What Islam stands for | Dhaka Tribune
As Islamophobia becomes a reality, some stories need to be told and retold
Years before Islamophobia became a reality, I grew up in Kashmir in the 1990s with stories that made me understand the core Islamic value: compassion.
Stories were an important part of children’s education, especially in families like ours who had served as the religious leadership of Kashmir for centuries as descendants of Sufi saints.
For compassion and social justice
My favorite of these stories was about the woman who cursed and threw garbage at the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) every time he passed by for preaching Islam.
When the routine suddenly stopped one day, the Prophet made a point of seeing the woman and found out that she had fallen ill. Littering was nothing compared to the mutilation to which another woman, Hind, subjected the body of the Prophet’s favorite uncle. He also forgave her along with several others who wronged her. Compassion is the moral of these stories.
The story of the slave-turned-muezzin of Africa, Bilal, illustrated another fundamental Islamic idea of social justice. Bilal was one of the first converts to Islam and a prominent member of the emerging Muslim community. Islam’s egalitarian message first resonated with marginalized people such as women and slaves in Arabia, which was then infamous for its ingrained notions of ethnic and tribal superiority.
He questioned the inequalities determined by kinship, tribal affiliation and wealth. The spread of Islam met with strong opposition from elites, including Bilal’s owner Umayya, who allegedly tortured his slave by placing a stone on his chest to make him renounce Islam. Bilal was known for his beautiful voice and won the distinction of making the first public call for Muslim prayer. He married an Arab woman from an important clan and was one of the closest people to the Prophet, making him a symbol of social justice.
For equality and respect
Bilal’s story is also a reminder of the fundamental Islamic mandate of creating a society that cares for its weak and treats them with respect. The honor bestowed on Bilal for having given the first azaan symbolized the uprooting of oppressive power and social structure, where kinship or parentage nasab determined the low or high social status of an individual.
The story of the Prophet’s employer and later his wife Khadijah illustrated for us the importance of gender equality. Impressed by the Prophet’s reputation as an honest man, Khadijah employed him to take care of his business, which stretched from Mecca to Syria and Yemen.
She was widowed twice before proposing marriage to the Prophet when he was 25 and Khadijah 40. The Prophet did not confide in Khadija and his Christian cousin until he had started receiving revelations as a Prophet. Many of the early converts to Islam were women – awestruck by the idea of equality – when the Prophet began preaching two years after he began receiving revelations. The Prophet’s message was revolutionary for the time: women were granted the right to acquire property, something that eluded their European counterparts for centuries.
The importance of universal education was underlined by the saying of the Prophet: “Go to China if you need to acquire knowledge. He declared education compulsory for women and men while the right to be educated was a privilege only for a priestly class in India.
The Prophet loved animals and once would have cut off a sleeve of his coat to ensure that a cat napping on his arm would not be disturbed while he had to rush to pray. He allegedly told a woman that she would find a place in Heaven even though she was “sinful and wicked” for saving a dying dog and giving him water.
Until a perverse form of jihad turns against the West and becomes the one thing defining over a billion Muslims, for true Muslims, the idea [of jihad] meant a struggle, the greatest being against the evil within.
The words for fight or war in Arabic are qital and harb. Jihad appears in the Quran 41 times while deterrence to combat occurs 70 times. The United States introduced its evil form in the late 1970s to fight communism. He has injected millions of dollars into textbooks filled with violent images and teachings for Afghan schools. According to the Washington Post, the primers “filled with speeches on jihad” included “drawings of guns, bullets, soldiers and mines.” They served as the “core curriculum of the Afghan school system” and even the Taliban used them, plunging “a generation into violence”.
The humanizing elements of Islam did not disappear overnight. As Sophia Rose Arjana shows in her book, Muslims in the Western Imagination, there has been a long history of imaginary Muslim monsters who have aided in the dehumanization of the Muslim Other.
The ruling Hindutva movement in India has borrowed heavily from this tradition for its power politics. As a result, the alleged conduct of ruthless empire builders who were also Muslims was used to further this dehumanizing project. The project conveniently ignores the glorious heritage of spiritual Islam in Sufism and the Prophet’s true heirs such as Bulleh Shah, Khawaja Moinuddin Chishti, Baba Farid, etc.
The fact that a substantial number of Muslims do not have an agency in much of what is known as the Islamic world has not helped either. Most of this world are fiefdoms of selfish rulers. They owe their existence to the lines that Mark Sykes and François Picot arbitrarily drew on the map of Western Asia in order for Great Britain and France to obtain Germany’s oil share in 1916.
The territories have been demarcated to allow the two countries to build separate pipelines between Iraq and Mediterranean ports for oil concessions in return. Rulers do not derive their legitimacy from their subjects and cannot see beyond the interests of their families and tribes.
The positives are ignored while the negatives, amplified
The deficiencies of the Islamic world are used as a stick to beat Muslims, while the positive examples of Muslim countries are conveniently ignored. Indonesia is the most populous Muslim country, home to 12.9% of the world’s Muslims. He is secular with a strong Hindu influence illustrating his pluralism.
The influence is disproportionate to the number – 1.7% – of Hindus in Indonesia. His national airline is named after Vishnu’s vehicle, Garuda; his banknotes bear the image of Ganesh; the Ramayana and the Mahabharata have a deep imprint on Indonesian culture. A statue of Saraswati stands in front of the Indonesian Embassy in the world’s most important capital: Washington DC.
The activity of generating “TV rating points” for advertising revenue over the past seven years, in particular, has also been closely aligned with the dominant Islamophobic political project in India.
A set of previously obscure bearded men is an integral part of it. They express the most unreasonable positions on complex issues such as triple talaq while a fraction of 0.56% of divorced women in India fall victim to the non-Islamic practice. In the process, Muslim stereotypes are reinforced in favor of the ruling party, and the real issues of denial of the right to vote, lynching and lack of justice are obscured.
He keeps alive the Muslim scarecrow and those who can “put Muslims in their place” firmly in power. In this context, the stories that people like me grew up on as children must be told and retold for a peaceful future of coexistence threatened by growing Islamophobia.
Sameer Arshad Khatlani is a New Delhi-based author-journalist. He was senior associate editor at The Hindustan Times, India’s second largest English newspaper. Khatlani worked in similar functions with The Indian Express until June 2018. This article first appeared on the blog. Between the lines and has been reprinted with special permission.