“Humanity is but a single brotherhood: So make peace with your brethren.” (Quran 49:10) This quote is rarely appreciated or sufficiently acknowledged, and I find it far more accurate than many of the generalizations made by mainstream media outlets in this day and age. I believe it deserves to be recognized, especially at a time like this, when extremists who have abandoned the message and value of my faith choose to carry out senseless crimes against humanity and expect me and those of the same mindset as myself to sit back and watch. Last night’s attacks on Paris were terrorist attacks, but ones I should not feel the need to compensate for, defend, or explain. I am as appalled and disheartened by the tragedy as anyone else, and I remain a proud Muslim.
Terrorism has no religion. This reality has been proven countless times throughout the course of world history, yet when Charleston Shooter Dylan Roof was identified as a devout Christian, I saw no hateful messages targeting his faith. I saw none of my Christian peers get dirty looks or receive negative comments. Most notably, I did not see Christians nationwide feel the need to defend themselves or denounce him as an outsider. It was implied. People assumed that he was what he was, a terrorist who does not stand to represent Christianity as a whole. Why is it that Muslims are not granted the luxury of respect and common courtesy when we are placed in the exact same position?
Earlier this year, when three young, prominent Muslim community members were brutally murdered in Chapel Hill, I remember writing my thoughts down much like I am doing now. I wrote, “I commend them for being the subject of one of the few media-related instances that puts forth a pleasant, gracious, humanitarian name to the Muslim faith rather than the exact opposite, which happens entirely too often.” Today, however, I feel frustration when referring back to my previous entry. I am frustrated knowing that, despite the tragedy that hit so close to home for Muslims worldwide, a tragedy that many of us are still recovering from, Muslims are regressing to the same societal position we held prior to the Chapel Hill Shooting.
I question the effectiveness of some of the measures being taken to promote the reality that actions of the Paris attackers are in no way defended or rationalized by Islam. For example, #MuslimsAreNotTerrorists is a hashtag that is currently trending on Twitter, in hopes of defying the false stereotypes believed by many. While I understand and appreciate the idea behind the hashtag, part of me finds it, quite frankly, a bit insulting. The fact that Islam promotes peace, togetherness, and tolerance is a basic foundation of the faith. The hashtag reminds Muslims that, despite our consistent efforts to put forth a positive name to Islam, we must still defend and rationalize it to people who so clearly are unwilling to change their inaccurate and often ignorant perceptions.
When I see my peers tweet ideas like “Don’t allow terrorism to shape the way you view a religion or culture. Terrorism has no religion”, I recognize that as a society, we are taking steps forward in terms of tolerance and acceptance. However, I should not have to feel satisfied and grateful for this reminder, because the same words are rarely documented in situations like that of the Charleston Massacre, when the perpetrators are not allegedly Muslim. Today marks the first of three days of national mourning declared by French President Francois Hollande, and while my prayers go out to the victims of this tragic attack, they are also with the 1.6 billion Muslims who are to be blamed for it.
Criminal acts are committed daily, everywhere, and on every scale. Checking the news in the morning has become a burden as it typically marks the day with sadness and worry. Various aggressors and scores of victims, but my urge to speak up is more pressing in some situations than others, and I wonder why.
Drone attacks, ethnic cleansing, border blockades, random shootings, suicide bombs, arbitrary arrests, systemic torture, and false imprisonment; all destroy innocent lives, disrupt promising futures, breed anger and entice hate. My puzzled mind and heavy heart fail to make sense of compound evil and find it easier to reject aggression altogether: twisted thoughts, vile speech, despicable actions, and ignorant dispositions, until someone shouts, “Allahu Akbar” (God is Greatest).
As a proud practicing Muslim living in the West, it hits me hard when news reports claim that assailants carried out their attacks “in the name of Islam.” I feel compelled to clear the name of a beautiful religion and explain an inspiring phrase. When understood within context and away from cherry picking or cutting-and-pasting, the message of Islam is one of love and peace. It values human life without limitations and teaches respect for people and property. The Qur’an says “whoever kills an innocent person, it is as if he has killed all of humanity.” 5:32. The Prophet of Islam instructed on most everything, even the etiquette of disagreement and conflict resolution, “May God bestow His mercy on a person who shows grace in everything even in conflict.”
It is true that God is the greatest, His grace is greater than painful suffering, His love is greater than prevalent injustice, and His compassion is greater than devastating oppression. As a Muslim, my faith in a great God overrides my inner fears, my doubts and hesitations, and also my weaknesses and frustrations. When overwhelmed by tyranny, injustice, and oppression, I turn to the Quran and the practices of Prophet Mohammad. This always provides me with guidance on how to remain positive and productive and I always find a way.
That’s why I find nothing in my faith and religious practice that I should apologize for. I do not apologize for lies that people choose to believe, half-truths that become popular, senseless acts that I do not commit or condone, and I definitely won’t apologize for believing in the equal humanity of all human beings. This all seems to make sense as long as trouble is at a distance and reactions are politically correct, but when tragedy is close to home we seem to forget.
We forget that all lives are the same and no one life is worth more than another. In addition to the valuable lives lost in Paris, there have been millions of lives claimed to blind aggression on markets in Iraq, villages in Afghanistan, hospitals and schools in Gaza, and fleeing Muslims in Myanmar, just to name a few. We forget that hypocrisy and double standards leave their victims desperate, which can’t lead to a good place. When people lose everything and have nothing to live for, everything becomes at risk even their faith, and life and death become the same as they are consumed by revenge. We forget that anger and ignorance can easily combine into a deadly concoction, and that hate is a blind beast and harms indiscriminately. I think of my son who is studying abroad in Europe and realize that he could have fallen victim to the criminals in Paris the same way his uncle and cousin suffer imprisonment under the current tyranny in Egypt, and I stay reminded.
I stay reminded to stand in solidarity for justice everywhere and send my prayers to all innocent victims in cities that are not “important” enough to be trending worldwide. I stay reminded that justice and human decency are our main assets. I stay reminded that life is short and that what we leave behind is much more than what we take with us at the end of the journey. I stay reminded that there is only one Islam that is comprehensive and unique, while there are various people who claim it to be their own. People may choose to be radical or progressive, while Islam remains true to its stable foundation and steady principles. I stay reminded to rejoice in the beauty of my faith and always be proud of who I am and what I do.