Theologians may quarrel, but the mystics of the world speak the same language. —-Meister Eckhart
We live in unexemplary times, maddened by fear, murderous ignorance, and mistrust of one another. Even though Muslims make up around a fourth of the global population, or around two billion souls, for many, the faith has become besmirched with backwardness and violence. Islamophobia is a widespread, too painful reality, and hate speech is not without its cost.
It is a proven fact that hate crimes against Muslims are on the rise, from bullying in the classroom to racial slurs, as well as more grave offenses, such as mosque burnings, even murders. Which is to say, hate and violence (on either side) begin in minds and hearts before finding their way to our lips and, soon enough, translating into heinous actions against (oftentimes, dehumanized) Others.
As an immigrant, Muslim, and writer living in Trump’s alarming America, as well as a citizen of our increasingly polarized world, I will not deny that speaking out on behalf of Islam has become something of a burden and sweet responsibility. I find that I must begin most conversations on this subject, including this one, by stating the obvious: “Terrorism has no religion and most victims of terrorism are moderate Muslims.”
It’s tiresome to be continually on the defensive, which does not always bring out the best in us or the most charitable, gentle responses. A German Muslim scholar, when asked about the connection between terrorism and Islam, went on this rant:
Who started the first world war? Not Muslims. Who killed 6 million Jews in the Holocaust? Not Muslims. Who killed about 20 million Aborigines in Australia? Not Muslims. Who sent the nuclear bombs of Hiroshima and Nagasaki? Not Muslims. Who killed more than 100 million Indians in North America? Not Muslims. Who killed more than 50 million Indians in South America? Not Muslims. Who took about 180 million African Muslims as slaves obliged them to leave Islam, 88% of whom died and were thrown overboard into the Atlantic Ocean? Not Muslims
Which is not to say that I believe, as a Muslim community, we are entirely off the hook either. I agree with many theologians and scholars of Islam who call for profound self-examination and a better understanding of the faith, such as Hamza Yusuf’s formula for “a renovation of the abode of Islam . . . to make new again, repair, reinvigorate, refresh, revive our personal faith.” It seems self-defeating and willful to deny that something is rotten within the Muslim community, and that we need serious housekeeping.
As I said, we must begin, of course, by declaring to ourselves and the world in no uncertain terms, Not in Our Name, This Violence. There is a damning quote, by Canadian author Robertson Davies, that sums up how I feel about so-called “religious” fanatics in a handful of words: Fanaticism is overcompensation for doubt. To distance ourselves from the blasphemous-murders-who-would-sabotage-faith, we need to embody the peace, love, forgiveness, and sacrifice we find in the spirituality that sustains us, and extend it to those who do not know any better.
For those who wish to throw out the luminous baby, Faith, with the sordid water of current events, it is wise to recall the timeless words of a religiously inspired proponent of nonviolence, the great Martin Luther King Jr.:
Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that.
Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.
It is remarkable, for example, during this historical moment of Islamophobic panic, that a thirteenth-century Sufi mystic, Mawlana Jalāl ad-Dīn Muhammad Balkhi (known as Rumi in the West), is not only a best-selling poet but the most popular poet in the US! This is doubly interesting, since Rumi was also a refugee who lived in a turbulent time of religious persecution, not entirely dissimilar from our own. For the millions who appreciate Rumi’s poetry, there is an opportunity to better understand the Arabic/Persian traditions that produced him as well as the Muslim holy book, the Quran, that is fertile soil for Rumi’s soul and art.
Photography: Zakaria Wakram