One of the most perplexing dilemmas faced by Muslim Americans is what is seen as the rising tide of anti-islamic sentiment. It tops the agenda of virtually every mosque, Islamic center, and Muslim political or religious organization in the country.
Whether or not the negative views of Islam and Muslims held by some Americans amounts to a civil rights crisis of the magnitude that some American Muslim leaders claim, is doubtful. When Americans think about civil rights, we summon the images of blatant discrimination, such as, denial of housing, employment, and education. We don’t usually think of name calling and negative sentiment as a civil rights issue.
Nevertheless, many Muslim American leaders and organizations have declared fighting islamophobia as the number one priority for Muslim Americans, and to make matters worse ; they are trying to sell it to the rest of us. Quite frankly, I’m just not buying it.
Even if, for the sake of argument, how others view me as a Muslim, and their view of my religion really made a difference in whether or not I can practice my Islam, using Islamophobia as a one size fits all categorization for every anti -Muslim sentiment or perception, is not an intelligent and practical way to address the issue.
Although some of the hysteria and fear baiting rhetoric articulated by critics of Islam or Muslims goes a little overboard, the general concerns about the unyielding and uncompromising dogma of modern political Islam, the threat of islamic extremism, and it’s potential to germinate within the ranks of American Muslim youth, are not totally unfounded, nor are they purely irrational.
The potential for extremism and fanaticism exists within in every religion group, Islam is no exception. The numerous injunctions found in Shariah law against religious extremism and fanaticism confirm conclusively, the potential for it. Because of that, and because this is a free country where people can think what they want, it should come as no surprise for American Muslims, that there is concern about Islamic extremism and the radicalization of Muslim Americans.
What I find hardest to understand is the approach that we as Muslim Americans are taking in addressing this issue. If we want to insist upon making islamophobia our number one obsession, then the least we can do is come up with an approach that makes sense.
The clinical definition of a phobia is the morbid and irrational fear of something. Thus, given the numerous examples of suicide bombings, Muslim on Muslim killings, denial of rights, sectarian warfare and hoswtility, and the senseless butchering perpetrated around the globe in the name of Islam, notwithstanding the events of 9/11, and the failed terrorism plots on U.S. soil since then, for anyone to say that concern for the potential of Islamic extremism to occur in the united states is irrational, is itself irrational, especially since there are over 2 million Muslims in the united states, many of them coming from the same parts of the world where religious extremism is common.
So it is a mistake in my view for American Muslims to categorize every and all suspicion or criticism of Islam and Muslims as simply the result of islamophobia. To do so, only serves to perpetuate the view that many Americans have of Muslims as irrational people, who cannot be trusted . This makes our fight against islamophobia using our current tactics, a winless and counterproductive campaign. Secondly, there is not a single issue upon which all Americans have the same exact view or opinion. This is a democratic republic; we do not think nor do we behave as a tribe. So for Muslims to assume that somehow we will convince every American leader, politician, academic, group or lay person to not have a criticism, hatred, suspicion or concern about Muslims in America is not only absolutely implausible, it is borderline insanity.
The obsessive American Muslim campaign against islamophobia and the questionable tactics we are employing to that end, says a lot about who we are as a people of faith. It implies that we reject our own religious axioms of being able to withstand criticism, hatred, and accepting that not everyone will share our point of view. It also says that we have very little spiritual fortitude.
The Prophet Muhammad (may peace be upon Him ) and the earlier followers of Islam were relentlessly persecuted, tortured, hunted down and killed, and even totally boycotted by the Meccans because of their religion and their beliefs. Yet the Prophet (may peace be upon Him ) never referred to opposition to Islam as islamophobia or complained about being unpopulur, nor did he seek public approval for his Islam. He accepted the opposition that one encounters to their faith as one of the tests of faith.
By all accounts, Muslims who have emigrated to the United States seem to have done pretty well for themselves. American Muslim immigrants are amongst the best educated, highest earning, and most upwardly mobile demographic groups in the U.S. Thus, I cannot help but to ask the question ; just what is it that makes fighting islamophobia such a high priority for Muslims living in America?
It’s not like we’re saying ; stop killing us, stop denying us jobs and housing, stop denying us education and health care, and stop torturing us just because we are Muslim. What we seem to be saying is; we’re doing okay in our pursuit of the American dream, we just don’t like criticism of Islam or Muslims because it bruises our ego and suggests that perhaps we need to take a hard look at ourselves. Unfortunately we as American Muslims, are not quite ready to do that. The Quran states ; “God will not change the condition of a people until they change what is in themselves.” Perhaps it is time for Muslims living in America to start looking in the mirror, or better yet ; spend more time and effort in practicing Islam than defending Islam. If we do that, we may start finding real answers to the questions surrounding islamophobia, and might even learn something about ourselves. Imam Luqman Ahmad
Imam Luqman Ahmad has been the Imam of a northern California Mosque for the last 15 years, he is also an executive committee member of the North American Imam’s Federation. He can be reached at : firstname.lastname@example.org