Category Archives: Current Events

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).

Lessons from History

On this day, the 70th anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp in southern Poland,  I am reminded of the senselessness and bizarre nature of violence in the name of religion.  I visited Auschwitz in 1988 and was deeply moved by the spectre of what occurred there so many years ago.  The thought of men, women, and children murdered simply because they existed were haunting.  At the time of Auschwitz’s liberation, the horrors that came to light seemed to hold the promise of shocking some sense into the world.

However, as time passes and the events of the Holocaust fade further into the past, it seems as if the human race remembers nothing.  Have we forgotten the lessons of the past?

The recent events in Iraq and Syria involving the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and in Nigeria involving Boko Haram are of great concern to the West and rightfully so.  ISIS has singularly proven itself to be one of the most brutal and bloodthirsty organizations the world has ever known.  The horrifying images of hostages being brutally beheaded on video in the name of Islam threaten to further fan the flames of sectarian conflict in the Middle East.  A secondary, but no less troubling, byproduct of these images has been the hostile reaction of many Christians in the United States toward Islam, believing that Islam is accurately represented by the barbaric acts of ISIS.

As part of a Church symposium on Christian-Jewish relations in 1996, Pope John Paul II spoke of the historical misinterpretation of Christian theology used to demonize Jews.  He decried the moral “numbness” this caused in the larger Christian conscience as part and parcel of the lack of Christian resistance to the Holocaust.  Similarly, questioning the true nature of Islam in the context of the brutality of ISIS is heating up, especially in the United States against the backdrop of the September 11 terrorist attacks.  There have been examples of politicians, religious leaders, military officials, and celebrities publicly calling into question the integrity of Islam.

Public statements by some who align themselves with conservative Christianity, such as that of Retired General and Vice President of the Family Research Council Jerry Boykin, seem to encourage sectarian strife between Christians and Muslims in the United States.  Boykin recently implored Americans to “…have more babies and populate this country with red-blooded Americans” to counter the population growth of Muslims in the United States.  Boykin’s statements imply that Muslim Americans are not patriotic which follows a common fear among some conservatives of a massive conspiracy among American Muslims to infiltrate American society in the hopes of establishing Islam as the dominant ideology.

The precursor to Kristallnacht in 1939 Nazi Germany was the assassination of German diplomat Ernst von Rath by a young Jew despondent over his family’s forced emigration from Germany to Poland.  Hitler used this act by one person as a pretext to increase wholesale persecution of an entire race writing, “for once the Jews should get the feel of popular anger”.

While the publicity that some public figures have received recently is concerning in terms of the impact their generalizations may have on uninformed listeners, I believe there is an opportunity to foster interfaith dialogue in this hostile environment.  The brutality of ISIS and Boko Haram is prompting Muslim advocacy groups in the United States to disassociate themselves and their understanding of Islam from the twisted theology these two groups use to justify their actions.  There has been a significant increase in such statements from Muslim groups since ISIS began to receive widespread media attention.  This has occurred despite the claim among many conservatives that Muslims remain silent in the face of these atrocities and, therefore, are somehow complicit with them.  As the acts committed in the name of Islam become more ghastly, the logical question becomes how can a faith produce both terror and beauty?  I encourage the reader to realize that true faith, any faith, does not produce brutality and oppression.  It is the misuse of religion to force political and social change that results in the acts of hatred we see on our computer screens.

German Christians largely allowed complacency to mute their opposition to the Nazi persecution of Jews.  As American Christians, let’s not miss this opportunity to join the Muslim voices in denouncing terror in the name of Islam as an abomination against Islam and, indeed, against anyone of any faith.

Charlie Hebdo and Interfaith Relations

The latest attack in the name of religion has roiled French society and once again sent shock waves throughout the Western world.  The fear of a deepening clash between Western and Islamic values grows more acute with each such incident.  The January 7th shootings at the offices of the French satire magazine, Charlie Hebdo, targeted the right to free speech, a cornerstone value of Western civilization.  For some, the assertions of inevitable confrontation between East and West made by Samuel Huntington in his classic work, Clash of Civilizations, reflect the unfortunately reality of the post-modern world.

How can we, as Christians in a predominately Christian society in the United States, react to this latest provocation in a positive way?  In a broad sense and most importantly, we must make an effort to identify and combat purposeful misinformation that portrays all Muslims in a negative light based on the actions of a small minority.  This incident, like others before it, will be used by extremists on both sides of the political spectrum to advocate for an extreme response.  The far right element in France, personified by Marine Le Pen, has already seized on the opportunity to paint all Muslims as somehow complicit in the actions of terrorists.  Such xenophobia will only thrive if not confronted by reasonable and well-informed opinions.  Extremism begets extremism and plays into the hands of the terrorists.

The first specific reaction we Christians should have to this terrorist action is to acknowledge and amplify the condemnation from Muslims the world over toward the Charlie Hebdo shootings.  Muslim organizations in France and here in the United States have spoken out quite forcefully against the shootings, disavowing any relationship between the killers’ actions and Islamic values and principles.  Regardless, the notion that moderate Muslims must “take back” their religion is a tired and invalid argument.  Moderate Muslims should not have to feel as if they need to disavow themselves of the actions of obviously misguided criminals anymore than I felt the need to differentiate myself from the genocidal actions of, say, the Serbian Christians against Bosnian Muslims during the Bosnian War of the early 1990s.

Secondly, we must try to understand more fully the sensitivities toward depictions of Mohammed in Islam.  Christianity and Judaism both have elements of rejection of representations of the divine as well so it should not be a foreign concept to us.  Muslims do not believe that Mohammed was divine; however, the early followers of Mohammed did recognize the excessive reliance on icons among their contemporary Christian and Jews of the 6th and 7th centuries and warned against the propensity to worship icons in place of true divinity.  Clearly and without a doubt, the actions of the terrorists in reacting to the defamation of Mohammed by Charlie Hebdo was wrong and is an assault against the Western value of free speech which should be defended vigorously.  At the same time, we Christians also have the right to speak out against such disparagement and defend the sanctity of the faith of our Muslim brothers and sisters just as we would want members of other faith groups to respect the symbols of our faith.

Thirdly, we must remember that the actions of “Islamic” terrorists are indiscriminate in terms of who they target.  One of the victims of the Charlie Hebdo shootings was a Muslim police officer who was assigned the task of protecting those who lampooned his religion.  His sacrifice has been memorialized very eloquently on Twitter under the hashtag #JeSuisAhmed.  The killing of Muslims by “Islamic” terrorists should be a clear indication that their actions have nothing to do with fulfilling their twisted understanding of Islamic values.  Rather it should be understood that these terrorists attach themselves to Islam in order to “legitimize” political agendas or, more simply, to feel empowered to lash out against the dissatisfaction with their own lives and direction.  This is not endemic to Islam – all religions are consistently used to legitimize positions that have nothing to do with religious principles.

We, as American Christians, must acknowledge that there is a certain amount of prejudice inherent in the Western view of Islam.  Prejudice is best countered with knowledge and understanding.  I would encourage my Christian brothers and sisters to seek out true knowledge of the values of Islam rather than automatically assuming that these terrorists reflect true Muslim faith.  We shouldn’t allow ourselves to be sold a bill of goods, especially by criminals.

 

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.

Ferguson and Interfaith Relations

It seems as if the recent events in Ferguson, Missouri have most people taking sides – either justifying Officer Darren Wilson’s actions or condemning the shooting death of Michael Brown, the young man who Officer Wilson fatefully encountered on a Ferguson street August 9th, 2014.  The emotions around this case are racially charged and seemed to be dictated by the color of one’s skin.  African Americans decry the bias they believe is inherent in the treatment of African American youths by law enforcement.  Caucasian Americans wonder why African Americans can’t see the reason for the their bias in the face of the violence and rioting that occurred after the Grand Jury’s declination to file criminal charges against Officer Wilson.

Whether one view is absolutely right or wrong is as irrelevant as it is a fantasy – as in any conflict, both perceptions of the issue have some truths and some falsehoods.  The false perceptions of motives and inclinations of blacks and whites toward each other in this country spring from the sinful practice of prejudicial thinking.  Prejudice – the preconception of a person or group of persons based on ethnicity, religion, or any other characteristic – devalues the integrity of the person as an individual, unique in his or her own right.  In its worst form, prejudice can be the catalyst for violence.

Jesus Christ warned against assuming the motives of others’ actions in the Sermon on the Mount.  Matthew 5:46-47 recounts Jesus’ clear teaching concerning how we are to treat others that we may be fearful of due to prejudices:

“If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that?  And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that?”

His approach is one of forgiveness and turning our focus on our own actions, looking ourselves in the mirror and assessing whether we are acting as He would want.

There are lessons in the racial divide caused by such stereotyping of African American youths that can be applied to interfaith relations.  Marc Gopin, professor of religious studies at George Mason University, talks about the concept of “Othering” in his book Holy War, Holy Peace: How Religion Can Bring Peace to the Middle East.  “Othering”, according to Gopin, is defined as viewing another individual or group through the lens of biases that we have developed over years, biases that tend to grossly exaggerate a negative preconception in a sub-conscious effort to counterbalance fear.

When we engage in “Othering”, we dehumanize the individual or group we are targeting.  In our eyes, the “Other” loses his or her human and, most importantly, unique qualities in the fog of stereotyping.  Suddenly, their motives become suspect and nefarious, their raison d’ etat somehow disconcerting and scary.  I personally find it difficult to engage in “Othering” when I know members of the group in question.  Knowing them on a personal scale breaks down the stereotype and applies a human face.

Jim Wallis of Sojourners has written a beautiful piece on the importance of proactive reconciliation to the Christian walk.  He writes, “It’s time to listen — for us white Americans to listen to black Americans; for white parents to listen to black parents; for white Christians to listen to black Christians. This may be the most important thing we have ever had to do: to listen, really listen.”  As Christians, we are commanded by our faith to be peacemakers and reconciliation facilitators rather than dividers, just as Jesus reconciled us to our heavenly Father through His death and resurrection.

The incident in Ferguson, Missouri should give us pause to consider whether prejudices influence how we view the religious “Other”.  In the highly-charged American political climate, simple misunderstandings of other religious traditions are exploited to fuel fear and further political agendas and, in doing so, legitimize these misunderstandings as truth .  All people of faith must be on guard to avoid allowing fear and unfamiliarity of other religious traditions and, in some cases, years of learned and unchallenged bias, influence behavior toward others.

If we take the time to listen to one another on faith issues as well, rather than jumping to conclusions and automatically casting the “Other” is a demonizing light, we are in obedience to God’s commands and we may learn a few things along the way.