People have lots of different theories about how to tackle Islamophobia. I remember my late father once advising me that, whenever the topic of Islam or Muslims is on the radio, I should always call up just to reassure people that the Islamic faith is peaceful, that we’re against indiscriminate violence and we condemn extremism. He meant well and this was his attempt at helping to fight Islamophobia – but defeating Islamophobia isn’t as simple.
As long as groups like ISIS, utterly intoxicated by their own violence and their self-righteous, demonic and heretical idea of Islam, continue to wreak havoc, things are unlikely to change.
But there’s something core to this debate that we often brush over. And it’s this: we can’t expect people of faith in a time of nihilism, atheism and materialism to be loved and accepted. It’s just not going to happen. In fact, people of faith have almost always been rejected. Whenever the Islamic worldview has entered into a community it has been met with firm resistance. The Quran talks about the Prophets Abraham, Noah, Jesus, Moses and Muhammad all facing difficulties and persecution when spreading monotheism. Islamophobia is, you could say, an existential state.
Today’s post-religious society, one which has avowedly given itself to materialism and complete moral relativism, is no different to times gone by. How can Muslims, who have strong religious convictions, be accepted and treated like everyone else? It just won’t happen.
We have to accept that we are different – not necessarily more virtuous – and not feel that we have to apologise or compromise our faith. There’s this idea that we have to constantly defend our faith, apologise, go out of our way to prove Muslims are ‘normal’ and then maybe we’ll be accepted. “Look at me, I’m the opposite of ISIS,” or “Hey, I’m just like you, I’m a singer/comedian/actor/model/youtube celebrity.” This isn’t to take away from those who are genuinely talented and want to express their talents, but we don’t need to excessively highlight it. By trying to fit in so much, we’re accepting the narrative that something is wrong with Islam. We should be frank and honest with ourselves: Muslims will never entirely be accepted.
Once we start demonstrating the qualities of our religion: compassion, justice, and treating everyone with excellence, then those who don’t carry rancour in their hearts will warm to us. Don’t worry about the extreme Islamophobes, let them carry on shouting at us, they’re only straining themselves.
Indeed, it’s only the well-meaning, sincere people who are worth engaging with. Not the hateful, foul-mouthed, argumentative type. They will keep quoting decontextualised verses that sound awful, even though they don’t have the slightest clue what they mean. And when you explain to them why they’re wrong, they’ll just drop a red herring and start on something else that sounds bad. Unless there’s a miracle, they’re not just going to change their minds.
So next time someone leaves a provocative and hateful comment on Facebook or Youtube, just ignore it. Arguing with fools is an utter waste of time, not to mention it’s against our faith! What good is it trying to speak to a deaf person? Both sides will only become more wound up.
Of course, this is not to say we shouldn’t do anything about Islamophobia. We must. It’s a battle that needs to be fought, especially if Muslims are being physically attacked on the streets. But it must be done in the right way and with intelligence. Yes, our efforts may help dispel some stereotypes, but when the next extremist attack happens (and they will continue to happen), those same people may forget all those platitudes about “Islam is peace and love”. Don’t be perturbed by this: it’s natural for people to have an antipathy towards a faith large sections of the media, politicians and public figures demonise and ridicule.
So what do we do about the growing tide of Islamophobia? First, we must accept that it’s not going anywhere. Too many people have too much banking on it, literally: from governments playing it on for their own gain to rogue individuals profiting of the Islamophobia industry through books, talks and fame. Secondly, instead of being worried, agitated and divided, we must remain calm, composed and unified. For as long as we are divided, we are weak and vulnerable. The Islamophobe revels in, and scoffs at, our division and insecurities. Thirdly, we must get our own house in order. Forget ISIS, how do we expect things to change when we block the driveways of non-Muslims (thereby earning their anger) when we park near the Mosque? Or, when someone tries to disparage Islam on an online platform and some Muslims react by swearing and using all types of vile language in retaliation? Sadly, this is the way of the world: if it’s not others messing things up for us, we do it ourselves.