by Dr. Sabeel Ahmed
A group of Muslims were walking down the road with pitchers of water. They passed by some people sitting on the sidewalk who were thirsty. The Muslims ignored them and kept on walking. A few minutes later someone came by and provided alcohol to these thirsty people. The people on the sidewalk got drunk and started to attack the Muslims.
If the above scenario were true, who would you blame for the harm afflicted on the Muslims?
The above is an analogy of the situation of Muslims in the USA. The Muslims with the pitcher of water are us who possess the knowledge of Islam yet fail to share it. The thirsty people signify the 300 million Americans who are looking for peace and purpose in life. The people who fed alcohol signify the Islamophobes feeding fear to the thirsty Americans.
By understanding the above analogy, not only can we come up with proper reaction to hate crimes, but can develop long time strategies to prevent such attacks, insha’Allah.
An un-informed mind can become a hateful mind
To address the question of who is to be blamed ultimately for the rampage we respond: all three parties. The primary blame, however, goes to the Muslims who to failed to share Islam and educate the masses, resulting in others being uninformed. An uninformed and uneducated mind is a breeding ground for the Islamophobes to exploit with fear and misinformation. Muslims will then be perceived as the ‘others’, ‘strangers’ and as the ‘enemies.’ When this stage is reached, then anything that symbolizes Islam like Hijab, minarets or beards, will become fair targets to inflict violence. This is exactly what happened case after case:
Randolph Linn, who burned down the Toledo, OH, Masjid two years ago was ‘riled up’ after watching anti-Muslim rhetoric on a popular news channel, then got drunk on beer before setting the masjid on fire. The same triggers of anti-Muslim thought struck Anders Breivik in Norway who killed 78 and those who committed similar crimes that happened recently in Chapel Hill, Houston, Detroit and Calgary against Muslims.
Solution: Education and Service
Looking at the above analogy, the solution to the hate crimes cannot be limited to conducting webinars conference or rallies and vigils. We can shout till eternity against the media bias but that will
not stop these crimes. A long time solution is mass education and providing services to the society. Education and services will create a positive perception of Islam and Muslims, repelling any fear or misinformation that the media or Islamophobes may try to instill.
During the Prophet’s time, when Islamophobia was rampant in Makkah, less than 200 people embraced Islam. However, when the 10 years truce was signed at the treaty of Hudaibiya, the Arabs of Makkah were able to interact with Muslims of Madinah, got educated about Islam free from the influence of Islamophobes. This had a profound effect on them to the extent that literally thousands of them were educated and embraced Islam.
If we are looking for long term solutions to hate crimes, Islamophobia and violence against Muslims; we have no option but to initiate projects for mass education and services for the society.
Projects to educate the public
- Every Muslim should become an educator of Islam to his/her neighbors, colleagues, classmates etc. Just image millions of salespersons sharing a product. That is a bigger workforce than Apple and Walmart combined.
- Imams need to be trained in dawah-oriented topics and also in their delivery and communication skills. Good content needs to be delivered eloquently to produce maximal effect in the audience.
- Dawah Day for all Masajid. This means hosting open house events for the community and doing this consistently every month. If there are many mosques in a small area, each Mosque could take turns as long as people in every mosque is involved and the events are well promoted weeks in advance.
- Muslim Volunteer Day – Muslims going to the local non-profits, soup kitchens and homeless shelters to volunteer. This should be done weekly.
- Muslim walk-a-thon – taking up social issues and raising funds via walk-a-thons. Just imagine, for instance, the impact of seeing 100 sisters wearing pink hijabs while walking in a suburb to raise funds for breast cancer.
- Muslims pooling our resources to hire and use a PR firm to assist them in the projects and events to reflect Islam positively. This can be done powerfully by putting ads on local television and radio stations or creating billboards.
- Support service based projects involving all the Muslim relief agencies working in the US like, ICNA Relief, Islamic Relief, Zakat Foundation, etc. Imagine the impact made to tear down anti-Muslim hate when an “army” of Muslims come with open arms to help in a time of crisis.
- Identify Islamohobes, their books, their videos and provide point by point rebuttals to their allegations against Islam.
The bottom line is that the status quo is not working; in fact, the status quo has resulted in increased negative perception of Muslim in the USA. Only 27% of Americans perceive Islam positively in 2014. This is down from 32% in 2010.
Either we fill their cups with education, or else someone will fill the cups with hate. The choice is ours.
Dr. Sabeel Ahmed is the president of ICNA – Chicago and Director of the GainPeace Project, an outreach project of Islamic Circle of North America (ICNA ).