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(23): Being Muslim and the Danger of a Single Story

Muhammad Muhsin Ibrahim
@muhsin234 (Twitter)

“What is your name?” Muhammad. And all eyes would turn around.

It often starts just like that, for to them, every Muslim is a potential threat, a terrorist. It is extremely awkward, if not annoying, to someone like me who was born and reared in an almost 99% Muslims community. Hitherto I didn’t know that being Muslim means that much and weighs that loads; some feel even reluctant to disclose their belief. Muslims living in multi-religious and non-Muslims majority societies today have a lot of stories to tell. The story is sometimes nasty in conservative, religiously touchy and volatile places like India, where I presently reside.  Although home to about 200 million Muslims, it was discovered in a recent survey that some Muslims have to masquerade as Hindus for India jobs. This happens due to the schism, and sometimes animosity, between them and other faithful, particularly the majority Hindus.

But why all the fuss, you may ask. Generally, identity, especially religious one, is highly polemical and extremely abstract. For instance, my ‘Muslimness’ is neither determinable based on my appearance and gait nor proportional to my humanity and humane. Despite the whopping population of more than 1.5 billion worldwide, hundreds of millions of Muslims live in shambles due to the raging religious stereotype, which results to marginalisation and sometimes worse, as aforesaid. Needless to say, the reports of suicide bombs and other terror acts allegedly perpetrated by some miscreants calling themselves Muslims is a commonplace today. Al Qaeda, IS/ISIS, Boko Haram, etc are household names around the world. But this can’t and shouldn’t, nonetheless, justify the unjust treatment of others who can equally be victims of those murderers. 

Wait and ask yourself: how many Muslims are engaged in such dastardly activities? The aforementioned figure is just tentative, for the population of Muslims is, against many odds, rapidly growing. So, obviously, had the larger population of them been involved in “terrorism”, no part of the world might have been in peace, for nearly 1 in 4 people worldwide is Muslim. There is no denying that the threat poses by the ‘bad guys’ among them is alarming, but not as the media would want us to believe. Muslims do not have a monopoly on fanaticism. We have Christians in C.A.R, Buddhists in Sri Lanka and Myanmar, Hindus in India, Jews in Israel, etc. but Muslims remain virtually the only culpable faithful. One cannot be a Muslim, a practising one, until somewhere, someone overtly or covertly degrades him, or calls him an extremist or terrorist. What is wrong with the choice of being? I am Muslim, so let me be. Don’t infringe my individual rights. I will not do yours, either.

Do you know that extremism has no place in true Islam? Ironically, however, the few who subscribed to it always make the news headlines, while others who are paragons of moderation and peace loving lots are barely heard of on the most western and Western-influenced media. This modern world owes much to Muslims as they have a very long history in developing it. Malise Ruthven in his “excellent little book”, Islam: A Very Short Introduction published by Oxford University Press explains that:

“No one need doubt that, at the level of civilization, an unprecedented degree of knowledge, excellence, and sophistication was achieved in Islam several centuries before the Renaissance occurred in Europe, or that, as many scholars have noted, much of the groundwork for the scientific and philosophical thought that would flourish in the West was laid in Muslim lands” (Ruthven 2012:17).

He further notes that Muslims have excelled in virtually all other fields the world today boasts having—medicine, mathematics, astronomy, optics, architecture, poetry and philosophical thoughts, among others. Going by this alone should have made being Muslim something to be so much proud of, but the exact opposite is often obtained. Of course, one is allowed to do certain things to protect oneself under threat, but it’s no more than paranoia many a time. Be it as it may, I, for once, wouldn’t subscribe to what I couldn’t perform or display before others. You are still the Muslim unless you renounce your belief and join them, which equates to preferring the terrestrial over the Celestial, the temporary over the permanent.

A few days ago, somebody called me a Boko Haram (BH) member on Facebook for my being a Nigerian and Muslim in response to my criticism of the Egyptian president, Abdul-Fatah Al-Sisi. Saying a word against Sisi is tantamount to siding with the ousted “Islamist” president, Morsi and his outlawed Muslim Brotherhood. There’s nothing more wrong than that. Unbeknown to him, there’s the world apart from their ideology and mine. In fact, BH fights everyone, and anybody like me, for I study and teach what they try, with all their force and efforts, to prohibit—Western Education. Yet somebody is here calling me their member. How ignorant of him? How senselessly stereotypical are people nowadays?

I have got two calls: First to my fellow Muslims. Don’t forget who you are. Your undue moderation or apologia cannot purge you away from your identity. Don’t join the bandwagon of hundreds of thousands of ‘cultural’ or ‘nominal’ Muslims, to whom the religion is only an identity to distinguish them from others. These people are practically non-observant of Islamic tenets, which is primarily to submit to the One God alone and what He revealed to Prophet Muhammad (S.A.W). You can, however, choose to do what you want. Allah says: “There’s no compulsion in religion, for the right way is clearly from the wrong way…” (Qur’an, 2:256).

The second call is to my non-Muslims readers. Allah says: “Oh humankind! We created you from a single pair of male and female and made you into nations and tribes that you may know each other…” Qur’an (49:13). Therefore, any informed Muslim understands this wisdom of our being created differently; however, the difference is not to divide us but that we may know each other. Let us embrace peace, mutual understanding and respect. Let us not forget that we are individuals with dissimilar, sometimes opposing, views, taste, impulse, desire, etc. Psychologists irrefutably say that no two individuals are exactly the same, not even identical twins. Thus, if some ignorant Muslims do something wrong, blame them, not the entire Muslims population, nor their religion.

No doubt Islam is nowadays a subject of mockery, misinterpretations, and the like. Three things caused that: 1) misconduct of a few of its followers, 2) sheer ignorance of its content and the earlier context and background, and 3) the exaggerating effect of media, especially those owned by anti (not “non-“) Muslims. BUT don’t let yourself be carried away by any of these. Don’t just believe in a single story, for that is dangerous.

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