Headlines scream out at you: ’80 killed in terrorist attack on two Pakistani mosques.’ ‘Lal Masjid threatens to give the call for jihad.’ ‘Clash with security forces leaves 16 students dead.’ And all this accompanied by pictures of women in burqas wielding lathis longer than themselves. Talk of women power!! Another one: ‘Flaming jeep drives into Glasgow airport.’ (No, it was not Lucifer trying to catch a flight either). ‘Doctor from Bangalore was the driver.’ Malala Yusufzai is shot because she wants to educate women. Shot by people who claim to be the representatives of Islam and Muslims. So let me begin by saying that I am Muslim and they don’t represent me. Nobody who can shoot a 14 year old girl represents me. Nobody who makes war on women and children represents me. Islam doesn’t teach anyone to shoot people whose ideas we don’t agree with. So if that is their Islam, then I am not from their religion. I hope that is clear enough as far as my stance goes.
What’s the common thread in these and many other such headlines? The names of the actors are all Muslim. And the pressure mounts on all of us – normal, harmless, garden-variety Muslims – to explain what is going on in the name of Islam. I know I am treading on very unsafe ground when I am writing this. I have no illusions about the possible threat to my own popularity and esteem, in which I am held for no fault of mine. In the strange world we live in, we Muslims and our Islam seems to be defined either by the strident discordant cries of people like the Imaam of Lal Masjid or the bleating of the likes of Salman Rushdie, Tasleema Nasreen, Irshad Manji and Hirsi Ali. Both these groups seek to foist their version of Islam on the rest of us. I believe the time has come for us, people who are practicing Muslims, proud of our great religion and culture, obedient to AllahY, conscious of our accountability to him, with no intention of changing Islam or its Shari’ah in any way whatsoever; to stand up and say, “Do what you want but leave Islam out of it. You don’t represent us. You are not our leaders. We don’t follow you.”
We Muslims ourselves are in a state of denial. The usual standard answer that we get when we mention the different acts of violence allegedly perpetrated by Muslims is that actually these have been done by or orchestrated by agencies of the enemies of Islam. Or we point a finger at America and Europe who have done worse in terms of slaughtering innocents and continue shamelessly while preaching peace to the world. Their leaders have no shame. I agree. But we forget two important matters when we make those statements.
1. Those leaders are not Muslim. They are not our role models. They are not our benchmarks. We don’t follow them. They don’t have the Book of AllahY. They don’t claim to follow Muhammadr, the Messenger of AllahY. So what they do or don’t do has no relevance to what we do or don’t do.
2. Two wrongs don’t make a right. Just because Madeleine Albright said on TV that the killing of Iraqi children was worth it – in terms of the American invasion of Iraq, it doesn’t give the Taliban the right to shoot Malala Yusufzai. At least the Americans do it to others. We do it to our own.
We have become used to blaming the West, our cousins, so-called ‘International Agencies’ or who-have-you for whatever happens that involves Muslims. That is a classic victim stance, the stance of losers and slaves everywhere. Export the blame in the false belief that it releases you from the responsibility of your actions or their consequences. It doesn’t. We are responsible before AllahY for what we do and our actions have consequences in this world and the Hereafter. Make no mistake O! Muslims. This is what your religion teaches you. What helps the proponents of this victim stance is the fact that there have been incidents in the past where it has been proved that one or more of these agencies did in fact have a hand in either staging an act of violence and laying it at the door of Muslims who had nothing to do with it; or of aiding and abetting Muslims in committing hara-kiri of one kind or another. However the uncomfortable fact remains that there are many incidents that have happened and continue to happen that are entirely the effort of Muslims themselves. Call them misguided. Call them ignorant. Call them extremist. Call them what you will. Which Western agency pulled the trigger on Malala Yusufzai?
So what is the solution?
In my view the solution lies in the amazingly fortunate situation the Muslim Ummah finds itself of being in the eye of the world, provided that we can get our act together and act proactively in a coherent, sensible, creative and positive manner. Potentially Muslims today have access to the world media, any channel, and any country, free of cost. Anything that has an Islamic bent attracts the cameras and the world watches. Whose fault is it that almost all of it is negative? If our people drive flaming jeeps into airports; that is what will be shown. If they shoot a 14 year old girl because they don’t agree with her ideas, that is what will be shown. If they kill innocent people because someone somewhere made a film that is disparaging about Rasoolullahr, that is what will be shown. If they hole up inside a masjid or madrassa keeping women and children hostage, that is what will be shown. If they shoot up a masjid and kill worshippers that is what will hit the headlines. Propaganda is created and propagandists thrive in a situation where their victims readily provide them with real data and events. And that is what we continue to do. Provide data which is then not reported for what it is – the insane actions of a few but is interpreted as ‘problems’ of Islam. Then it is not the few criminals who are indicted and punished but the Prophet of Islam (Peace be on him) who is implicated, maligned and mocked because of what his followers who claim to love him, choose to do. Will someone ask them, ‘If you love your Prophet so much how come your actions are so different from his?’
Think Tanks & Team work
I believe that the first step to change our situation is to get the minds of the Ummah together. I propose that Think Tanks be created at a local level in every place where Muslims live. These Think Tanks must comprise of a cross-section of Muslims from all walks of life – Ulama (Theologians), professionals, academics, business people, scientists, bankers, parents, men and women. People who participate in the Think Tanks must learn how to collaborate, dialogue, differ and deal with conflict. They must learn to disagree without being disagreeable. They must learn to focus on issues of common concern while agreeing to live with the differences. They must learn to put the interest of Islam and the Muslim Ummah above their own narrow partisan concerns. And they must learn to obey an Ameer (Leader). These local groups must network and come together at a country level and in time at a global level. There are many secular and religious organizations today who follow this model, very successfully. All it needs is sincerity and dedication.
These Think Tanks must identify important emerging issues, deliberate on them, take expert advice and then create solutions for them from an Islamic perspective. These solutions must be innovative, attractive and powerful and with great media savvy, must be made public. Believe me, if we do the right thing, world media will be only too glad to give us air time free of cost. After all the Nobel Peace Prize went to Mohammad Younus of Grameen Bank fame with a battery of appearances on all the major media channels, with his Islamic identity clearly visible in every appearance. If you become news worthy, you become news. I believe that it is time for the thinking ones to wake up and start thinking so that they don’t allow the mindless to hijack their image and thereby draw suffering on their heads for no fault of their own.
Lethargy in today’s world is a crime. Especially lethargy in a situation where our very existence is threatened. Let us remember that as long as we are seen as people who are addicted to violence neither we nor our religion are likely to be seen in a positive light. Whether this image is fact or not is immaterial. It is the dominant image today. And it is an image that must be debunked. Nobody likes to be with or to support murderers of innocent people. We don’t either. I know that the people who shoot up mosques or do other such brave deeds don’t first come to the likes of you and me to ask our permission or opinion. I know that people like you and me have never actually seen someone like the murderers who shot up the mosques in Pakistan. Or the brave ‘men’ who shot Malala Yousufzai. We don’t know who they are and we wouldn’t dream of supporting them in their Haraam (prohibited) actions. Islam has never permitted killing people at random, irrespective of their religious belief. However none of this will make the problem go away or keep us safe from its effects when it keeps recurring again and again. So we need to find solutions. And we need to get together and do it. The problems affect us the most and so we need to solve them. After all it is the one who is sick who needs to eat the medicine. Not anyone else.
When the time comes for the truth to be spoken, silence is culpable.
I believe that time has come.