:27 AM

    Assalamu’alaikum,

    JazakAllahu khyr. My wife and I are planning to make our daughter (and inshaAllah all our children) a Hafiza. You’ve told us in advance the remarks and criticism we could face and the great benefits. May Allah accept from you and your family and grant you khayr – especially in this month of Ramadaan.

  5. Avatar

    Mummyjaan

    June 26, 2015 at 12:21 PM

    This is one of the most beautiful pieces that I’ve read on Muslim matters; the author’s connection and attachment to the Quran comes across as so sincere, heartfelt and touching. Jazakillah.

  6. Avatar

    Salma Ahamed

    June 26, 2015 at 9:25 PM

    Assalamu Alikum Sister. I would also put forth a perspective that there are few communities around the globe, where female is treated as the only responsibility to carry deen forward to the younger generation, inspite of less exposure to outer world resulting in imbalances in the society. Well, Mankind is diverse. But you did a genuine narration of reality, be it the way a hafiza is appreciated in a community or the benefits of being Hafiza! Alhamdulillah.But both the cases say, A mother who bears quran and deen in heart is most important necessity of the soceity.
    Jazakallahu for your insights.

  7. Avatar

    Saadia

    June 26, 2015 at 11:24 PM

    What a beautiful story! Our daughter is doing Hifzh and it was needed for me to read this article and get so much encouragement!

  8. Avatar

    Syed Husain

    June 27, 2015 at 4:34 AM

    After reading this beatiful story, I can only say “Subhana Allahi wa bay Hamdehi, Subhan Allahil Azeem”.

  9. Avatar

    Areena

    June 27, 2015 at 5:53 AM

    Jazakillahu khairan katheeran :) great motivation. Surely needed it.

  10. Avatar

    Uzma Altaf

    June 27, 2015 at 1:08 PM

    Assalamualaikum…jazak Allah khair….really inspiring…please make dua for me to do the same…

  11. Avatar

    Blueberry

    June 27, 2015 at 3:06 PM

    Good paper documentary

  12. Avatar

    RP

    June 27, 2015 at 4:11 PM

    This is such a great article. I just wanted to add some thoughts. I also memorized the Quran on my own with the help of a few friends. I never went to a madrassa or similar institution. However, I’m a guy. I just wanted to add that a lot of times (especially in the South Asian community), I’ve noticed that memorizing the Quran automatic translates to leading tarawih. It’s as if that is the goal of memorizing. The point of memorizing Quran is to strengthen our relationship with Allah, and that can be done regardless of gender as the author so beautifully illustrated.

  13. Avatar

    Abdul Haq Abdul Kadir

    June 27, 2015 at 4:20 PM

    Subhaanallah. This is the result of true love for Allah. This Noore Ilaahi does not get into the hearts of everyone. Be very grateful to Allah to have such a treasure in your hearts. Baarakallah.

  14. Avatar

    Farhia

    June 27, 2015 at 11:11 PM

    MashAllah you are a role model to some of us young girls who also strive to be hafidhs i.a May Allah bless you snd you family

  15. Avatar

    Arfeen

    June 28, 2015 at 1:25 AM

    Masha Allah .. So touching and inspiring ..jazak Allah for sharing

  16. Avatar

    Umar

    June 28, 2015 at 7:21 AM

    Initially the lack of attention, and societal appreciation was portrayed in a slightly negative light.

    I would argue that this saves one from the trial of corrupting intentions. It is so easy to get carried away when others praise you.

  17. Avatar

    Riaz

    June 28, 2015 at 3:21 PM

    MashaAllah, Very inspiring article. My son is doing Hifz and my daughter would be doing the same in sha Allah. I thank you sister for sharing your story. May Allah give you best reward in this world and hereafter. I am feeling very difficult to teach kids Quran in this country when there is so many distractions particulary internet. Please pray for all muslim kids to memorize Quran, learn and act on its teachings. Amin

  18. Avatar

    Abu Royyahn

    June 29, 2015 at 1:22 AM

    JazakAllahu khyr. My wife and I are planning to make our family insha Allah all Hafizu. You’ve told us in advance the remarks and criticism we could face and the great benefits. May Allah accept it as part of good deed.#Ramadaan kareem

  19. Avatar

    sa'eed Ibn Imran

    June 29, 2015 at 7:49 AM

    Alhamdullah! So inspiring and fascinating.
    This is a true sermon of gender equality, There’s nothing bad in being an hafiza, even though our female cannot lead in prayer. I pray Allah provide for me an Hafiza as a wife.

  20. Avatar

    BR

    June 29, 2015 at 10:24 AM

    Subhanallaah.. just whe n i reached the last 5 paras I was so discouraged to go ahead and that’s when i stumbled upon this beautiful piece of encouragement. … barakallahu feek sis…

  21. Avatar

    Umm Fatoumata

    June 30, 2015 at 10:55 AM

    masha’ALLAH! Very inspiring, JazakALLAH khair!

  22. Avatar

    abdulrazaq bakare

    July 5, 2015 at 4:46 PM

    Barakallahu fee sister. Very inspiring peace. I pray Allah to make it easy for me and my kids too. Asalamu Alaykum

  23. Avatar

    Islamic School

    December 7, 2015 at 11:03 PM

    After reading this beatiful story, I can only say “Subhana Allahi ”and We should make all our children’s a Hifz.

  24. Avatar

    Asiya

    March 5, 2016 at 10:17 AM

    Great article and very inspiring, especially for me as someone who hasn’t memorised much and is married to a Haafiz!

    Barak Allahu feeki

  25. Avatar

    ghulam mustafa

    March 29, 2016 at 10:09 AM

    Quran for kids- The best start quran designed for children
    http://www.qtvtutor.com/course/quran-for-kids/

  26. Avatar

    Saba

    May 25, 2016 at 8:22 PM

    Beautiful ما شاء الله

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Civil Rights

Podcast: Lessons from the Life of Malcolm X | Abdul-Malik Ryan

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One of the things that happens with historical figures who continue to remain well-known and influential years after they can continue to speak for themselves is that others seek to speak for them.  Attempts are made to co-opt their legacy, either in sincere efforts for good or in selfish efforts for ideological or even commercial gain.  This is especially true of Malcolm X, who is not only a historical and political icon but in many ways a “celebrity” remembered by many primarily for his style and attitude.

The only real and meaningful tribute we can pay to Malcolm X is to follow his example. Click To Tweet

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Once, while in class at college, an Arab girl I was sitting next to said quite loudly to another, “Hey, give this paper to the ‘abdah” referring to a black girl in the class. I wondered if she was even aware of what she was saying in English. Did she think that ‘abdah translates to “black girl” and never thought of its true meaning? Did she think that I didn’t understand?

 

Read by Zeba Khan, originally posted here on Muslimmatters.org.

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#Current Affairs

When Racism Goes Viral: The Coronavirus And Modern Muslim Orientalism

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Lumping an entire people together for collective punishment, reveling in their suffering, and sniggering at their food choices isn’t an exercise in science, Sunnah, or compassion. It’s good, old-fashioned orientalism.

In the eight weeks since it was identified, the 2019 novel coronavirus has infected nearly 12,000 people in China alone, 200 of whom did not survive. Symptoms are flu-like in nature, and global side effects include acute, apparently contagious… racism.

Online, in Muslim as well as non-Muslim spaces, social media feeds are sniggering “Eww, you eat gross things! Of course you’ll get gross diseases!” In the midst of this human tragedy, orientalist tropes about the Chinese are being sloppily repackaged as health concerns over the coronavirus, and served with a side of bat soup.

Yes, bat soup.

The coronavirus in question is found in bats, and thanks to the scientific expertise of social media, videos of Chinese people consuming anything from bat soup to baby mice and rats are popping up as “proof” of the disease’s cause.

However the coronavirus made the jump from bats to humans, the initial source of the outbreak seems to have originated from the Wuhan Seafood market, where a number of employees and a few shoppers were the first casualties to the infection. The 2019-nCoV is moving from person to person the same way the flu does, and what a person eats – or doesn’t eat – has no bearing on whether they contract the virus or not.

In an article titled, No, Coronavirus Was Not Caused by ‘Bat Soup’–But Here’s What Researchers Think May Be to Blame, Health.com writes:

“Coronaviruses in general are large family of viruses that can affect many different species of animals, including camels, cattle, cats, and bats, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). In rare cases, those viruses are also zoonotic, which means they can pass between humans and animals—as was the case with Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS) and severe acute respiratory system (SARS), two severe coronaviruses in people.

Initially, this novel coronavirus was believed to have started in a large seafood or wet market, suggesting animal-to-person spread, according to the CDC. But a large number of people diagnosed with the virus reportedly didn’t have exposure to the wet markets, indicating that person-to-person spread of the virus is also occurring. However, it’s still possible that the novel coronavirus began with an infected animal at the market—and then went on to person-to-person transmission once people were infected.”

Being uncomfortable with things you’ve never considered edible before isn’t necessarily a racist reaction. When my husband told me he ate a chocolate-covered cricket once, I hid my toothbrush for a week, but that’s not what’s happening right now. There is a deadly virus threatening a group of people, and the internet sees fit to make fun of them. Why? Because orientalism.

Orientalism is the “intellectual” framework through which Western societies create a clear and permanent line between Western superiority and “Oriental” inferiority. If orientalism were an Instagram filter, it would take any picture of any person, event, or thing, and distort its appearance to be “other,” and in some way inferior.

Orientalism is the “intellectual” framework through which Western societies create a clear and permanent line between Western superiority and “Oriental” inferiority. If orientalism were an Instagram filter, it would take any picture of any person, event, or thing, and distort its appearance to be “other,” and in some way inferior.Click To Tweet

The inferiorizing feature is step one, because in order to position yourself as a winner, the other guy has to be a loser in some way.

The otherizing is the step 2, and both steps are important because if you say that your little brother is a loser, in the end you’re still family and you’ve got his back. This would be inferiorizing, but not otherizing.

But if you say that other kind of guy is a loser, then you have no common ground. And when the other kind of guy is in trouble, you need only gloat and make nasty comments on Twitter. That’s inferiorizing with otherizing. Orientalism can be loosely translated as US vs THEM, normal versus weird, and local versus invasive foreign, or exotic.

The otherizing of orientalism is so subconsciously embedded in people that it even creates auditory illusions to maintain the “otherization” of the subject being viewed. As crazy as that sounds, everyone has their own experience. Mine for just last month played out as follows. A homeless man approached my window and said “Ma’am, do you have two dollars?”

I smiled and responded to him, “I have exactly two dollars!”

As I dug around for my wallet, he cocked his head and said, “Your accent. There’s something different about it. Something… foreign, exotic?”

“It’s Chicago,” I said, handing him two dollars.

He blinked a few times. “What’s Chicago?”

“My accent. It’s Chicagoan. English is my first language. My accent is from Chicago.”

He narrowed his eyes at me suspiciously, this gatekeeper of Chicagoness. “What part of Chicago?”

“North side, Lincolnwood area,” I said. “I grew up on Devon Ave.”

“Pulaski Park!” he beamed, pointing to himself. “I’m from Chicago too!”

We smiled at each other, basking for a moment in our mutual Chicagoness. Then I waved and drove away, adding his insistence of my  exotic“otherness” to the dozens of other peoples’ who have heard my perfectly flat, perfectly blandly midwestern accent and perceived something foreign. I call that one “hearing with your eyes.”

I have lost track of people who have tried to insist that I have an accent. One woman even went so far as to imply that I was lying about being a native English speaker, that I must have some other first language, because there’s “Something else in there, I can hear something foreign! But you’re very articulate though.”

(To form your own opinion on my exotic accent or the lack thereof, visit the MuslimMatters podcast here!)

Compliments like “You’re so articulate!” or “You’re so different!” give you partial credit for your exceptionality, while still discrediting every other member of your general race, religion, region, or hemisphere. The left-handed compliment has a long history, and follows a predictable pattern. Take, for example, this excerpt from The Talisman, a crusade-genre fiction published in 1825.

In this scene, our gallant, invading knight finds himself unable to defeat the enemy “Saracen,” aka – Muslim defender of the Holy Land. In grudging admiration, the knight concedes:

“I well thought…that your blinded race had their descent from the foul fiend, without whose aid you would never have been able to maintain this blessed land of Palestine against so many valiant soldiers of God. I speak not thus of thee in particular, Saracen, but generally of thy people and religion. Strange it is to me, however, not that you should have the descent from the Evil One, but that you should boast of it.”

Translation: “Your people and your religion are the spawn of satan, but not you. I speak not thus of thee in particular. You’re so cool for Muslim!” Spoiler alert: turns out it’s Salahuddin.

From the crusades to colonialism to America’s chronic invasion of Muslim lands, the misrepresentation of people from Over There is both a cause and effect of policy decisions. Orientalism creates the “bad guys” necessary to justify the “good guy” response by “proving” the bad guys to be so weird, inferior, and intrinsically bad that it becomes necessary to call for the good guy cavalry. That gives the good guys permission to take over the resources that the bad guys are too incompetent to manage anyway, and overthrow the governments they’re too stupid to run, and free the women that they’re too barbaric to appreciate.

One excellent reference on this is Dr. Jack Shaheen’s brilliant documentary Reel Bad Arabs, which summarizes a hundred years of Hollywood’s orientalist portrayal of “Arab Land,” a mythical, exotic, treacherous, incompetent, and seductive place, whose capital city is apparently Agrabah which, in 2015, a public policy poll found that 30% of GOP voters were in favor of bombing.

Another side effect of orientalism is the refusal to allow for individual accountability and the insistence on collective blame. “Western” men who harm and oppress women are rightly labeled as jerks and abusers who don’t represent Western morals, ethics, or ideals through their individual actions. Same for white racists, extremists, and criminals in general.

However, Muslims jerks who do the same are awarded representative status of the entire Muslim population (1.9 billion) and Islamic tradition (1441 years). The perception as all Muslim men based on only the worst of them seems ludicrous on paper, and such generalizations are no longer acceptable to make about race, but are still perfectly popular to make about minority religious groups.

Orientalism enables the belief that Muslims are terrible terrorists who are terrible to their women. If they say otherwise, it’s because their religion is terrible and lying about it is part of the religion too. They don’t deserve their own lands or resources, they’ll just use them for more terribleness. We should go in there and save them from themselves! And also, make lots of predictable, idiotic romance novels and movies in which a poor, beautiful Oriental Female is rescued through the power of Love and Freedom. Because just as violence is the natural state of the Muslim man, oppression is the natural state of the Muslim woman. Miskeena. Habibti.

Human beings can be horrible to each other. No ethnic, religious, or racial group is any exception. The problem arises when individual horribleness is elevated to collective attribution, and that collective attribution is used to justify collective punishment, as well as collective suffering.

When millions of Americans get sick from the flu, and tens of thousands die every year, why aren’t we making fun of the weird things that white people eat? Like Rocky Mountain Oysters (which are bull testicles) and sweetbreads (which are bits of an animal’s pancreas and thymus glands)?Click To Tweet

When millions of Americans get sick from the flu, and tens of thousands die every year, why aren’t we making fun of the weird things that white people eat? Like Rocky Mountain Oysters (which are bull testicles) and sweetbreads (which are bits of an animal’s pancreas and thymus glands)? What about snails, frog legs, crawfish, chocolate covered ants, and those tequila-inspired lollipops with an actual worm candied in the center?

The filtering effect of orientalism means that our weird foods – be it maghz masala and katakat– are quirky and fun, but their weird foods are disgusting and totally cause to celebrate infectious disease.

If the tables were turned and a deadly coronavirus originated from say, Saudi Arabia, would it be alright to ridicule Muslims for what they ate, or how they lived? What if that specific coronavirus actually originated in camels.

Yes, camels. The Islamophobic internet would have a field day with that one. Yes, we ride camels and prize camels and even eat camels – and they’re delicious I might add – but if a deadly virus originated from camels, found its way into humans in the Middle East, and from there caused death and destruction in other countries- would it be our fault? Would we deserve scorn? Would the suffering and death of our people be justified by how “gross” it is that we eat camels, even if only a few us actually do, and the rest of us prefer shawarma?

Pause for dramatic emphasis. Open the Lancet. Read.

“Human coronavirus is one of the main pathogens of respiratory infection. The two highly pathogenic viruses, SARS-CoV and MERS-CoV, cause severe respiratory syndrome in humans and four other human coronaviruses induce mild upper respiratory disease. The major SARS-CoV outbreak involving 8422 patients occurred during 2002–03 and spread to 29 countries globally.

MERS-CoV emerged in Middle Eastern countries in 2012 but was imported into China.

The sequence of 2019-nCoV is relatively different from the six other coronavirus subtypes but can be classified as betacoronavirus. SARS-CoV and MERS-CoV can be transmitted directly to humans from civets and dromedary camels, respectively, and both viruses originate in bats, but the origin of 2019-nCoV needs further investigation.

The mortality of SARS-CoV has been reported as more than 10% and MERS-CoV at more than 35%.”

MERS-CoV, or Middle East Respiratory Syndrome –Coronavirus emerged in 2012, traveling from bats to camels to humans, killing 35% of the people who contracted it. It originated in Saudi Arabia and found its way across the continent all the way to China. So could the Chinese internet have been justified in ridiculing our deaths because we ate camels?

Could they legitimize posting “gross” videos of whole, pit-roasted camels? Could they say it was science, not racism, as they moved on to our other “gross” foods, like locusts and the dhab lizard?

Read more about the Sunnah of the Dhab Lizard.

Locusts and lizards have as much to do with MERS-CoV as mice and rats have to do with 2019 novel coronavirus, but doesn’t our grossness in general mean we deserve our fate?

No, it doesn’t. Making fun of what people eat isn’t science, epidemiology, or the sunnah. It’s racism, and it is hugely disappointing to see Muslims hurt others with to the same tropes that are used to hurt us.

No, it doesn’t. Making fun of what people eat isn’t science, epidemiology, or the sunnah. It’s racism, and it is hugely disappointing to see Muslims hurt others with to the same tropes that are used to hurt us.Click To Tweet

Orientalism is alive and kicking both of our communities in the teeth — Chinese and Muslim – but to further complicate the matter, there’s the ongoing genocide of the Uighur Muslims in China, and that’s rooted in orientalism too.

The Chinese government has imprisoned 3 million Muslims in concentration camps, a number equal to the entire Muslim population in America. It is not unexpected that some people wishfully assume the 2019 novel coronavirus epidemic to be the comeuppance that the Chinese government deserves for its cruelty, but that’s sad and wrong on many, many levels.

People cheering the coronavirus on fail to understand a few very big, very important things about the situation. I will list them, because the internet is no place for subtlety and these points have to stand out for those who would sail over the entire article so they can trash it in the comments. They are as follows:


  1. The entire population of China is no more responsible for the actions of its government than you are for yours. If you hate Donald Trump, his border wall, the separation of families, the Muslim Ban, cuts to medical benefits, and corruption in general but STILL live in America, then you understand that a great, frustrated, and powerless mass of citizens can have little to no effect on its government’s choices. Such is politics. Such is life. Such is China too.

    This guy is all our fault specifically. So I hope we all die of the flu.

  2. The coronavirus’s lethality is exponentially higher in people with poor health and weak immune systems. Like the flu, the coronavirus is overwhelmingly most lethal to children and elderly. The coronavirus is not targeted at, nor limited to the Chinese leadership for its crimes against humanity. Unfortunately, that is not how epidemics work.
  3.  The spread of Coronavirus – like all respiratory infections – is greatly accelerated through close living quarters as well as poor sanitation and hygiene. The 3 million Uighur Muslims interred by the Chinese government are imprisoned in distressingly cruel, cramped, and unhygienic conditions. Their close proximity as well as population density mean that if the virus makes it into the captive population, hundreds of thousands – if not millions of Muslims – would die. Don’t root for the coronavirus. It does not discriminate based on religion or race, even if you do.

And now we come full circle. When Muslims ridicule the Chinese for “being gross,” they are simply echoing the same racist, Orientalist talking points that labeled the Chinese – and later the Japanese – as the “Yellow Peril,” a filthy, faceless, monolithic mass deserving all of our scorn and none of the individual considerations that we insist on for ourselves.

Given the abuse that Muslims have been subject to by orientalist tropes, it should make us all the more aware of its dangerous cultural impact. We know what it’s like to be looked down on, laughed at, and blamed for our own suffering. We know what it feels like to have our foods gagged at, our accents mocked, and our cultural clothing turned into Halloween costumes.

Worse still, we know, very painfully and very currently, what it looks like for an entire people to be treated as a disease in and of themselves. China has declared Islam to be a contagious disease, an “ideological illness,” and on this very basis is it holding 3 million Muslims hostage. In an official statement loaded with situational irony, the Chinese Community Party officially stated,

“Members of the public who have been chosen for reeducation have been infected by an ideological illness. They have been infected with religious extremism and violent terrorist ideology, and therefore they must seek treatment from a hospital as an inpatient.

… There is always a risk that the illness will manifest itself at any moment, which would cause serious harm to the public. That is why they must be admitted to a reeducation hospital in time to treat and cleanse the virus from their brain and restore their normal mind … Being infected by religious extremism and violent terrorist ideology and not seeking treatment is like being infected by a disease that has not been treated in time, or like taking toxic drugs … There is no guarantee that it will not trigger and affect you in the future.” – source

The dangers of racism and orientalism are real, and the victims number the millions. Knowing how much damage orientalism causes in our community, we must commit to never, ever stooping to the same ideologies that are used to justify our own oppression. No matter how many bats people eat, or how evil their government can be, people are individual people. We stand on equal footing, equally deserving of respect, compassion, and acknowledgement of our humanity.



The Orientalist mindset that diminishes and distances us from each other strips us of our dignity, whether we are its victim, or its the perpetrator. Such racism is antithetical to the Prophetic compassion and mercy that Islam demands from us as Muslims. When Muslims celebrate the suffering of innocent people as some sort of epidemiological revenge for the suffering of innocent people, that’s not Islam.

That’s prejudice.

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