There Are Ways We Can Rally Against Islamophobia

Islamophobia. I am reluctant to use labels, but I am forced to do so because the term is now common in the political discussions in North America and Europe.

The Bridge Initiative at Georgetown University defines Islamophobia as: “Prejudice towards or discrimination against Muslims due to their religion, or perceived religious, national, or ethnic identity associated with Islam. Like anti-Semitism, racism, and homophobia, Islamophobia describes mentalities and actions that demean an entire class of people. It does NOT include rational criticism of Islam or Muslims.”

This definition varies from the one used in Canada’s federal Motion M-103, which states: “Irrational fear of Islam and/or Muslims and leads to discrimination.”

The term first used by the British Runnymede Trust states: “Unfounded hostility towards Islam and fear or dislike of all or most Muslims.” This is manifested in violent acts and exclusion in various areas such as employment.

Islamophobia presumes that Islam, the religion, and not the people, is inherently violent, that it encourages alienation and is unassimilable. Islamophobia influences attitudes and behaviour against Muslims in the fields of employment, education, politics, media, justice system and the internet.

Islamophobia is part of Xenophobia — the “unreasonable fear or hatred of foreigners or strangers,” such as people of other cultures, race or religion.

Foreigners are seen as barbarians, one culture is viewed as superior to others and is the basis of imperialism, racism, xenophobia, anti-Semitism and Islamophobia.

This fear and hatred dehumanizes others, as can be seen in current global affairs.

U.S. President Donald Trump has tapped into the anger, resentment and racism of those “white people” who see themselves as being swamped by those of us who are different from them. It puzzles me as to how the so-called disenfranchised can see a New York billionaire as their advocate and leader.

All of us need to be aware that though African-Americans are also “natives,” as are Indigenous Peoples, they are seldom included in the nativism grouping. We must remember that many African-Americans are Muslims and so the call of “Black Lives Matter” is addressed to us immigrant Muslims as well.

Trump and Alt-righters are anti-immigrant and racist, especially against Muslims. This is a loosely connected, ill-defined group of “white” supremacists, and white here is not restricted to the colour of one’s skin but to attitudes and behaviour.

The ban on Muslims, the choice of Muslim-haters such as Mike Pompeo (secretary of state) and now John Bolton (national security adviser) creates prejudicial actions against Muslims.

But Canadians need not only look south to find examples of racism and bigotry in our political leaders. We should not forget Conservative leadership contender Kellie Leitch’s call for reporting “barbaric cultural practices.” Former Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper was no fan of Muslims, either, stating that “Islamism is the greatest threat to Canada.” He is now chairing the International Democratic Union of centre-right politicians.

Surely we Muslims can do something about the association of Islam with conflict, terror and lack of integration? As Muslims, we can either feed into this perspective or work to present an alternative counter-narrative.

Please bear with me when I say that there are some valid grounds for non-Muslims to be hesitant with us.

One of the realities is that the leadership of Muslim majority countries is abysmal. Most countries lack democratic principles and institutions and few have created any positive changes for Islam or for Muslims.

Another negative is that there are some Muslim males who are preaching a narrow, monolithic, literal interpretation of Islam. They are encouraged by states who have forcefully taken on the mantle of religious leadership. Their teachings uphold patriarchy as if it is an integral teaching of Islam.

As there is research showing that non-Muslim Canadians tend to be more accepting if they get to know Muslims, it is important that Muslims engage with others and not keep themselves segregate or separate.

One of the disturbing laws in many Muslim majority countries is that of blasphemy. It matters not that there are no verses in the Qur’an to support any punishment for blasphemy. In fact, there are gentle verses about other faiths.

Blasphemy laws have been horribly used to suppress any criticism of Islam by Muslims and others such as Christians.

I do have some trepidation that under the banner of Islamophobia we don’t suppress any criticism of Islam or Muslims. I say this because I have the same fears for those of us who may be critical of Israel being targeted as anti-Semitic.

Last but not least is the lack of clear definition and clarity on the concept of Sharia. I think it is incumbent on Muslims to do this.

That is why CCMW, along with other Muslim groups, clarify Sharia as the “path to the source of water,” meaning the beliefs and practices that govern our lives. It is a deep and broad concept about GOD’S LAW, and is NOT restricted to manmade laws that are best defined as FIQH.

Let me tell you about some of the wonderful actions of the world’s Muslim women, especially to do with family laws.

There are many scholars, men and women, who strongly proclaim that gender justice and gender equality are an integral part of Islam. There is open discussion amongst Muslim scholars and women about the true meaning and understanding of Shariah and fiqh.

In Morocco, scholar Asma Lamrabet is advocating for changes in the inheritance laws. Along with other scholars, she believes in a contextual reading of the Qur’an as distinct from a literal unchanging one. In India, a group of Muslim women fought against the “triple Talaq” and won when the Supreme Court agreed that this is unfair to Muslim women.

Tunisia has outlawed polygamy and Lebanon has outlawed the cultural practice of rapists forced to marry their victims. Other scholars have advocated against any hitting, gentle or rough, of women by their husbands. Women are dignified and equal partners in a relationship and violence is not condoned in Islam.

The other strategy our organization uses is to create partnerships with similar organizations to fight against racism of any kind. Collaborating with others strengthens our position and brings Muslims closer to others in fights against any injustices.

Sadly, I think there is some truth that some Muslims preach against integration and civic participation. From simple things such as celebrating Christmas to larger issues of sex education in schools.

It would be naive to believe that discrimination and Islamophobia will dispel soon, but there are ways we can rally against it. As Muslims, we must be cognizant that fighting for our own rights must be accompanied by advocating for the rights of others, and this must be founded on the principles of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

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