All posts by Dina Malki

About Dina Malki

I am a Muslim American who has lived in the same zip code for almost 23 years. That being said, I travel nationally and internationally very frequently as I am pursuing my interest in interfaith relations. I am currently pursuing a Masters degree from Hartford Seminary in Connecticut. My specialty is in Islamic Studies and Christian Muslim Relations. My thesis is about the theological narrative and the image of Ishmael in Judaism and Christianity. I teach through continuing education programs classes on Islam at TCU in Texas. I speak and present Islam in different places and events, like at churches and synaguogues, seminars, conferences and interfaith retreats. I am also a writer who focuses on Islam in America. I have covered Islam in Dallas at the examiner.com for three years. I am a contributing scholar at the Stateofformation.org. My passion is religion which I believe is a source and tool of compassion. I respect religious tradition in Islam, but I also value academic scholarship in the field. My interpretation of Islam is one that supports peace, tolerance, and co-existence among people. I have a special interest in the legacy of women in Islam. Yes! You read right, women in Islam have a legacy. I hope you will be pleasantly surprised when you read my thoughts on paper. Grayson and I met at the Hartford Seminary during a workshop on religious diversity. We found that we shared in common our interests in the field of Christian-Muslim relations. Hence, we decided to build a bridge of communication that connects Christendom and Islamdom in America. Our hope is that our conversations will educate and inspire our readers.

How Does it Feel to Be Hated?

Imagine a scenario where a group of members of a congregation are heading to their church or church conference. They know before hand that awaiting them outside the church doors are men and women, armed with fully loaded guns and riffles, spitting out all kinds of racial slurs and religious slanders. How would that make you feel if you were one of those church members?

For Muslims, this scenario has become a daily reality. Muslims across the world, and across the different states and cities of our American nation, are facing this growing reality that not only disturbs their worldview and identity formation, but puts them physically and socially at risk.

For Dallas Muslims, this scenario has developed into a burdensome situation where they have been challenged with increasing religiously cloaked bigotry since the beginning of 2015. It all started with the terrorist attacks in Paris earlier in January and ended up in the battlefields of hatred on Texas grounds. A Muslim family event in Garland, Dallas vicinity, that took place in a conference building that belongs to the Garland Independent School District flared up the anger of conservative and fundamentalist groups who vowed on social media to stop the event. The Garland district did not give in to their requests to cancel the Muslim event because the building in question has always been used for functions outside the school district. The conservative groups started a campaign on social media asking people to demonstrate in front of the building on the day of the event. They showed up in hundreds, on their Harley Davidson bikes, with their rifles and guns fully loaded and unconcealed. They shouted at the Muslim families going into the building and threatened them, bullied them, and terrified them. They employed all kinds of racial slurs, religious bigotry and dirty language.

The Muslims in Dallas reacted right after they became aware of this anti-Muslim campaign. They planned a counter demonstration with signs expressing love and compassion as part of their religious tradition. They returned hatred with love. It took a lot of courage from these few Muslims who stood up bravely asserting their American identity and Muslim identity.

A few days later, Muslims were planning to take part in yet another annual event, the Muslim Day at Capitol Hill. Once again, bigots rallied online to stop this event. When they failed to have it cancelled, they stormed Austin and disrupted the Muslim event at Capitol Hill, right when American Muslim children were singing the national anthem. Muslims were told things like “don’t carry our American flags,” “all terrorists are Muslim,” and “go back home.” They were screamed at and assaulted…

The next day, a Muslim clergy and interfaith leader, Imam Bakhach, was invited to lead the prayer at the Fort Worth Stock Show and Rodeo (30 miles from Dallas). The interfaith prayer was part of a 23 day program where faith leaders from different faith traditions were invited to pray at the event, in recognition of the religious diversity in Fort Worth as well as in the Stock Show. Many Rodeo fans were outraged and cried out against this inclusion with statements like “Muslim/Islam has no place in this country” and “I just will choose NOT to go somewhere that embraces a religion that wants me, my family and my people DEAD.” Imam Backhach was supposed to lead the prayer again on Monday but decided to cancel his participation saying, “I love Fort Worth. It really hurt me to see this reaction.”

That was a brief description of American Muslim realities today that may give you, the reader, an idea of how it may feel to be hated as a Muslim. However, Texas and America are not home to only bigots, for there are a lot of great patriots and awesome Christians and Jews and other peoples of faith who are standing up in solidarity with their Muslim countrymen and women. Take for example the event that took place last weekend at North Haven Methodist United Church where Muslims were called up and invited to the church to be recognized as neighbors and to be given a pledge of friendship and support. Members of other faith traditions, like Buddhists, have participated in that event that started with prayers, then Arabic musical instruments playing the song This Land is Your Land, This Land is My Land, with the audience, Muslim, Christian, Jewish, and others singing along.

So what is the Muslim response to religious bigotry attacking their religion in America. Love.  “Forgive them Father, for they do not know:” They are scared because they don’t know, because they lack the true knowledge, compassion, and courage to know. They hate us because they fear us. They fear us because they don’t know us, and they don’t wish to know us. Polls show that negative perceptions of Muslims and Islam increase among people who never met a Muslim. On the other hand, those who have a Muslim friend are more likely to have a positive image of the faith tradition. I extend an invitation to those who hate us to come to know us. Let us start a dialog with no strings attached. Let us listen to your deepest fears. Let us face our fears together.

I don’t hate those hatemongers; I feel pity for them. They have missed the real purpose of creation: diversity. Recalling the Qur’an, chapter 49, verse 13:

O mankind! We created you from a single (pair) of a male and a female, and made you into nations and tribes, that ye may know each other (not that ye may despise (each other). Verily the most honoured of you in the sight of Allah is (he who is) the most righteous of you. And Allah has full knowledge and is well acquainted (with all things).

Interfaith spirituality: Listen to God, hear the other

As a devout Muslim woman who is founded in Islamic education, I feel pleasantly surprised when I enjoy a spiritual experience just by listening to non-Muslim faith experiences. Often, interfaith participants say that one of the benefits of interfaith dialog is a strengthening of one’s own faith. This is true for me; not only my own faith increases when I am speaking about Islam but when I hear other people describe their own spiritual experiences as well.

Last week I surge in spirituality during an event that I attended for the second year. The Multicultural Alliance’s annual Interfaith Retreat for Seminarians is a program prepared by MCA Texas to gather seminarian students and faculty from the three faith traditions, Judaism/Christianity/Islam, for four days of dialog, learning, and compassion. This year’s theme was “Tell Me a Story” where students and faculty from eleven seminaries in Texas, California, Connecticut and Maryland listened to presentations from resource scholars who shared about what telling stories meant in each of the three faith traditions.

After each presentation the group of seminarians dispersed in pre-assigned smaller groups of five to six where they spent time discussing their reflections on the topic. Through these meetings, several people expressed deep personal experiences of faith that evoked echoes of awe throughout the room. Personally, I felt visions of God and His blessings upon His creation as I listened to each story and reinforced my own faith and hope in a better future. As a Christian woman described how her daughter one day surprised her by speaking eloquently about issues of faith, I thought about my own daughter who currently does not show any interest in religious devotion and wondered: “Could she one day grow up from the seed I had planted and surprise me by an indulgence into leaps of faith?” I also listened to a another woman’s story with her husband who was not rooted in faith, yet he was the main spiritual support system in her career as a chaplain and seminarian. She and I had lengthy discussions about how our husbands have been the major tools that God used in order to facilitate our religious missions by making them generate energy, power, and aspiration into our spirits.

Some insightful talks inspired me as a guide of how I may react if put in a similar situation in the future, of how to deal with calamity and life’s trials, or of how to deal with any kind of loss. The young Rabbi’s story of how he was hit by a truck four months before his wedding and how he meanwhile spent his time with pain and temporary disability while tending to an herb indoor garden was mesmerizing. Each one of us has at some point faced hardship and struggled with putting things on hold until one was able to get oneself together. The Rabbi’s experience is a reminder that sometimes you cannot wait for the storm to pass but you need to learn how to dance in the rain. Pain and loss are parts of life but life doesn’t stop at their doorsteps. A Christian woman who lost her husband recently was another example of how life must go on because the Giver of this life is alive. She is attending her first seminary semester and looks forward in a pastoral future despite her severe personal loss. These are examples that I personally value when I wake up every morning from now on, whether the morning is shiny or gloomy.

I shared personal stories and experiences of hope, love and peace that I felt God bestowed upon me during my journey in religious studies. I was surprised that my stories touched the hearts of the Jewish and Christian participants who found them inspiring. I received a lot of confirmation and thumbs up, encouraging me to keep going forward. All this came from people who were total strangers but who in four days became very close. So close that I realized that what they gave me could not have been given by many people who exist in my personal life and shared my Muslim faith. They gave me the spiritual and intellectual support that only people who study religion know about. Living in a secular world with a strong faith is not always easy. People don’t understand why I am keeping up with religious dietary restrictions or prayer or practices. Friends wonder why I seem so distant and unwilling to sacrifice my study time to keep a high profiled social lifestyle. Some family members complain that I don’t spend enough time with them or that I don’t give them enough attention…

Interfaith dialogs are like a savings account: the more you put in them the more you will end up with. And if you sincerely bring God to these conversations you will discover God in new ways. Very few people realize this theology of interfaith but for those of us who know it we can’t live without it. It is our support system. This seminarian retreat has become my spiritual treat and refuge thanks to my Jewish, Christian and Muslim interlocutors who gift me with finding God by listening to their stories.

I do not celebrate Christmas – but I do celebrate Jesus

One of the hardest things for a Muslim parent in America is to raise children who don’t believe in Christmas. I say specifically “a Muslim parent” because once I reached beyond the childhood stage of my kids it no longer mattered whether we celebrated Christmas or not. But when my kids were in elementary school, it used to behoove me to preach to them the theology of Jesus the way Muslims believe it while their classmates bragged about their Christmas wish lists, presents, trees, and santas!

Muslim Americans are not the only non-Christian group feeling challenged by the theology of Christmas. Many intellectuals call this theology as part of the Christian privilege that Christian Americans enjoy in this land that also enjoys a diverse religious landscape. From Jews, Muslims, Sikhs, to Hindus, Buddhists, to atheists and agnostics, many Americans complain about how they have to go through Christmas every year, including receiving Christmas wishes, without feeling alienated.

However, I don’t feel alienated in America. That’s because I believe in religious pluralism that preaches respect of all faith traditions and their followers. I actually enjoy the holiday season with its decorations, lights, festivities, and joyful atmosphere (including shopping  deals)! Once I taught my children that Christmas was not part of our Muslim theology we became at ease enjoying the cultural aspect of the season. Moreover, Muslims don’t feel “left behind” simply because they don’t celebrate Christmas, for we do celebrate someone who is greater than this holiday: We celebrate Jesus.

Jesus, peace be upon him and his mother Mary, is mentioned several times in the Qur’an. The virgin Mary has a whole chapter in the Qur’an dedicated to her name. The Qur’an teaches that Jesus is the word of God, the spirit of God, and the messenger of God. He was miraculously born without a father, he miraculously spoke to people while in his cradle, and he performed several miracles like healing and giving life to the dead through the will and permission of God. Like all the biblical prophets mentioned in the Qur’an, each Muslim is obligated to believe in Jesus as truth. Without the belief in Jesus Christ a Muslim’s belief is incomplete according to the Qur’an.

The mission of Jesus, the son of Mary, according to the Qur’an, was to bring ease to the children of Israel (the Jews) by reducing some of the commandments that were difficult for them while affirming the truth in the Torah. The Qur’an then narrates that at some point, Jesus felt betrayal from his brethren, so he asked around, “who are my helpers in the way of God?” A group called Hawariyyoun (the Helpers of Jesus) replied that they were his helpers and declared submission to the will of God. Then the Qur’an continues with God talking to Jesus and telling him that He would be caused to die and be exalted unto God. (Qur’an, 3:55) (For the beginning of the story of Mary, John the Baptist and Jesus refer to 3:35 onward).

Even though Muslims believe in Jesus and celebrate him they faced disagreement with Christians. Issues like the trinity, Jesus’ crucifixion which Muslims don’t believe in, and theological matters about the nature of Jesus put the two faith traditions in discord. However, the Qur’an forewarned about this discord and advised Muslims about the way they should do “interfaith” with their Christian brethren. “Interfaith” is interaction between different faith groups, a phenomenon that was born in the twentieth century. Yet, the Qur’an fourteen hundred years ago instructed its followers on the way to interact with Christians:

“Say ‘O, followers of earlier revelation! Come unto that tenet which we and you hold in common: that we shall worship none but God, and that we shall not ascribe divinity to aught beside Him, and that we shall not take human beings for our lords beside God. ‘ And if they turn away, then say, ‘Bear witness that it is we who have surrendered ourselves unto Him.'” (Qur’an 3: 64).

The Qur’an doesn’t tell Muslims to kill, mock, or wage wars against Christians because of their theological differences. Those who misunderstand it are betraying God.

Ferguson and Muslim reactions to racism and prejudice

By Dina Malki

Diversity in creation is divinely willed and planned. It was not coincidental that humans turned out having different colors. Muslim tradition includes a narrative (Hadith) by Prophet Muhammad that explains how God created Adam from different colored clays and, as a result, gave humans different colors. God also willed that humans speak different languages, have different cultures, and form different communities. The Qur’an is very clear about the reason of this diversity:

“And of His signs is the creation of the heavens and the earth and the diversity of your languages and your colors. Indeed in that are signs for those of knowledge.” [30:22]

“O mankind! We created you from a single (pair) of a male and a female, and made you into nations and tribes, that you may know each other (not that you may despise one another). Verily the most honored of you in the sight of Allah is the one who is the most righteous. And Allah has full knowledge and is well acquainted (will all things).” [49:13]

Just as Americans, including myself, in the aftermath of the Ferguson events, have been questioning whether they have progressed at all during the last five decades in matters of civil rights, many Muslims, including myself, also have been evaluating whether the 1.5 billion Muslims who live around the globe still live up to their Islamic teachings. Muslims too have sinned with prejudice by “othering” people that belonged to a different race, ethnicity, nationality, and religion. I say “sinned” because they acted against their religious traditions. But are all Muslims sinners? Of course not. And it is the role of interfaith to find like-minded people of faith that belong to different religions and join their voices to create a symphony of peace and compassion.

To focus on the events in Ferguson, take for example the Muslim reaction to the crisis. Muslims for Ferguson is a social media group that was formed to raise awareness among Muslim Americans about the prejudice of the police against protestors who objected the killings of two black men, Mike Brown and Eric Garner.  Muslims for Ferguson saw that the killings represented a “disturbing trend of officers using excessive force against black and brown people,” and urged Muslims “to join a movement declaring that all lives, including black and brown lives, matter.” Moreover, imams (Muslim religious and mosque leaders) all over the country have been preaching against racism and prejudice, describing it as a great injustice to God’s creation.

Among the many ethical values that Islam teaches is unity. Diversity does not essentially create division. Diversity is a valuable asset that creates creativity and growth. Diversity in any nation enriches its national thread with different talents and resources. Diversity within a religious tradition leads to freedom from stagnation. Diversity within an interfaith community builds bridges of communication and cooperation. Prejudice, on the other hand, is a spiritual and social ill that cuts through unity and ignites friction and enmity. A divided nation or community becomes an easy prey in front of its enemies.

So, what is the Islamic solution to division and conflict? Like all other faith traditions, Islam adopts a theology of reconciliation that can take place after justice has been served. Justice is not a tool that the masses or individuals can freely use; it is rather a legal tool by the authorities, whether secular or religious, to give back human rights to those who have been oppressed. As a matter of fact, reconciliation is a duty in the Muslim tradition that narrates how God does not look at people who are having conflict. If God does not look at a people He will not send mercy their way.

Grayson wrote in his post that white Christians needed to listen to black Christians. I say that white Muslims, too, need to listen to black Muslims. A recent initiative has started in the United States to raise awareness among Muslims of the dangers of racism within their own community. The Muslim Anti-Racism Collaborative is an effort to remind Muslims that racism is against the teachings of their religion. One of the main things that Islam emphasizes is action. As much as it is important for humans to have a pure heart and a good intention, action is actually required as a proof of faith. This is why it is not enough for Muslims to silently reject racism and injustice; they need to condemn it by action or, at least, by words. Listen to this narrative (Hadith) from Prophet Muhammad:

“Whoever 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.”

Prejudice comes in all forms: racism, religious intolerance, stereotyping, othering, etc… Muslims, too, need to question their practices with all people including peoples from other faiths, and see if they are living up to their religious ideals and morals. If they are not, then it is time for them to dust off some of that rust on their hearts.