Archives for category: Islamophobia

Recently I was told that I don’t represent Islam. My Muslimness wasn’t the real thing, being of the Canadian sort.  The way it came out, it was like my Islam was kind of flaky, not AUTHENTIC.

I was told all this by a non-Muslim.

It mainly had to do with the fact that I find the honor-thing really perplexing. Upon sharing my confusion regarding this, I was told that it’s part of my religion, didn’t I know?  That it’s such a very intrinsic part of Islam?

I’ve been a Muslim my entire life, an extremely proud one from the age of sixteen, brought up in a religious household, taught by a father who’s an Islamic scholar, nurtured by a variety of Muslim communities, camps, conferences and never ever once was I informed that “honor” is a part of Islam.

Needless to say, the encounter with the Islamic “expert” left me reeling. No matter how many times I tried to refer to the sources of my religion, I was talked over and repeatedly told that I don’t know my own faith.

It doesn’t help that there exists awful cases of Muslims doing horrible things to each other. But the world is full of people doing horrible things to each other.

Only a bigot would hear of a crime and immediately attribute it to a religion or culture or race. It seems that bigotry rules the day in many parts of the world when it’s so mainstream for news media to attribute crimes to Islam, so unabashedly. Perhaps that’s why this expert felt so expert about Islam – perhaps the experts on Fox News or CNN had given him all the facts.

I thought back to all the horrific crimes I’d read about recently. I tried to deconstruct my own thought processes (on hindsight) regarding the Steubenville Rape case and the Newtown shootings.

There wasn’t an instance when I attributed these crimes to the culture they occurred in. But I know what would have happened if the perpetrators had been Muslim.

We would have all been schooled on what Islam was all about, by people who don’t know the first thing about it.

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Lots more on this at ABC news.

These accounts of a man and two women who came to her defense were among a tiny minority:

Back in the bakery, the next customers had a very different answer to the question of American identity. First we met a man who angrily refused to buy anything when the sales clerk refused to serve Sabina. When our actor chastised him for being a “bad American,” he begged to differ. “I believe I am a good American,” he said. “My son just came back from serving in the army for over a year in Iraq and that has nothing to do with her [Sabina’s] rights. I am deeply offended by this.”

We also met two young women who refused to let our sales clerk’s hateful words go unchecked. “Sir, we are not buying our kolaches because you are really offensive and disgusting,” one said. “Just because she’s dressed like that doesn’t mean anything,” said the other, a Muslim-American woman herself. Rather than simply taking their business elsewhere, the young women demanded to speak to the manager, and they also challenged our sales clerk’s definition of “American.” “She’s American. She’s American. I’m American. You’re the one that’s anti-American right now,” one said to the sales clerk.

When he refused to budge and our actress turned to leave, the two women walked out with her in a show of support.

But at least there was a tiny minority, right? God bless the real Americans.

Two days ago, I went to a film screening. The film was about Islam. The film was by Irshad Manji.

Now having just written the post below about listening to Muslim musicians with the heart of faith and not the heart of judgment based on a fortress of fear (my exact words), I had no choice but to walk the talk (ain’t it awful when your words come back to snack on you?) Had the National Film Board of Canada (which was holding the screening) told me in the subject line of their e-mail: consultation on a screening for a film by Irshad Manji, writer of the book The Trouble with Islam Today, I would have dropped them a quick telegram back: extremely busy. stop. too busy. stop. to write. stop. a full. stop. flat. stop. out. REFUSAL. stop. and then would have dropped that email right into the handy dandy trash bin on the left.

But it didn’t happen that way. So there I was sludging through the snow, subway, sidewalk and finally, screening room all the while with visions of this next glorious addition to the Muslim Canadian arts tapestry floating in my head. We had Me and the Mosque (Zarqa Nawaz), we had Little Mosque on the Prairie (Zarqa Nawaz) and before that we had Death Threat (Zarqa Nawaz) and even before that, BBQ Muslims (Zarqa Nawaz) – man, Zarqa Nawaz was a one woman industry! – and now we were going to have… Faith Without Fear (Irshad Manji)?

I have some confessions to make before I dissect this film with all the rigor of an Irshad Manji-detractor released from a fortress. I have not read The Trouble with Islam Today. I have no desire to do so. I’m always told the trouble with Islam today – usually from my daily newspaper, certain news channels and complete strangers who, while muttering profanity about my faith, step on my long skirt while I’m heading down subway stairs. And while I’ve viewed Irshad Manji speak on discussion panels on TV, most of my knowledge about her comes from Muslim conversations and things I’ve read about things she said/wrote/did and, things she wrote on her website.

Extending my confession, I will have to state that I am biased against her. My bias before I saw this film and my bias after I viewed the film has remained constant. And it has to do with more than her views on the religion of Islam – which, in this film, appear to be reverential (in contrast to content on her website). More on that later.

I really, truly tried to be a good person and even took a deep breath to dissipate that fortress of fear closing in as I sat back in my seat to watch Faith Without Fear. From the opening scene of a pensive Ms. Manji surveying a night city skyline from an apartment fortified against the “faithful” who have vowed to wish “her to eat rotten goat meat causing diarrhea” (an actual emailed threat – apparently, I think, from a halal butcher specializing in goat) and another who believes that “even the hair on her head stands up in protest of her lies” (apparently from a halal hairdresser), to the interviews with other Islamically-challenged personalities, Salman Rushdie and Ayan Hirsi Ali, I knew I’ve seen this film before. The refrain running throughout it almost served as a broken soundtrack to the documentary. Out of all the negative feelings Faith Without Fear rustled in me, the worst was the instant recognizability of the premise trotted out: Muslims are ruining the soul of Islam.

Tell us something we didn’t know. I don’t know one Muslim – NOT A-ONE – who’s sitting back, licking his lips and patting his biryani filled stomach smug with the knowledge that Muslims are living up to the standards set by the Prophet Muhammad. Every Imam I’ve heard has said it. Even the head of the Islamic Supreme Council said it on her film and he’s supposed to be one of her supreme detractors.

The trouble, apparently Ms. Manji has with Muslims – besides the fact that Muslims are oblivious to the fact that there are a lot of Muslimals (sort of like cannibals – except that cannibals are humans who eat other humans and Muslimals are Muslims who kill other Muslims [not to be confused with murderous Islamophobes who are merely other humans who kill Muslims – boy, Muslims are getting it from all sides]) and besides the fact that a lot of Muslim men walk around with…news flash… ceremonial daggers at their waists (we saw so many shots of these in the film that my mind started wandering to the artistic beauty of the designs on their sheaths) and besides the fact that Muslim women are either so ugly they’re covered up or so erotic they’re covered up and besides the fact that Muslims don’t let every Tom, Dick and Irshad just wander on to private property and start filming (which was a classic borrow from Bowling for Columbine except instead of the NRA and Charlton Heston we had a suburban mosque and a man with a large stomach) – the trouble Ms. Manji has with Muslims is that they can’t tolerate pokes at the Prophet Muhammad and the veracity of the Quran. As she reminds us more than once, Muslims have not learned that being offended is the price you pay for living in a free society. In other words: prepare to be poked. Even if the poking is done with the sharpened points of racism and xenophobia (one word: Europe), we are to bear the wounds with a grinning, bowed head salaam. Brings to mind other peoples in history who were constantly lectured about how they should bravely bear offences and be a good little white man’s burden.

As professor Michael Neumann points out in his article, Respectful Cultures & Disrespectful Cartoons: East Meets West, the ideal, or “piety” as he calls it, of respecting others and the very act of disrespecting their sacred ideas/events/beliefs being a punishable offense had become the “official Western culture”. Hence, the sacred topic of the Holocaust is rightly kept aloft from smears and challenges by anti-Semitic tirades in the Western world. But as a child hides a candy she was sharing with her friend when a stranger comes into the room, this ideal, this piety, was wrenched away as soon as others started reaching their hands out. Instead, these others are poked and told that it’s part of staying in the room. As he states:

The point is rather than the West has put ideological weapons in the hands of those it now wants to repel, and thrown away the weapons that might have proved useful in such an effort. The most basic notions of the rule of law — that you should not be punished for what you cannot help, like the feelings you have, that no one should be expected to obey laws so vague that the criteria of obedience are mysterious — were thrown away years ago. They cannot be picked out of the trashcan and held up as shiny Western ideals just because it is now convenient to do so.

Apparently, we newcomers into the room are not to dare even dream of this expectation of respectful treatment. Well, we all know from African-American poet Langston Hughes’ popular civil rights poem what happens to a dream deferred:

What happens to a dream deferred?

Does it dry up
like a raisin in the sun?
Or fester like a sore–
And then run?
Does it stink like rotten meat?
Or crust and sugar over–
like a syrupy sweet?

Maybe it just sags
like a heavy load.

Or does it explode?

Ms. Manji, cue the crowds…and, ACTION! We are offered scenes of masses of people waving fists, angry screaming raisins about to explode. Ms. Manji: there’s nothing more cliche in a documentary on Islam and current events than images of chanting Muslims. I practically fell off my fortress snoring. Again, tell us something we didn’t know. Muslims are angry. But we’re not angry because you have candies called freedom, rights and respect. No, we’re angry because you taunt our share of candy. And when you pretend to “share” yours (like in Iraq), it’s usually to make sure we don’t have anything left for ourselves.

My Irshad-Manji-bias has to do with her convenient glossing over of the underlying political, social and economic factors of current events in the Muslim world and Muslim communities. Has she not considered the “Trouble with Islam Today” might not actually be the “Trouble with the World Today”? Hand me a historical map of the Middle East – but first be sure to erase evidence which shows the amount of racist colonization, wars and arbitrarily drawn borders the region has suffered – and then tell me all the current anger has to do with Islamists agitating. Give me statistics to show that the status of women is not declining all around the world – just among Muslims. Bring me the bank account balances of the average Afghani, Iraqi and Palestinian – oh, wait, they either don’t make enough to open an account or it’s frozen until they’re proven innocent of the guilt of terrorism.

So there lies my bias against Irshad Manji. I have no trouble with Ms. Manji’s calls to reform the Muslim world. I’m really genuinely sad that she happened to be in a Sunday school class which didn’t allow her to question her faith. As the daughter of a religious scholar, I can state that that’s not the norm I know. If it were, you wouldn’t see popular sites like Islamonline.net – which is all about questions and more questions. You wouldn’t see 23 000 Muslims convening to an American city every labour day weekend to question, discuss and debate diverse topics as they do annually at the Islamic Society of North America’s conventions. I’m not going to glazingly state that Muslim communities are the heights of democratic discourse and friendly dissension but nevertheless, it is alive and beginning to kick once again. Getting it to the healthy state it was historically (as Ms. Manji points out in her own film) is going to take contemplative reform not attacks in the form of books and films which shut out the very people you want to recharge.

It’s easy to wave the red flag of the “trouble with Islam” and lump it with terrorism, patriarchy, tribal warfare and dogma-obsession – and then, paradoxically, state these issues have nothing to do with the “Islam she loves” as Ms. Manji does in the film. I was actually quite confused by this. While the film made me blush with pride at all the personal references to the guidance of the Qur’an and the nobility and justice of the Prophet Muhammed, Ms. Manji’s website offers another take. To give her the benefit of the doubt, we’ll have to assume Ms. Manji’s website has to be updated to reflect the perhaps newly-attained reverence for Islam, the Prophet and the Qur’an she periodically punctuates (and lights up) the film with. As a practicing Muslim it would be no news flash to state that those were the best parts of the film for me – those and Ms. Manji’s discussions with her mother on piety.

But as we all know, discussions on personal piety don’t sell films. Waving red flags does. And if there was one thing each and everyone who was there for the screening (and we were a batch of varied voices for the most part) agreed on, it was this: this film is all about Irshad Manji. Irshad Manji doing what she does best – lamenting her unfortunate and dangerous position as the harbinger of reform to the tumultuous Islamic world.  My bet is that her Faith Without Fear will lead to more Islamophobia: the hatred and fear of a Faith.

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I want to thank the National Film Board for the exceptional job they did of facilitating the discussion on this film; their stated mandate was to open up the discourse in a way which would allow other voices to speak alongside those more often heard, as well as provide a wider context to the views expressed in Faith Without Fear.

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