Rising Islamophobia — the way forward | By Naghmana A Hashmi


Rising Islamophobia — the way forward

ALLAMA Iqbal said: “Pray, fast and perform the pilgrimage and feel that we have discharged our obligation to Islam. That is the easy part. Doing all those things is only a starting point for a much larger obligation: to keep advancing in knowledge of things’ ultimate nature. We should never ignore this larger goal.” The commonly held perception is that 9/11 destroyed the Muslim image. It was a major contributing factor to painting all Muslims with a broad brush as terrorists, there were other factors shaping the negative image of Muslims much before 9/11. Today most Muslims, as members of minority communities, grow up against a background of everyday Islamophobia, which in the last two decades, has become mainstream in the West.

In recent years, Islamophobia has been fuelled by public anxiety over immigration of Muslim minorities into majority Christian cultures particularly in Europe. The influx of a large number of refugees from war-torn Muslim countries like Libya, Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria and Yemen further aggravated the situation. Since 2001, terrorist acts by jihadists in New York, London, Paris, Brussels and Barcelona have increased anxiety in the West perceiving Islam as a threat and fundamentalism as the problematic heart of Islam and fearing Muslims as the enemy. In a climate of rapidly expanding diversity in the West, Muslim minorities are portrayed as non-belonging and wanting to separate themselves from the rest of society.

Adoption of a resolution sponsored by 57 OIC countries plus eight more including China and Russia by the UN General Assembly proclaiming 15 March as the International Day to Combat Islamophobia is a welcome development. Marking the International Day to Combat Islamophobia will raise international awareness about the growing phenomenon and anti-Muslim hatred and send a strong message of respect for human dignity, and reiterate common commitment to unity in diversity.

This was an important beginning but a lot more needs to be done particularly by the Muslim countries and communities themselves in order to change the narrative about Islam and Muslims. Combating Islamophobia will not be possible by just focusing on what the Western world needs to do to integrate the Muslim communities and ensure equal status and human rights to them. A deep introspection is required by the Muslims themselves to identify deficiencies and rectify them. The Muslim Ummah should rise from over five centuries of slumber and start preparing our youth to excel in science and technology. Some recommendations are as follows;

  • The OIC should undertake an objective analysis of the shortfalls in the Ummah and our orientation to the world.
  • Islam prioritizes education as indicated by the Quranic commands and our Prophet’s Dua to Allah SWT (Rabbi ZidniIlmi), asking Him to increase our knowledge.
  • In the world of Cloud, Artificial Intelligence and unlimited, unimaginable future advances, unless we update our knowledge, we will further fall behind.
  • A number of online universities worldwide are teaching young Muslims Fiqh and Shariah laws. It would help to open online schools where the Muslim youth could simultaneously learn STEM subjects.
  • Bold and courageous steps in the acquisition of knowledge are required. Without understanding how the universe works and how we relate to it, it is not possible to understand Islam. We must emphasize that religion and science are integral parts of human life.
  • Islam is a religion for all times, In order for it to keep pace with the changing realities and demands of changing times, thus the concept of Ijtihad in Islam. Lack of Ijtihad and scholarly discourse on issues is plaguing the Ummah and hampering development and needs urgent attention.
  • Muslims are developing harsh and fundamentalist attitudes, particularly with regard to the rights of women and minorities. Islam advocates moderation, a concept which is neither propagated nor understood by the majority of Muslims these days. Scholarly discourse on the concept of moderations needs to be encouraged for the Muslims to understand the true spirit of Islam and its universality.
  • Islam advocates democracy in all aspects including in choosing the leader of the state and the one to lead the prayers. Authoritarian and dictatorial rule has no place in Islam. Unfortunately lack of democracy in the Muslim world is a reality which started much earlier in Islamic history
  • The West has utilized it extremely well to their advantage. All leading media houses are in the Western world. There is no indigenous media house in the Muslim world large and powerful enough to build and promote a counter narrative. There is therefore an urgent need for the Ummah to focus on the media.
  • OIC should encourage and put in place effective mechanisms for investments by rich Muslim countries, first and foremost in their brotherly Muslim Countries to lift them out of poverty and put them on the road to economic development.
  • The Islamic Development Bank has to date only invested 8 billion US $ in the OIC member states. Whereas member states have invested trillions in the developed world. IDB needs to focus more and invest in the socio-economic development of poorer members of OIC.
  • The Ummah, unfortunately, is divided not only in terms of religious ideologies and sects but also in terms of regional and world politics. This has pitched individual Muslim countries and regional blocks against each other.  The attention and focus of the Ummah instead of ameliorating and improving the condition of the Muslim world is on fighting each other and wasting precious resources.
  • OIC should focus on the Muslims living in non-Muslim countries and reach out to them to educate them on the spirit of Islam and encourage them to educate their children, respect the society and culture and religion of the countries they live in.
  • Urge them to reach out to their host communities and build bridges through projecting the peaceful, tolerant and progressive image of Islam.

In short, what is lacking is an account of Muslims’ self-introspection, an examination of their self-inflicted failures, causing an undesirable image of 2 billion followers of Islam. It is time that all Muslim nations invest in modern rationalistic education. Without socio-economic development, backed by a strong intellectual and stable political environment, any efforts to combat Islamophobia will only be cosmetic and temporary. There is a need to change mindsets and basic approach. “People’s condition will not be changed until they change what is in themselves” (Quran 13:11).