By Bilal Zaheen, President of the Muslim Students Association at CSULB
In an age dominated by the words terrorism, extremism, and Islamicists (to name a few), one would assume that the skill of reading critically would be a valuable asset in a world in need of constant evaluation, analysis, and investigation.
Yet few seem to do it.
Instead, we have succumbed to the whims and ways of social media and Google PHD’s; our Facebook statuses are indicators of the black and white opinions that we have of situations that are anything but black and white. This is the climate in which we live in today, the same climate that hosts the new threat of terror that is continually flashing across our computer screens and television sets.
A week ago, extremists acting in the name of Islam, took Paris by storm after launching consecutive attacks upon five highly populated areas within the cities.
As the streets of Paris burned with chemical regents exhibited by bomb blasts and constant rounds of ammunition, the heart of every Muslim around the world was scorched again. The same tremors that had changed the world on 9/11 had systematically resurfaced upon the streets of Paris, leaving the world (especially the Muslim community) perplexed and disarrayed.
From the young Syrian orphan who is hopping to and fro off of the backs of refugees seeking asylum from the burning chaos that is also known as Syria, to the Moroccan immigrant shop owner who shakes with fear as he sits in the moonlight-dimmed room of his downscaled Paris flat with the lights off, to the American Muslim college student who once again has to organize another counter-Islamophobia week (because once a year is not enough), all ponder the same question: what will be the fate of Muslims in the days, months, and years to come?
There are so many things wrong with this question that one article cannot do justice. The crux of the issue, however, is ignorance, or more specifically, a lack of knowledge in areas where – given the current climate – the acquisition of knowledge would be most prudent.
If you needed to change the transmission of your car, would you ask a mechanic to check up on it, or a doctor? Of course you would ask the mechanic! If you wanted to undergo a project that would renovate the interior of your house, would you ask an interior designer or an aviation pilot? The interior designer, most likely! These individuals are trained in their field, and they inhibit the stellar expertise that would maximize the success of whatever operation/procedure you desire to accomplish.
It is disheartening to say, however, that if society sought to learn more about Islam, the overarching control of the media would lead them to the likes of Don Lemon. Or worse, Donald Trump. And if for some reason your television set did not happen to work that day, the top three Google search responses when inputting “what is Islam” will result in the websites of Islamophobes and others who seek to filter the true message of Islam.
The points to be made here are 1) Islam is a faith that is protected from any tarnish that could be caused by an outside source, regardless of how extreme the situation. The ISIS extremists who claimed to be acting in the name of “Islam” also were drug users, thieves, and had barely set foot inside a mosque – this is the side of ISIS, and other extremists, that the media refuses to display.
Thus, no one can truly disfigure the identity of Islam; Islam is a way of life that has been a way of life and will continue on being a way of life. This way of life was meant to transcend centuries, races, languages, ethnicities, prejudice, discrimination, etc. This way of life has unified, and will continue to unify those who seek peace, justice, and freedom from oppression.
The second point to be made is concise and simple 2) Muslims should not be apologetic for the actions that they did not commit. They are not responsible for, have never been responsible for, and never will be responsible for the actions of a few who seek to destroy the identity of a population of over 1.2 billion people around the world.
In the wake of Paris, Muslim communities worldwide must again brace for the backlash, the scrutiny, and the questioning of their faith. Such suspicion is fueled by the ignorance propagated via social media and by political leadership, suspicions that, ironically, serve as fodder for the terrorists.
The solution? Increase your knowledge by going to the source. If your goal is to understand the peace and tranquility of Islam, read the religious texts, or other legitimate resources for reference. Visit a local mosque to observe one of the five prayers that is conducted throughout the day, and ask yourself a very basic question: Is this the same Islam that is presented by the media you consume?
Knowledge is the catalyst of understanding. It is only through understanding that we will be able to pave a road for peace in the years to come.