A Sacred Conversation

In the Name of God, Most Beneficent, Most Merciful

I recently got an email from a fellow American that was very important to me. I suspect that what this person was courageous enough to say to me is on the minds of many, if not most, Americans about Islam and Muslims. I sincerely appreciated her honesty, and with her permission, I have reproduced her questions and concerns that she expressed to me. I think it will be very informative for all.

“One point I would like to make is that women are obviously not considered to be equal in Islam or this wouldn’t be such a big deal. Of course, the treatment of women in Islamic countries is absolutely appalling so it’s not just belief, it is accepted practice that women do not hold much value in Islam.”

She was talking about the whole situation with Dr. Amina Wadud leading a Friday Prayer on March 18 in New York City. She is absolutely right that, it seems the enormous controversy over a woman leading a Friday Prayer speaks to an inherent inequality of women and men in Islam. That is how it looks to the objective outside observer. So, that means one of two things, either Islam does allow women to lead the prayer, but Muslims today don’t want to accept it, or men and women are not equal in Islam. I may be wrong about this, but that is what it looks like from the outside.

She also highlights another important issue: so much evil is done to women in the Muslim world, in the name of Islam, that the outside observer would not be faulted from thinking that Islam sanctions such evil. Yet, we Muslims know that this is not the case. So, what does that mean? It means we Muslims have to get our act together if we want to show Islam for what it truly is. We, the Muslims, are the “flesh and blood” of Islam. You can write the most eloquent books, pamphlets, blog posts about the virtues of Islam, but if the reality of Muslims is ugly, that is what people will point to and call “Islam.” That is the way of the world, y’all.

“Anyway, what I really wanted to ask you about is apostasy. I understand that it is a very serious matter to turn away from Islam. What is the accepted practice within Islam for dealing with apostates?”

That is the subject of my next “Questions From A Student” article. Stay tuned.

“And the last question, are non-Muslims considered to hold exactly as much value in Islam as Muslims? If they are equally valuable, why do Muslims speak about specific treatment of fellow Muslims (i.e., it is against Islam to kill a fellow Muslim)?”

This is an excellent question, and it highlights the double-edged sword of the concept of the ummah. At the time of the Prophet (pbuh), the claim that the bond of faith supersedes all other bonds, even that of tribe and family, was truly revolutionary. The Arabs were fiercely sectarian and tribal, and an Arab tribe was ready to go to war defending one of their own, even if he was a heinous criminal. To say that the believers are one ummah, or nation, was a radical paradigm shift. It is very comforting, in fact. It is great to have 1.2 billion brothers and sisters. The bond I have with fellow Muslims, regardless of from where they hail, is something that is truly special. You really get to feel the beauty of this bond when you go to Mecca and perform the pilgrimage. You instantly love every pilgrim you meet. It is truly extraordinary.

Yet, there can be a Dark Side to being part of the ummah, just like there is a Dark Side of the Force (I’m a Star Wars FREAK. I actually want to be Jedi…er…I digress). The danger of belonging to the ummah is that one may care less about the affairs of others who lie outside of the ummah. That is wrong. If I could snap my fingers and take away all the problems of the Muslim World, that does not mean that I have to stop caring about the injustice done to other people. Far from it. The Qur’an commands Muslims to be on the side of justice for all: “Believers, stand out firmly for justice, as witnesses to God, even if it is against yourselves, or your parents, or your kin, and whether it be (against) rich or poor: for God can best protect both. Follow not the lusts (of your hearts), lest ye swerve, and if ye distort (justice) or decline to do justice, verily God is well-acquainted with all that ye do” (4:135). An injustice committed against anyone anywhere has to be an affront to every Muslim everywhere. That is how God wanted it.

Furthermore, we as Muslims have to be careful when we talk about a Muslim killing a fellow Muslim. Indeed, the Qur’an condemns strongly the killing of a believer: ” If a man kills a believer intentionally, his recompense is Hell, to abide therein (For ever): And the wrath and the curse of God are upon him, and a dreadful penalty is prepared for him” (4:93). But that does not mean that it is alright to kill non-Muslims. Let me say again: that does not mean it is alright to kill non-Muslims. All human beings have worth in Islam. All life is sacred. Unfortunately, many Muslims don’t understand this.

“I won’t deny that I have hostility towards Islam. I think you should know, however, that before I knew anything about Islam I used to regard Muslims as nice, intelligent, good people and I thought Islam wasn’t very different from Christianity. However, after the attacks of 9/11 which took America and myself by surprise, I began to research just what Islam is all about. So far, I don’t like what I see. Both in theory and in practice it seems bloody and barbaric.”

I sincerely appreciated her refreshing honesty. The attacks of 9/11 poisoned the view of Islam for many fellow Americans, and it should not be surprising. The level of the Muslim community’s insulation from the greater American society, coupled with the widespread ignorance of the basics of Islam on the part of most Americans, should have set up an enormous backlash against American Muslims after September 11. Yes, there were attacks and some were even killed. Yet, September 11 did not spell the end of Islam in America. It speaks to the fundamental goodness of the people of our country.

Still, it is important for me to point out that Islam is neither bloody nor barbaric in theory. Here, however, is the problem: unfortunately, Islam has been used by a tiny minority as an instrument of bloodthirsty barbarism. I am so angry for that.

“I want to know that somewhere out there are Muslims that won’t condone the acts perpetrated by Islamic terrorists all over the world and that Islam is not a threat to everything I hold dear. In other words, I’m looking for some sign that the”clash of cultures” between Islam and the West is not inevitable. I know I’m asking a lot, but all I’m looking for is some middle ground.”

This is a very legitimate concern for many, many non-Muslim fellow Americans. So let me say again what I initially told this fellow American: I do not, never have, and never will condone acts of murder and mayhem in the name of Islam. I reject it, I hate it, I despise it, and I condemn it with every cell in my body. The terrorists who act in the name of Islam are as much my enemy as they are yours. What you hold dear, I hold dear. Islam is not a threat to that. My whole purpose in writing is to be a bridge between America and the Muslim world (read my blog post: A Muslim Pocahontas). I am trying with all my keystrokes to avert a “clash of civilizations.” Islam and the West live in harmony in me, and it can do so around the world. Again, PLEASE don’t confuse Islam for the ugliness you see done by Muslims. PLEASE. It is the same as judging Christianity by the Spanish Inquisition or the Crusades, or judging America by “Baywatch.” Both are fallacious.

I am so very grateful to God that I had this conversation, and hence I called it a “sacred” one. I am confident that these very same thoughts and feelings dwell within the minds and hearts of a good number of non-Muslim fellow Americans. I am so grateful to God that this fellow American had the courage to tell me about them.


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