BY: KHADIJA KHAN
Islam has been responsible for making endless contributions to the development of society. It stressed the importance of hygiene, emphasized women’s rights and made advancements in medicine and science. Through painting, calligraphy and Sufism it branched into a whole new dimension of artistic expression. However, this is not the Islam we see portrayed in the Western media. Instead, much of the European and Western world consistently paint Islam under a single banner of extremism and savagery
Islamophobic sensationalism has been growing internationally, becoming a staple in the American media following 9/11. And especially now, following the tragic attacks in North Carolina and France, and the rise of ISIS, Islam been taken out of context due to the actions of a few isolated extremists. These incidents have created a textbook example of islamophobia, proliferating hatred and/or fear of the religion of Islam and Muslims.
Members of several European right wing parties pose with anti-Muslim signs, in Antwerp.
In the media, the word ‘jihad’ is loosely thrown around to describe the battle between freedom and oppression. This is a misconception. In Islam, Jihad is a spiritual struggle with the inner-self, which a person faces in attempt to make moral decisions and stay on the path of Islam by averting evil. It does not mean ‘holy war’ between differing ideologies.
More than two decades ago, Benjamin Barber wrote about jihad, in which he describes it as: “war not as an instrument of policy but as an emblem of identity, an expression of community, an end in itself. Even where there is no shooting war, there is fractiousness, secession, and the quest for ever smaller communities.”
Barber suggests that the world is spiralling toward anarchy and the “new world disorder” by straying from collective and logical human governing.
For me, religion is not defined by denouncing another. It is living a humble life with morals and being part of a community that is accepting and tolerant of those not part of the religious community. Shaykh Yasir Qadhi says “the violence committed in the name of religion is never truly about religion, you must never forget this.”
Before I continue further, let’s go back to the early 1900s when the Irish Republican Army (IRA) came to be. According to Global Terrorism Expert Amy Zalman, the IRA can be recognized as one of the first organizations to operate under terrorist agendas. Their goal was to create a united Ireland and to no longer be under British ruling. To help them achieve this, they received training and artilleries from America, Libya and even the Palestine Liberation Organization. The IRA’s terrorist attacks on the British army and police force were a sign of rebellion and opposition. Zalman says, “For the next generation, the IRA carried out bombings, assassinations and other terrorist attacks against British and Irish Unionist targets.”
Can it be justified that if you don’t fit within a certain racial profile, your act is no longer defined as an act of terror? For example, in the case of the Chapel Hill shooting, most of the headlines read something like “ Grand Jury indicts North Carolina man in killings of Muslims” whereas if the tables were turned, it would not be outrageous to say that headlines would likely sensationalize the incident as an act of Islamic terrorism.
While the label “religious terrorist” is largely reserved to justify anti-Islamic sentiment that seemingly grants moral approval for military occupation, there have been many instances of extremist violence perpetrated by non-Muslims. The Oklahoma City Bombing was, previous to 9/11, regarded as the worst act of terrorism carried out in the United States, resulting in 168 deaths and 680 injuries. Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols carried out the bombing in response to the Waco siege of the compound of the religious fundamentalist group, The Branch Davidians. Previous to that, white supremacy militia, the Ku Klux Klan entrenched their pro-segregation and prejudice fuelled violence for decades.
When the Ku Klux Klan burned crosses as a fear tactic on the lawns of black families’ homes and participated in lynching, this behaviour was not regarded as stemming from Christian teachings. Similarly, it is agreed that the Holocaust was the result of fascist propaganda grounded in scientific racism. Yet, many fail to recognize the normalization of islamophobia in the media, and internalization by large portions of media consumers has become so common practice that Muslims around the world have become increasingly more apologetic as a community than ever before.
Following the Charlie Hebdo shootings, there were calls to make all Muslims of the world apologize for the tragedy. According to the Pew Research Center, in just 15 years, the global Muslim population is set to reach 2.2 billion. Why should an entire culture be left to apologize for the actions of a handful of militant extremists?
In Imam Al-Yusuf’s view, the call for apologies is unwarranted. “On what basis should we apologize? We cannot give in to the tactics of these people. If these people followed the beliefs of our Prophet Mohammed, (P.B.U.H.) not one person would lift a finger or question the Islamic teachings.”
The world we live in today thrives on two pivotal classifications and everything else falls in between. The first is “Muslim violence”, which includes news where the culprit is a self-proclaimed Muslim; this includes the coverage of shootings, barbaric acts and anything that is a breach of “homeland security”—which we’ll discuss later. The second is “non-Muslim violence”, which can be identified as news where the perpetrator is usually a Caucasian male. This binary creates little area for viewers to reach a conclusion on their own terms. Although it is the media’s job is to provide significance to events, it can be said that often the media does not cover the news; rather they decide what the news is.
Islam is a beautiful and devout religion. The fifth pillar of Islam is to make a pilgrimage (Hajj) to Mecca, in Saudi Arabia, at least once in one’s lifetime.
NBA champion Kareem Abdul-Jabbar has described terrorism in a particularly eloquent way: “Ironically, terrorism is actually an act against the very religion they claim to believe in. It’s an acknowledgement that the religion and its teachings aren’t enough to convince people to follow it. Any religion that requires coercion is not about the community, but about the leaders wanting power.”
Although this is dissimilar to the definition of the Department of Homeland Security, which came into place following 9/11 and see preventative measures as critical to maintaining national security. Their mission is to “build a resilient nation, safeguard and secure cyberspace, strengthen the security enterprise, administer immigration laws and secure and manage borders.”
Often, tactics at achieving this mandate can creep into the territory of racial profiling.
It is time for the media to classify radical acts, like those of ISIS, as individualized acts of terror with an expansive multi-purpose agenda and little relation to the religion of Islam as regularly practiced. Education is the prime actor of progress, and should the Western media stop proliferating animosity toward the peaceful Muslim majority, they should see a decline in those who feel a provoked sense of injustice that in turn fuels the radicalization of a minority of imbalanced individuals.
In the words of Qadhi, “The world questions their faith. I question their humanity.”
No one must feel as though they should apologize for that which they are not responsible.
A Muslim woman stands outside a Detroit federal court building during a hearing for Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, the 23-year old Nigerian man accused of attempting to blow up a Detroit-bound jetliner.