To many people, these two words are synonymous with “terrorist”. But of course, we know that the terrorists are not really following Islam (which, by the way, means PEACE); and we know that Muslims are not terrorists. Unfortunately, in any conversation I have about Islam, life in Arabia, or Muslim people, the word “terrorist” comes to the forefront early in the conversation.
Once we confirm that we agree on two things: 1) Muslims are not terrorists, and 2) the terrorists who commit their heinous acts of evil in the name of Allah are not at all following Islam, we can discuss various issues in Islam.
But even after we set the “terrorist” aside, I find myself still standing against negativity regarding the topic of Islam and Muslims. Beyond the extreme, there is an underlying sentiment of dislike toward Muslims and their religion that permeates among those outside of the faith.
In particular, when I talk to non-Muslims about Islam, the conversation quickly moves on to the behavior of Muslims and a dislike of Islam as a result of the behavior of Muslims. The first, and strongest resistance, is the covering of Muslim women which non-Muslims interpret as evidence that the men are oppressive and the women are victims of said oppression.
Living in a college town in Indiana, many of the locals did not have any personal experience with Muslims and their opinions were all based on fear-building things they heard in the news and the covered women they saw around town. Based on their negative impressions, they sometimes treated the Muslims poorly which, in turn, gave our students a negative impression of Hoosiers. As a teacher of many Muslim students, I aimed to bridge the two groups of people.
I used to offer insights and stories. I was passionate about showing the everyday, commonalities that Muslims share with those of us who are not Muslim. Muslims are as common as the rest of us.
I interpret those words to mean “not so different from me.”
Recently, I posted a video clip on Facebook of the founder of PFH blog (Perfect For Her) showing Muslim women wearing Hijab and talking about “Female Muslim Entrepreneurship” .
One of the comments was “OMG! These girls are so normal!”
Yes, they are “normal”. And it is this state-of-normal that I have always wanted non-Muslim people to see and grasp.
But my passion has waned in recent months. Living in a Muslim country has changed my attitude toward wanting to defend Islam and its followers. Here’s why:
- At the hotel where I live in the UAE, the workers, who are from various countries including Albania, India, Pakistan, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Nigeria, Philippines, Russia, and several other Arab nations, complain that the Muslims are the rudest guests they have to deal with.
- Recently, while I was in Sri Lanka, when locals asked me where I am from, I told them I am an American living in the UAE, their response was a sad, “I’m sorry”. When I asked them why, they told me that the Arabs are the rudest tourists they have ever met.
I am deeply sorry that the behaviors of a few have given such negative impressions of a whole religious group of people. Idealist that I am, I have always believed that by about defending Islam and its followers, I could do my part in shedding a new light on behalf of Muslims for the rest of the world to see.
While I believe these stories because I have witnessed many examples, I know that those “rude” Muslims do not represent the majority.
I also believe the stories because I too, have become the recipient of many of these negative behaviors.
Again, I know that those “rude” Muslims do not represent the majority.
- Life in Arabia has humbled me. I understand that as a group, Muslims must defend themselves through the many kind gestures and admirable achievements of the countless individuals who follow Islam. And as individuals, each one is to be held accountable for his/her own behaviors, as anyone is from any ethnicity, nationality, and religious conviction. Life in Arabia has made me understand that I am too small to change the beliefs of others about a group to which I do not belong.
I am not Muslim,
it is not my place to defend them to others.
At the end of the day, we are all of the same human race, and any differences we have lie in our individual personality traits and in the ways we perceive and understand the world around us. These differences are only related to religious ideologies to the extent which we chose to align ourselves and identify with them.
My conclusion then, is a rhetorical question: Who am I to defend Muslims?
My knowledge and experiences about Islam and Muslim life have grown tremendously in the past year, but that doesn’t mean I am any better positioned to defend them. Instead, it only means that my awareness is broader – ranging from very negative to very positive.
The result of this gained experience with Islam is that I know I cannot defend the religion or its followers to anyone.
The bottom line is that
we all represent the various labels attached to our lives.
And “Muslim” is not a label that is attached to mine.