Well, I have not yet been asked the question in those exact words, but it has been implied by friend and foe alike. It’s not a question I’ve ever really sat down to think about because I’ve never thought of Islam as a violent religion.
I can see your eyes squinting in confusion – with the media portrayal of the violent acts of terrorism attributed to the Middle East and Islam as a whole, how could I not even consider it?
I always loved English in school. It allowed me to learn about the universe and wonder off into captivating literature in the name of ‘expanding my contextual understanding’. In my senior years, teachers allowed me to explore these weird and wonderful parts of my creativity and nurtured my desire to understand concepts as part of a greater picture.
In year 10 we read The Crucible, a play written by Arthur Miller in 1953. For the first time in years, I finally felt that something reflected the way I felt about Islam being used as a weapon against the people – not just against those who follow Islam, but even those who had never even heard of it. For those of you who haven’t read it, The Crucible follows the lives of a few young girls who take advantage of the extremely religious, Puritan views of the people of Salem, who attributed anything confusing to the devil’s work. At the most basic level, it is a representation of the fact that if people want to do something unfathomable as a means to an end, all it takes is an accusation or two, and the ability to hide behind a distraction – religion, xenophobia, superstition. It helped me remember that the current state of Islam isn’t something unique to our time. It is, unfortunately, just a repetition of history.
I have always known that those so-called Muslims who parade across our television screens, preaching bloody murder, were not part of my religion. In my young eyes, they were nothing like me. The problem, however, was that they appeared to share aspects of my identity with me. It is absolutely surreal to live as a Muslim in the ‘West’ sometimes. The older I’ve gotten, the more I’ve learned to deal with it, but as a child, being told that all my people were bad was very confusing.
I’d go home and my parents would always talk about the value of kindness. That the Prophet Muhammad always valued basic human compassion over anything else. That in the golden era of Islam, there was so much abundance, that when all those who fell within the empire were cared for, the leaders turned to animals and began caring for them. That unless we were chastised and forced into war by people, we were never to be unkind, no matter what religion a person was.
Then I’d watch the news and all of that would be thrown out the window. Not only have I been witnessing heinous acts of terrorism in the apparent ‘name of Allah’, I’ve been watching people scream and shout about what is and isn’t acceptable in Islam – and most of it is a load of crap. A bunch of men who have not received an education beyond high school (if even that) who think that because they have heard another moronic man or two speak about Islam, that they are now experts. The only aspects of Islam they are interested in seem to be war, how a woman should dress, and that a Muslim man can marry four wives. They scream and rave as loud as possible in their groups of less than a dozen, and the media says LOOK. LOOK AT THESE PEOPLE. LOOK AT HOW DIFFERENT THEY ALL ARE FROM US. THEY WANT US TO BE PART OF THEIR VIOLENT, BARBARIC RELIGION. LOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOK AT THEEEEEEMMMMM.
Yet somehow, in the life I have lived, I have never thought about how my connection to Islam links me to these people or a religion of violence.
The day to day life of a Muslim is rather boring. You snooze your alarm repeatedly, hoping that you can get just another minute of shut eye. You get up, shower and make wudu (or ablution) and perform the morning prayer. You get ready to go out and do what you do for the day and do it. You come home, get half naked before you’ve even fully made it in to the house and then attempt to feed yourself, finish up your prayers for the day, watch some Home and Away and relax. Then it’s off to bed before you repeat the process.
Every now and then, our days are a little bit more dramatic. You wake up, turn on the TV and see pictures of a smoking something or another. I’m always worried when that happens because it usually means a Muslim-wannabe has blown something (or themselves) up. As a Muslim woman in hijab, you then brace yourself for a day of violence against you. You curse the men who ignore the fact that although a few of them kick and scream in the streets, committing crimes that fly in the face of everything Islam teaches, it will mostly be women who represent Islam and it will mostly be women who will be attacked for the beliefs THAT THEY DON’T EVEN SHARE.
Other times it’s a violent rampage by a Muslim. Or a video talking about how Harry Potter is made by the Jews to conspire with he devil. Or how Coca Cola is an anti-Islamic organisation and even their logo flipped around and upside down and skewed at an angle with a couple of letters missing says something something about Allah. Or Muslims protesting about a film about the Prophet Muhammad or Islam, who in their violent destruction, do so much more to tarnish the name of Islam than anything or anyone else ever could.
And even then. I do not feel that my association to Islam is one of violence.
In my minds eye, these people are out for blood for whatever reason, and are using Islam as a convenient cover. They are pulling a couple of words from here and a couple from there and stringing them together to form, what they think, is a solid wall to hide behind – but let me tell you. That wall is paper thin and stands on sand.
Some of them are migrants or the children of migrants who have been hurt time and time again by both the society of their parents, which sees them as ‘Westerners’ or the society of the country they live in, which sees them as ‘outsiders’. Suddenly, a man with a beard, determined to make a following for his own egotistical desires, comes along, rounds up these lonely boys and tells them he can make them into strong, good Muslim men. Men who will be respected and revered. A lot of these men also haven’t had much of an education, so attempting to ask them anything about what they apparently believe often ends in them yelling at you because they have no idea what you’re even talking about.
The larger acts of violence are even more upsetting, because it’s the same principle applied on a mass scale. There’s a movie called Four Lions, which humorously shows how these things tend to happen. I feel sorry for the young men who are pulled into this sort of horror because I think of them as young, misguided people who often thought they were doing what is right. It makes me value my parents so much more, as they did everything in their power to ensure that my brothers and I knew just how terrible any violence is, and that Islam does not allow it. I honestly think that the only difference between my parents, and the parents of these violent perpetrators, is that my parents were educated and always present. That is not to say that any of their actions are even slightly excusable, but everything comes to be as a result of something else.
And somehow, knowing all this, I have detached myself from any violence when it comes to my Islam.
My Islam is the one which tells me to love and respect my parents and not even sigh at their requests, as annoying as they can be, for they raised me to the best of their ability in the best way they knew. It teaches me to treat my siblings equally, whether or not we share the same parents.
It is the Islam that requires charity as one of it’s pillars, and tells you when good things happen in your life, to remember the less fortunate and when bad things happen, to remember the less fortunate. To give all you can, when you can, and treat your wealth as a blessing, not a tool.
It’s the Islam of strong women like Khadija, the prophet’s wife and one of the saviest business people of her time and Fatima, the prophet’s daughter who stood as a beacon for Islam and against any injustice. An Islam that is adamant that its women be educated and respected. The Islam that tells children to treat their mother as their best friend, three times before it even mentions a father. The Islam that says that a man, at the absolute least, must treat his wife kindly if it is not love that binds them.
It is the Islam that tells you to love your neighbours, and friends and family, no matter what they believe, and to maintain these relationships kindly, even if these people appear to have lapsed in contacting you. It is the Islam that asks for forgiveness and for you to hide the sins of others instead of shout them out for the world to see. The Islam that hates gossip and slander and accusations.
It is the Islam that asks you to not follow blindly. To question and judge and seek our information to form your own opinion.The Islam that holds the pen in higher esteem than the sword, and the Islam that implores you to choose the path of forgiveness over that of revenge. The Islam that tells you the loss of one innocent life is as bad as the loss of all of humanity.
It is the Islam that asks you to protect those who cannot fend for themselves, whether it is the orphan child or your abused and mistreated Jewish neighbour. An Islam that rewards standing in the face of tyranny for the sake of helping those around you.
It is the Islam that tells you to greet all those you meet with ‘May peace be upon, and the mercy and blessings of God be with you.’
My Islam is the Islam of the Prophet Muhammad and the Quran, at its most simplest. Its is the Islam of Abraham and Moses and Jesus and Adam and Noah and Isaac and Joseph and Jacob and Solomon and David. It is the Islam that reminds you to measures your actions for the sake of yourself and those around.
So let me ask you. How could I ever associate my Islam with violence?