The election of Donald Trump has brought fear to Muslims and other minority groups and rightfully so. After all, the now President-elect of the United States used a rhetoric of fear and hatred to gain the momentum which eventually got him where he is today. Initially I felt horrified myself. I was scared not just for myself but for all Muslims in the U.S. – especially the hijabi women whose faith is more visible than the rest of us and face more danger than the rest. A couple of days later, and after coming to terms with this new reality, I admitted to myself that Islamophobia, fear, and racism are not new to this country. These sentiments have always been there but were suppressed. With the election of Donald Trump the silent majority as they are called, no longer have to suppress their feelings and are now able to act upon them as they please. Having said that, it is time that we Muslims take some serious steps in combatting Islamophobia. But how do we go about it?
Change the rhetoric from “Muslims need to condemn/apologize for every terrorist attack.”
Anyone with a good moral compass would condemn any terror attack against innocent people, Muslim or non – Muslim. But after any terror attack, Muslims are asked to apologize for the blood spilled. Why should we apologize? I and 99% of the Muslim population do not accept what ISIS and other terror groups do in the name of our religion. We are just as horrified and saddened by their actions as the rest of the world but we have nothing to apologize for, the same way we do not expect anyone else to apologize for the actions committed by a group he or she affiliates with.
At the same time I know for many Americans, Islam is still a relatively new subject and I can see why many people are scared of Islam and Muslims. They do not know what Islam is, aside from what Hollywood, the media and so called “experts” tell them it is. So instead of apologizing every time a tragic attack takes place, we as Muslims need to do a better job in making these fears go away.
Open our communities
One may ask how to do we do this? For starters we need to be more open to our communities and be engaged with them, and actively partake in social activism. Some communities already have such programs in place, but we need more of it in an ongoing basis, not just when something tragic takes place or following an event which can have further implications such as the election of Donald Trump. After the victory of Donald Trump, I have seen pictures of flowers, cookies and warm hearted letters from non-Muslims sent to our local mosques. Just today during Friday prayers, non-Muslims were standing outside mosques all around the United States in solidarity with us and showing us that we are not alone. That was so beautiful to watch but also made me think; would we do something like this for another group? A lot of us tend to be enclosed in our bubbles and do not reach out to our communities. It is high time we start engaging with our local communities at every level; whether that is to show support, partake in an event, or just to spread some love and hand out some baked treats.
We need to open our mosques to the general communities we are part of. We could organize dinners, or a Come and Meet Your Local Muslim events. Many Americans have never been to a masjid before, therefore it should be our duty to invite them and show them there is nothing to be afraid of to effectively take away some of the misconceptions.
Scholars Teaching in Universities
Second, several universities offer degrees in Islamic Studies but most of these program contain very few Muslims scholars and the rest are non-Muslim. By no means am I saying that non-Muslims scholars are not doing a good job teaching about Islam, most of them do a wonderful job, however it is crucial to have Muslim scholars in secular academia teaching our tradition and faith to all of our youth. They must be willing to do so in a “I just want to educate you” tone and not in a “I want to convert you” one. We have so many great scholars and teachers of Islam but they should also take part in not just educating Muslims, but non-Muslims as well within public education.
Third, I know many of our imams, especially from Dallas where I am from, are involved with the community. Community leaders like Omar Suleiman always talks about racial issues and social inequality and is at the forefront of any social cause. We need more of this and not just the interfaith type but also in any case of social causes even that of the LGBT community. I know most Muslims do not agree with that lifestyle, but as we want our rights to be respected we must want the same for all minority communities and we need to fight for their rights as well.
Let go of the aggressive dawah
Lastly, we need to put aggressive dawah away. Part of our religion is giving dawah to non – Muslims and I am all for it; however what I do not agree with is the “in your face” aggressive dawah which has become popular in the U.K. and in the U.S. That only alienates people, and reinforces the mistaken belief that Muslims want everyone to convert to Islam. Our dawah needs to be done in an eloquent fashion and with the goal to open people’s minds and hearts. Also it is imperative to remember that our manners, behavior, speech, and character are a form of dawah as well. Through those things, we can be giving dawah every single moment of our lives without actually saying anything about our religion.
I am not saying by taking these steps we will eradicate Islamophobia, however these are the first steps to combat it and start taking charge of our narrative. Through this, we can do away with the Islam depicted in Hollywood, media, and the so called “experts” who make a living out of spreading Islamophobia. We cannot just stay idle and let others do the talking for us, we also need to do our part to remove the fear of the unknown from people’s minds. We need to show that we are as much part of the United States of America as anyone else.
This article was written by Nikolaos Barbaressos