Are Muslims Islamophobic?

You know that saying, “If everyone was jumping off a cliff, would you jump off too?” Many times we hear this when we are caught imitating foolish acts of others. The question is rhetorical – we all know we would not physically jump off a cliff just because others are…or would we?

Lately, I’ve been thinking about that aforementioned rhetorical question and how it comes into fruition in our daily existence, especially those of young Muslims living in the West. As we progress into a highly innovative society, I feel that many of us feel as if we are at a crossroads with Islam and Western culture and ideals.

Growing up in a highly anti-Muslim, Islamophobic era truly does have lasting psychological affects on us: the youth of this marginalized community. Our outlook and overall practice and closeness to Islam have been, inevitably, attacked. The fundamentals of Islam – hijacked. I recently stumbled upon a very well put video created by Yaqeen Institue. Within this video we see several young Muslims (from children to young adults), who are expressing their experiences as a young Muslim in a Western society that continuously challenges their standing in Islam. Most of us have probably thought about such questions ourselves. Questions such as, “Why do women have to wear hijab, but men don’t?” or “Why did God make it so hard to be Muslim – why can’t I eat or wear whatever I want?” and even “Why are there so many Muslim bad guys?” These questions are not wrong to ponder about. In fact, Allah (SWT) urges us to seek out the truth in Islam. However, the real problem lies in the fact that our youth are continuously getting slammed so viciously with micro-aggressions towards Islam so much so that 23% of Americans raised as Muslims, no longer identify with Islam. Of course, we are all about free choice here, but is it really free choice if falling away from Islam wasn’t truly your own genuine decision, but rather a decision facilitated by the desire to “fit in” with those who have made Western culture their inherent “religion” to practice and worship?

Allah (SWT) urges us to seek out the truth

Our youth are ultimately suffering; we are all truly suffering through internalizing Islamophobia. Islamophobia is such a broad term that we’ve heard thrown around in multiple dialogues and contexts. Can a Muslim even be Islamophobic? Is new atheism Islamophobic? When someone makes an inaccurate comment that puts you in a state of pressure and doubt about Islam, is that Islamophobia as well? We are being attacked from so many different angles in ways that are truly posing to be a challenge for us to keep up with our genuine beliefs. It’s become easier to slip away from Islam and its core teachings just because it seems like the majority of people are doing the opposite of what Islam says. Whether it be the clothes we choose to wear, the food we eat, or the way we act towards others – it’s evident that our youth are highly impressionable and influenced by what their peers and mainstream media deem as “normal.”

23% of Americans raised as Muslims, no longer identify with Islam.

Maybe the key is figuring out the balance in life. Even our own beloved Prophet Muhammad (SAW) emphasized how our existence is about balancing our spiritual obligations and the worldly life. It is also so important for our youth to have the proper resources and understanding on the teachings of Islam. Having a sound understanding on the reasons behind why we do and do not practice certain things within Islam, quite literally makes us or breaks us in this world. We need to accept that not every single Muslim is going to be at the same level of worship or iman (faith), and we need to be strong enough to not let our anger and judgment towards one another, defeat the power of properly advising each other. It is our duty in Islam to help a fellow brother or sister out, but that duty does not entail publicly or even privately humiliating another, or making them feel inferior, incapable, or sinful. We are only here to serve as a reminder of what Islam teaches and how Prophet Muhammad (SAW) brought people to the deen. Do you think he brought people to Islam by making them feel bad about themselves? Do you think he got impatient or angry with them? Spoiler alert, the answer to those questions is a solid no.

Islam is about community, and we need to hold on to our community and help make it stronger. We need to educate ourselves with sound knowledge, real knowledge of this deen and who Allah (SWT) is. This dunya will always be a disappointment, this dunya will never have the answers, and abandoning or denying the single divine source that makes sense out of all of the nonsense, is an injustice against ourselves. If we don’t help each other, then who will?

Why We Should Be Like The Bee

Working in the city full-time can really take a toll on the way you think and perceive this life and the world around you. Being surrounded by not only people who worship the work place and their salary, but also commuting within an environment that is gated in 100 foot concrete buildings, it can become a real challenge to maintain a mindset that is in a constant state of reflection and remembrance of Allah (SWT). Inevitably, with a lack of remembrance of Allah, our hearts begin to harden which alters our character and frequency of virtuous acts. Especially living in the West, where a majority of the population lead highly secular lifestyles which tend to be selfish, cruel, and focused on only living for the dunya (worldly life and its immediate pleasures). It becomes easy to be consumed within this fast-paced, impatient mindset that can often times be naturally unforgiving towards others. Being placed right in the middle of this chaotic way of life is truly a test in itself. How do we reflect upon our own behaviors and our dedication to Allah (SWT) when everything and everyone around us is doing the exact opposite?

We begin to question, “is it really that important to be kind and patient with others?” As the capitalist world progresses, we become accustomed to this singular mindset that every relationship we have is that of a “business deal” format or from a “consumer” point of view – even our relationship with Allah (SWT). We’re all very familiar with the basic business structure: you, as the consumer pay for something and immediately receive it. We are always seeking out a reward, an immediate effect to our cause. We work, we get paid or we pay the cashier and receive our groceries, we pay the waiter, we get food – we live in a world where this is the basic mechanism of how our society functions, so it’s no wonder we inevitably develop a type of mindset where we are always in a state of expectancy. It has become easy to lose faith in Allah as we become accustomed to this mindset that our duas (prayers) should be answered immediately and if we don’t see them being answered right away, then we begin to question Islam. This mindset has also trickled down to how we treat others. This way of thinking encourages us to make good and kind actions exclusive to those we deem as “deserving” of them. This behavior is highly contradictory to what Islam teaches us. One hadith that I love to ponder upon is one that urges us to reflect upon the behavior of the bee. Yes, the bee, one of the many insects that we all normally freak out in fear of being stung by it. This beautiful hadith, narrated by Imam Ahmad, states that, the messenger of Allah ﷺ said:

“By the One in whose hand is the soul of Muhammad, the believer is like a bee which eats that which is pure and wholesome and lays that which is pure and wholesome. When it lands on something it does not break or ruin it.”

This hadith is so profound and truly is one to reflect upon daily. Often times we don’t really think about bees and the nature in which they live or their dutifulness and importance to sustaining life on Earth. We also don’t realize the fashion in which they inhabit various areas by the will of Allah. They are truly admirable creatures, so admirable that the Prophet Muhammad (SAW) swore by Allah (SWT) that they are creatures of great importance and relevance to the believer. In this hadith, we learn that we should mimic the bee in eating wholesome and pure food and drink, unlike other insects that consume repulsive and impure things. We also learn that the bee lays on that which is also pure and wholesome – this could be interpreted as how bees lay on and excrete honey, which is also something that is free from impurity. For a believer, we can view this as all of our actions, words, and intentions towards others as well as this Earth, should also be pure and good. The last part of the hadith is truly remarkable. “When it lands on something, it does not break or ruin it,” this is so significant to us as believers as it urges us to reflect on the way in which we handle our affairs and our relationships. We should embody the nature of the bee in that it is gentle and does not disrupt wherever it lives. It takes what it needs for the greater good, leaves that place in the condition that it was. As believers, we should handle our affairs with that same gentleness and softness. The believer should be temperate in his/her dealings with the creation, meaning we should not ruin or cause difficulty or pain to any life on Earth whether that is to humans, animals, or plants. We should find ways to carry out justice and should practice remaining patient even in situations that may often ignite anger within us. These instances are tests for the believers, as we should remember Allah (SWT) and ask Him for guidance and patience to always speak a good word and do good deeds. Being consciously aware of our emotions and knowing that we are in full control of them can help the process. We should aim to not be negative or overbearing, but rather kind, understanding, and merciful towards others. Who would actively want to be the type of person who constantly causes distress to others with their words or actions? We were given the will to be far much better than that.

Our surroundings and living situations can influence our behavior, but in the end, we are responsible and in control of how we choose to react towards others and the environment around us. It always seems easier to lose our patience and see the bad in people, but if we just try to keep our calm for a few more seconds, we will find that it is more rewarding and fulfilling than bursting out in any rage of anger. Wherever you are and wherever you go, strive to make the people around you at ease, or at least do not leave them in a more difficult state than how you met them. Seek patience through prayer and remembrance of Allah (SWT), and you will find yourself naturally gravitating towards a calmer lifestyle.

Support Your Local Revert

I recently sat down with my good friend from middle school who reverted to Islam when we were just kids. I wanted to share her story and her struggles as a way to learn and better ourselves when it comes to helping reverts. Reverting to a religion that a majority of your family isn’t a part of can be hard and at times lonely. So if you know a revert in your community, reach out and offer them support.

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Q: How did you find Islam? What led you to finally convert?

A: So, what led me to Islam were my older cousins and my uncle, just being around them and spending a lot of time at the Masjid. It was always so much fun for me and to me it felt like that the people were very genuine. Like even though I had gone to catholic school… you know Christians can be like in your face with like getting you to convert. You know you got the Jehovah Witnesses knocking on your door every weekend. You know, they’re in your face. For me it was not like a… I was just that because that’s what my grandmother was and she was raising me at the time you know? It was not anything I believed in. But going to the Masjid and learning the Quran and everything made sense to me and it made sense to me that, that would be the last religion God has send down. So I accepted it at 12 years old and I decided this is what I want to practice and this is what I believe in. Because I experienced another religion and I was able to compare and contrast the two at such a young age.

Q:  How did reverting change your life? What struggles did it come with? And what was the positive aspect?

A: So there were struggles and also positive aspects of it. Most of my family is Christian and my aunt was really into Christmas like full out into Christmas but my family was respectful like for example if I don’t want to eat pork they would make everything without pork. That type of stuff was fine but it was just wanting to spend time with my family without celebrating holidays that I don’t necessarily celebrate or believe in. That’s where the struggle was; how do I spend time with my family without embracing the traditions and giving them false hope that I believe in this too.

The positive aspect is that I did have other family members who are Muslim and they supported me and it made me feel really comfortable. My family is pretty open, they aren’t judgmental people so the transition was smooth and no one made me feel uncomfortable for changing my religion.

Q: Would you say you were religious before? When you went to Catholic school?

A: No, it was more like a habit. Like you just do what you’ve always done. When you go to Catholic school, it’s like a ritual like the things they teach you and you do it mindlessly.

Q: So after your Shahada, was it easy to go to the Masjid and feel welcomed?

A: So because I was a child and went there with my cousin they embraced me as a child, but as I’ve gotten older I feel like going to the Masjid isn’t the same. You know, when I try to go to a Masjid, not having many Muslim friends, it just doesn’t feel that welcoming. There is no structure for new Muslims who are just starting to come to the Masjid. There wasn’t really an effort to try and include reverts. I wish they had some kind of program where they partner you with a sister who can help you learn and guide you through the transition.

Q: How do you think your experience is different from someone who was born into Islam?

A: When you’re born into something you know a lot of the fundamentals because you’ve grown up with it and there are people all around you actively teaching you and helping you with your knowledge of Islam, the Quran, and hadiths. But with reverts you don’t really have that direct source of knowledge. Most of the time you’re studying things on your own and online and you don’t even know if these things are accurate.

Q: When you tell Muslims that you’re a revert, what’s the reaction you typically get?

A: It depends. Being a revert and a black revert on top of that some people will make you feel like you’re not a real Muslim because they’re an Arab Muslim. But then there are other people who are welcoming and they’re usually other black Muslims. People who aren’t even Muslim will say things like “Oh you don’t look like other Muslims I know, how can you really be Muslim?” when I tell them I’m a revert.  And all I can say is that “I am a Muslim but I’m still learning.” You know, people ask me all the time “Well how are you Muslim? What country are you from?” and I wish people would understand that you can be Muslim no matter who you are. Yes, a black girl from America can be a Muslim. It’s for everybody.

Q: What’s one thing that you want the Muslim community to learn about reverts?

A: That we genuinely want to be part of the Muslim community. We’re not Muslim because our parents are Muslim and they made us be Muslim. We want to learn and be included. We want advice but not in a judgmental way.  

Q: How do you think Islam has affected you personally?

A: I believe that it has made me a calmer person and it has changed my judgment a lot. I think about things before I say and do it. That’s the best part of Islam to me, it has changed my character for the better. It has also made me a self-aware person and I try to strive to live by the Quran and hadiths.  

Q: What were the struggles you faced when you started to learn to pray and read the Quran in Arabic?

A: That’s one thing that I wish there was more support for. I remember the first Surah I learned was Al-Fatihah and that was one that I can remember no matter what but everything else has been hard. It takes a lot of practice and I wish there was someone I could just call up and say “Hey am I saying this right?!” It’s a completely new way of life and I wish there was more support and someone who will go through it with you and share their experiences and relate to mine. The other thing I find hard is that my old friends are great and I love them they’re great people but there are things that are haram for me but not for them. So when they go out clubbing on a Friday night it’s not haram for them but it is for me. And I still want to go and enjoy myself but within the halal realm. 

Q: Was it hard to go through middle and high school without the Islam support at home?

A: Yes, as a kid you want to do what everyone else is doing and it’s hard when you’re Muslim. Sometimes it felt like I was living two lives; on the weekend I would go to the Masjid and then during the week I was just another girl at school because at the time I wasn’t wearing hijab or really praying. And that’s something that I’m still working on and striving for.

Reflections: Hijab

Short. Simple. And to the point. Liberation lies in your right to choose.

There is a common misconception that wearing a hijab equals oppression, but why is this the standard way of thinking? Who said that dressing modestly makes me a victim of oppression? Western media and society enforces this idea on us that the only way a woman can be “liberated” is if she’s constantly “sexy.” However, this idea is severely flawed as it is just another mechanism that oppresses women through objectifying them. We are being taught to portray ourselves as desirable for men. That fact alone is extremely disempowering and validates the male gaze and a patriarchal society, even further. My existence and worth is not measured by how much I appeal to men. Living in such a hypersexual society can be difficult and complicated for someone who chooses to dress and act modestly.

Over the course of years it’s become a trend to liberate Muslim women by telling them that they must take off their abayas, modest clothing, and hijabs to be truly “liberated.” But let’s focus on that word; liberation, which is defined as the act of setting someone free from imprisonment, or oppression. But when did my hijab become something that was keeping me imprisoned? I made the conscious decision to wear the hijab at 20 years old. I came to this decision by myself, without anyone pressuring me to wear a scarf. And that is exactly why most women in the west wear hijab because it is THEIR choice.

Honestly, this decision is hard enough and we (hijabis and non-hijabis) could all do without your ignorant questions. If we don’t wear hijab, we’re too “modern” and “not Muslim enough” and if we do then we are “prude” and “backwards.” My hijab is none of your business. I never understood why other people felt the need to butt in and tell others how they should dress. The patriarchy reiterates the idea that women dress for, go out for, do their make up for, etc. for men. So this is why our hijabs become so controversial because we wear them for Allah (SWT).

No matter how you choose to dress, liberation lies in your choice. Respect my right to choose the same way I respect yours.

 

Stop Romanticizing Exhaustion

It was Sunday night and I was doing the dishes while listening to the soundtrack of my favorite Disney princess movie, Tangled. I was singing along to “When Will My Life Begin” when suddenly a conversation about “when your life begins” started among my siblings and myself. What my 10 year old brother had to say, took me by surprise. Continue reading “Stop Romanticizing Exhaustion”

Reflections: Is Hitting Women Permissible In Islam?

Knowledge is everything. When you are constantly seeking to gain knowledge and questioning everything, that is when you are truly utilizing the gift of thinking for yourself. When you don’t seek out knowledge, that is how ignorance manifests itself. Some of the main issues that people (both Muslims and non-Muslims) have about Islam stem from pure ignorance and utter lack of knowledge on a given subject. One of the most “debated” subjects in Islam is how people genuinely believe that hitting women in any form has a place within the religion. Astaghfirullah. Continue reading “Reflections: Is Hitting Women Permissible In Islam?”

An Open Letter to My Twenty-Something Girls

Make your own path. Who cares if it’s not conventional and what people expect of you? All your life people will give you advice, sometimes advice that doesn’t apply to you at all. Continue reading “An Open Letter to My Twenty-Something Girls”

Faryal Makhdoom & The Reality Of In-Law Abuse

Makeup artist, model, and wife of Amir Khan, Faryal Makhdoom, recently made a courageous choice to openly address the domestic abuse she has been a victim of for years from her in-laws. Continue reading “Faryal Makhdoom & The Reality Of In-Law Abuse”