Does the West hate Islam?
In many countries, especially in the West, Muslims are now looked upon with fear and suspicion, as though they are not really a part of the communities in which they live. The Muslim veil, far from being the beautiful garment of modesty and piety as Muslims see it, is regarded as a symbol of some strange, foreign religion. Young Muslim men wearing a beard are seen as fanatics or extremists, and are stopped and searched on the street as possible terrorists. Even politicians now speak about Islam and Muslims as though they are a hidden enemy within the country, who have to be watched very carefully.
On the other hand, what many Muslims see in the news is also very disturbing. The tragedy that has been played out before all of our eyes in Iraq and Afghanistan, ever since the United States and its allies invaded those countries, and the daily oppression of ordinary men, women, and children in Palestine, leave many Muslims wondering what it is that so many people have against Islam. Since the so-called War on Terror was linked very clearly to Islam and Muslims, they ask if the world really does hate Islam.
It is a simple fact that most people in the West who are not Muslim do not have much experience of Islam. How could they? The only information they get about Islam and Muslims is what they see on the television news, or in the newspaper. Newspapers, though, don’t run headlines about people trying to be good. The television news carries stories about explosions and wars and violence.
A Muslim grandmother praying five times a day and teaching her grandchildren to recite the Qur’an does not make the news. A group of Muslim youths who pray together in the mosque and then play football together in the street is not what headlines are made of, is it?
Islam is simply beyond the experience of most people who are not Muslim. If you live in a Muslim country, you will hear the Call to Prayer and you will see people praying in the street and reciting the Qur’an on the bus. It is as natural as breathing. If you live in a country that isn’t Muslim, you will not only not see these things, but they would seem very strange to you if you did. In a Muslim country, you grow up hearing the name of Allah all the time. In a Muslim home, you grow up in the same way. In a non-Muslim environment, though, this just isn’t the case.
Politicians, though, are very clever. If there is a problem in a country, it is far easier to find a reason for the problem and point a finger at who is to blame than to admit that you don’t know how to solve it. Unfortunately, this is what has happened recently with Islam and Muslims. To fight a “War on Terror” you need to have an enemy. You can’t fight a war against no one. Even though it has been proved beyond a doubt that there were no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq and that people knew this, the country was still attacked, with tragic consequences. If bombs go off in the London Underground or in beach resorts, killing innocent people, people want the culprits to be caught. They want someone to blame and they want someone to be punished.
We find that throughout a country’s history, different groups are blamed for that country’s problems. When IRA violence was at its height in Northern Ireland, Irish Catholics were looked upon with suspicion in the UK, as sympathisers towards the bombers. When unemployment gets high in a country, as it is beginning to do so throughout the world, people look to immigrants from abroad to blame for the lack of jobs.
It is natural, then, for people to be easily led and to be fed targets whom they can blame. It is wrong but natural. If a finger can be pointed at someone else, then people feel they know where the danger lies. Not knowing who the terrorists are is very frightening indeed.
Another very sinister fact is that there are some groups in the world who do not want Islam to prosper, and they do everything they can to feed the media with misinformation to make Islam and Muslims seem bad. We need only to listen to the professional liars put on our television screens by the State of Israel to know this to be true.
As for ordinary people, though, they don’t hate Islam. They just don’t know anything about it. How many Muslims know much about Buddhists, for example? How many know anything at all about people living in the Pacific Islands? Almost none, we might say, because it is outside their experience. The challenge for all Muslims, then, is to let people know about Islam.
Just after the 9/11 attacks, one of the popular newspapers in the UK carried a large headline which said “ISLAM IS NOT THE RELIGION OF EVIL.” Now, up until that time no one had suggested that it was, but running such a headline put the idea into people’s minds. What Muslims have to do is to change people’s ideas. This starts first of all with friends in school and college and at work. It’s possible to let people see that we pray and take our religion very seriously, and still laugh and joke and be seen as quite normal.
In all things, Muslims say “Alhamdulillah”. If people misunderstand them at the present time, then this is just an opportunity for them to talk about Islam. By showing the people around us that Islam is not violent or extreme, but that it is very beautiful and very sweet, we can change people’s minds and win their hearts for Allah. No, people don’t hate Islam, they just have never met any good Muslims. Maybe we can be the first ones they meet!
The author of eight books about Islam, British Muslim writer, Idris Tawfiq, divides his time between Egypt and the UK as a speaker, writer and broadcaster. You can visit his website at www.idristawfiq.com